The Blue Ribbon Panel, a group of scientific experts from a variety of fields, released this week its 10 recommendations for achieving the goals of the ambitious Cancer Moonshot, the Obama administration’s initiative to knock out the complex disease. The panel will deliver three reports intended to help the Moonshot, which hopes to advance 10 years’ worth of progress in just five years.
So just what did the panel have to say? A handful of the recommendations have to do with sharing and using data to seek trends. This theme creates a tremendous opportunity for health care data companies.
As physicians are already too keenly aware, creating and using electronic health records (EHRs) has been a heck of a carnival ride: Different systems don’t play well together, maintenance is time-consuming, and privacy is of the utmost importance.
What data firms can do is learn from some of the mistakes made in the past few years and — this is key — collaborate with one another to promote scientific advancements.
Here are some of the panel’s Big Data recommendations:
- Establish a network for direct patient involvement. Here, patients would enter their cancer profile into a new national network so that, when appropriate clinical trials become available, they can be informed of their possible eligibility. Further, researchers will have access to these data so they can analyze what is working and on whom it is working.
- Build a national cancer data ecosystem. This suggestion is all about getting rid of today’s information silos — taking the vast amount of data that already exist throughout the nation and gathering it together in a central repository that will be accessible to researchers, physicians, and patients. More data, better understanding.
- Mine past patient data to predict future patient outcomes. Again, more data, better understanding.
- Develop a 3D cancer atlas. This would be an online catalog of not just cancers themselves, but how they interact and evolve in their microenvironment.
- Create a clinical trials network devoted exclusively to immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, the promising field in which the body’s own immune system is unleashed on cancer, is transforming cancer treatment. However, scientists don’t understand why it doesn’t work on all patients. This network of clinical trials would focus on the emerging field.
These suggestions echo Vice President Joe Biden’s previous call for cancer researchers across all sectors to share data. One of the first respondents, biotech firm Foundation Medicine (controlled by leading cancer pharma firm Roche), is providing the National Cancer Institute’s Genomic Data Commons database with tumor profiles from some 18,000 adults.
And health care providers such as Virginia’s Inova Health System have already begun investing millions in utilizing data to provide targeted, precision cancer treatment to patients.
Other suggestions cover some of the most tenacious roadblocks in the fight against cancer:
- Develop ways to overcome resistance to therapy. Another challenge facing those fighting cancer is drug resistance, wherein cancers become resistant to the treatments being used on them.
- Intensify research on the major drivers of childhood cancers. One of these major drivers is rogue proteins named fusion oncoproteins, which the panel hopes will be studied across a number of treatment areas, all to help eradicate pediatric cancers.
- Minimize cancer treatment’s debilitating side effects. We all know how terrifying cancer treatments can be. In order to improve patients’ quality of life, it is essential that the community figures out how to lessen the impact of these treatments.
- Expand use of proven prevention and early-detection strategies. In addition to promoting healthy lifestyles (think quitting tobacco), this recommendation calls for more testing for hereditary cancer syndromes so that people that are deemed high-risk can begin prevention and early-screening efforts.
- Develop new cancer technologies. In other words, get money to researchers so that new tools can be delivered more rapidly to patients.
In summary, pooling data will be a giant task for the Cancer Moonshot initiative, but could prove to be the most beneficial. Some might even go so far as to say that cancer cures already exist within the data mines and that we just need to wrap our collective efforts around intelligent data gathering.
Diane Ramirez has been a member of the D&B editorial department for more than a decade. She currently covers the health care and insurance industries for Hoover’s.
Photo courtesy of cancer.gov.