The Biden-Harris Administration announced Wednesday a relaunch of the Cancer Moonshot program. Begun in 2016 during the Obama-Biden Administration, the goal of the updated program is to decrease the death rate from cancer by 50% in 25 years.
Fueled by scientific advances in early detection, the administration’s goals include diagnosing cancer sooner by increasing access to cancer screening and enhancing the experience of people living with and surviving cancer.
Providence Cancer Institute in Oregon played a role in the initial $1.8 billion Cancer Moonshot in 2016. Recently, the institute leveraged its foundation in immunotherapy research to establish the Providence Molecular Genomics Laboratory, the dedicated clinical genomics sequencing facility for Providence St. Joseph Health. The lab seeks to uncover the unique genetic makeup of individuals to better understand and predict genetic risk factors that could lead to cancer, as well as detect cancer early in its course, when it is most curable. Walter J. Urba, M.D., Ph.D., who serves as the institute’s chief medical officer and director of the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, built the cancer research program that supports comprehensive cancer care for all Oregonians.
"Our knowledge of the genetic drivers of cancer and the immune system’s response to it is transforming the practice of oncology,” says Dr. Urba. “But the next step is to use that knowledge to prevent cancer from developing in the first place or to detect cancer in its earliest stages, before it has a chance to grow and metastasize. Providence Cancer Institute is in full support of President Biden’s efforts to finish cancer. Our research focused on harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer, as well as the scope and scale of our large health system, positions us well to help lead the effort."
A >30-year history of immunotherapy research and clinical innovation
Dr. Urba led the international trial of the first immunotherapy to be approved for patients with melanoma – ipilimumab. This was the first in a new class of cancer therapies, known as checkpoint inhibitors, that have since shown improved survival for nearly all types of cancer. FDA approval of ipilimumab in 2011 was a watershed moment and an important milestone for the oncology community.
Providence researchers continue to translate new discoveries from the lab bench to the patient bedside, including the development of vaccines to prevent cancer and personalized, gene-engineered cellular therapies to treat advanced cancer. In 2017, Providence established the first research laboratory in Oregon for adoptive cellular therapy, a highly personalized cancer therapy that harnesses the combined power of the immune system and genomic sequencing.
Multi-Cancer, Early Detection Testing
In September 2021, Providence St. Joseph Health was the first health system in the world to offer Galleri, a diagnostic tool for proactive testing of many cancers, increasing the chances of finding cancer early. The single blood draw test can detect more than 50 kinds of cancer. Providence, in partnership with GRAIL, an innovator in early cancer diagnostics, is offering Galleri testing to its patients at no-cost through participation in the REFLECTION research study or at a reduced-cost, self-pay option.
The initial phase will include Providence points of care in Oregon, Washington and California, and may expand to other Providence locations in the future. In addition to early detection, the Galleri test can help localize the cancer signal to inform the next steps to diagnosis. Galleri is a complement to guideline-based cancer screenings.
Ending health inequities in cancer screening
In 2021, Providence St. Joseph Health invested $2 million in collaboration with Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) and Exact Sciences to form a Dream Team that will consist of robust screening, research, education, and training efforts to enhance colorectal cancer detection in diverse and distinct communities that are medically underserved and have low screening rates for colorectal cancer.
In this unique program, Providence will recruit and deploy community health action teams (CHATs) – residents trained and supported to work as health promoters and care navigators within their own neighborhoods – to implement a locally designed and operated colorectal cancer screening campaign. R. Bryan Bell, M.D., D.D.S., F.A.C.S., F.R.C.S.(Ed), physician executive of Providence Cancer Institute in Oregon, co-chairs a leadership council to help direct cancer services across the 52-hospital, seven-state Providence system that collectively treats 50,000 cancer patients each year.
“This project aligns well with the President’s latest Cancer Moonshot initiative,” says Dr. Bell, “and is an example of how community-based research and outreach programs can potentially impact a large geographically, ethnically and economically diverse population.”
The Dream Team launched in three initial regions, or SU2C Zones: Los Angeles, where Providence operates several hospitals and associated clinics, Greater Boston and Great Plains Tribal Communities in South Dakota. "The Dream Team model will serve as a blueprint for additional SU2C Zones," says Dr. Bell, "with the hope of extending the program to other communities and cancer types in the future."