Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center made a big announcement last Friday when they unveiled their ambitious new Moonshots program. The program is named after President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 address at Rice University where he proposed an audacious, outsized goal – to send an American to the moon.
The Moonshots program has outlined an equally daunting challenge: The multi-part initiative will see the world-renowned cancer center spend $3 billion on finding at-risk populations for eight different cancer types, and then improving those patients’ outcomes and survival rates, quality of life and overall outcomes through new treatment methods and applied research.
At the Lance Armstrong Foundation, we certainly laud these efforts – as the headlines show, we are making progress in our efforts to understand, and treat cancer every day. It will take bold commitments and collaborative efforts to realize that vision, with more than 1.5 million new diagnoses and about 500,000 deaths each year.
Yet, we have to make sure that this research is fully leveraged. One of the well documented successes of the space program of the 60’s was that the nation truly came together and collaborated towards the same goal. As MD Anderson’s researchers redouble their efforts to combine clinical treatment with research on outcomes and survivorship, we would urge them to work outside of their own walls and collaborate with the hundreds of researchers around the country who are working towards the same goals.
This is one of the goals of the LIVESTRONG Survivorship Centers of Excellence, a network of seven research institutions across the country. Their collaboration over the last few years has produced several widely adopted breakthroughs in survivorship care – most notably, working with the Foundation and 150 experts, survivors, advocates, and health care professionals in establishing the essential elements of survivorship care.
More broadly, the idea of collaboration is at the heart of the way modern cancer research systems are being built. Interoperability – sending data back and forth across different systems – is now enabling researchers to amass treatment data from electronic medical records, molecular and genomic data from lab tests, patient-reported data from surveys, and other information such as prior research studies to create end-to-end profiles that are revolutionizing the way new treatments are developed, outcomes are measured, and care is improved.
It is our hope that the brilliant minds at MD Anderson, as well as at their counterpart institutions around the country, will soon be able to freely share information with each other through more open IT systems as well as organizational partnerships and collaborative efforts. One day we hope to build a cancer treatment system that can outsmart an individual’s disease and offer them more than just comfort or hope. This kind of effort will take more than cutting edge scientific advances, or IT overhauls – it will take persistence, grit, and a common spirit. But we believe it can be done.
Perhaps JFK said it best: “Man, in his quest for knowledge and progress cannot be deterred.”