The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program is an innovative approach for cancer detection, prevention, survival and treatment, that includes unique combination clinical trials, advanced molecular analysis for cancer screening and treatment and a program that enables gathering, storage and access to large amounts of information on individual patients.
“Our Moon Shots Program presses on to save more lives more quickly by cultivating powerful, efficient connections between vast new scientific knowledge and our efforts to improve patient care, protect those at risk and prevent cancer outright,” MD Anderson President Ron DePinho, M.D., said in an institute news release. “Moon shots gather MD Anderson’s multidimensional expertise and tap remarkable new technologies to better deploy what we already know about cancer against these diseases and to contribute creative new answers to crucial challenges”, he added.
The Moon Shots program began in 2012, with the goal to accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into the clinic, this way improving patient care and ultimately reducing cancer-related deaths.
Some of the fields this program embraces include melanoma, lung, prostate, breast and ovarian cancer, along with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML)/myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).
A big part of this innovative program evolves around immunotherapeutic approaches. One of the goals is to transition CLL patients from chemotherapy combinations to new-targeted therapies and immunotherapies, such as ibrutinib and idelalisib, two FDA approved drugs. Currently, only 15% of patients diagnosed with CLL are treated with chemotherapy at MD Anderson, a 33% reduction from the last two years.
Researchers involved in the Moon Shots program are currently conducting a clinical trial evaluating ibrutinib versus ibrutinib plus rituximab in CLL patients. This study has the capacity to genetically analyze each individual patient’s CLL before and after treatment and once resistance to treatment occurs, allowing a thorough understanding of the mechanisms behind this tumor’s resistance to treatment and potentiating novel ways of countering it.
Another focus of Moon Shots includes studying resistance to hypomethylating agents, a class of drugs used to treat AML/MDS. Currently, there are 2 clinical trials addressing this question, one assessing the involvement of PD-1 blockade in the development of MDS resistance, and another evaluating the toll-like receptor 2 protein (TLR2) as a potential target for overcoming this resistance.
Importantly, researchers involved in this project are attempting to replace commonly used stem cell transplantation with treatment by engineered immune T cells and natural killer cells, which have the capacity to efficiently localize and destroy leukemia cancer cells.
“This first wave of accomplishments reflects the moon shots’ emphasis on execution. It’s a matter of more efficiently applying what we already know about cancer to help our patients. Rocket science enables our clinicians and scientists to make discoveries and clinical advances that really turn the world around. Achieving that will require inventions yet to come. It will take time,”Giulio Draetta, M.D., Ph.D., professor in Molecular and Cellular Oncology and co-director of the Moon Shots Program, explained in the news release.
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