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The Lancet Oncology Commission Sets Priorities for the Future of Cancer Research
Ben Leach
Chi Van Dang, M.D., Ph.D.

Gathered in a room of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., overlooking the Capitol, some of the nation’s top oncology experts and National Cancer Institute leaders presented the Lancet Oncology Commission, a plan to accelerate new advances in cancer diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

The Commission’s report comes one year after the release of the Blue Ribbon Panel Report (BRPR), compiled by scientific experts to shape the mission of the National Cancer Moonshot initiative proposed by former Vice President Joe Biden in 2016. The Lancet Commission, composed by 54 leading cancer clinicians and researchers, has produced a detailed roadmap to deliver on the BRPR recommendations, setting ambitious but realistic and specific targets, accompanied by clear milestones, timelines, and metrics to assess progress in each of the areas of focus and to make adjustments accordingly.

Wistar’s Chi Van Dang, M.D., professor in the Molecular & Cellular Oncogenesis program and scientific director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, was co-chair of the Commission with Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D., professor of oncology, deputy director of The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University and president-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“The Lancet Oncology Commission maps an ambitious path expanding on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel Report,” said Jaffee. “We focused on additional areas of intervention such as prevention and survivorship, development of a more efficient and affordable model for drug development, with emphasis on understanding and addressing the disparities in cancer care for underserved groups, specifically minorities and children.”

“A special priority area in the Commission report regards cancer care for pediatric and adolescent patients,” said Dang. “Pediatric cancers have different biology and causes than adult cancers and therefore require specific treatments. The Commission urges that these differences be taken into account in the process of drug development, especially when tackling rare cancers.”

Cancer is a complex and multifaceted issue, but while investing more money to support research and care is certainly essential, it is not the only answer. The main message the Commission conveyed is the need for all the stakeholders in the fight against cancer to come together and work cooperatively by reducing barriers, introducing new rules for sharing data openly and efficiently and eliminating unnecessary competition.

“We are in a time of widespread and unprecedented optimism about the scientific and technological advancements in cancer research but we still face significant challenges,” said Cliff Hudis, M.D., chief executive officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “The goal of the Commission is to create an integrated ‘cancer ecosystem’ in which investigators, government, funding and regulatory agencies, patient advocates, and the general public work together to accelerate progress and use our vast infrastructure more efficiently.”

The Commission also expanded its focus on prevention and survivorship beyond the scope of the BRPR. Research has conclusively shown that certain lifestyles are associated with increased cancer risk. Therefore, it is crucial that public health measures are strengthened to better promote prevention interventions as part of a more holistic approach to cancer control.

“Progress in precision medicine has extended the life expectancy of many cancer patients, and many survivors are now living with cancer as a chronic condition,” added Dang. “The Commission prompts a conversation about survivorship and the need to address the physical as well as psychological, spiritual, and social issues that survivors face.”

Advances in cancer treatment are not sufficient if patients have no access to them. The Commission urges the cancer research and care community to take patient-centered measures, prioritizing resources based on what is valuable for patients and working to make cancer care more sustainable, creating cost-effective solutions to deliver high quality affordable cancer care that reduces the financial burden for patients.

“We have bipartisan support for the Moonshot effort, and data show that three-quarters of Americans would support higher taxes if this measure translated into an expanded federal funding for cancer research,” Hudis added. “In this moment of alignment of our political forces and the public opinion, we have to work hard to overcome the challenges and accomplish the goals of the Moonshot.”