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White House outlines next steps on cancer ‘moonshot’

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    President Barack Obama with Vice President Joe Biden carry bouquets comprised of a total of 49 white roses, one in honor of each of the deceased victims, as they visit a memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 16 in Orlando, Fla.

WASHINGTON » The White House today announced several initiatives as part of President Barack Obama’s cancer “moonshot” program that include new collaboration among agencies as well as between the federal government and private industry.

The administration also said it will redesign the website for the National Cancer Institute within the National Institutes of Health to allow patients to better search for appropriate clinical trials. The Food and Drug Administration confirmed it would move forward with the creation of an oncology center aimed at streamlining the review of new cancer treatments.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is creating a special pilot program to speed the review of patent applications involving a treatment method that relies upon an individual’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Greg Simon, who was tapped earlier this year by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to lead the initiative, said Tuesday on a call with reporters that the actions “represent the down payment, so to speak, of actions that we can achieve this year.”

The announcements came at a summit for the moonshot program in Washington, D.C., organized by Biden.

As part of the moonshot project, the Department of Veterans Affairs will use technology housed within the Department of Energy to analyze the medical records of nearly half a million veterans. The first phase of the partnership will focus on cancer, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues. It aims to provide more insight into the outcomes of different kinds of treatment, as well as disease prevention and detection.

Also announced on Wednesday was a new partnership between the National Cancer Institute and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries aimed at providing drugs more quickly to researchers who want to investigate new uses for them.

The goal of the partnership is to allow researchers to get drugs on a single, pre-approved list in a short time frame instead of contracting with individual companies, which can take as long as 18 months.

The NCI’s plans to redesign its webpage are driven by a desire to make it easier for patients to sign up for research trials. Simon, on Tuesday’s press call, said only 4 percent of cancer patients enroll in trials. He said that number should be around 15 percent.

The Patent and Trademark Office’s pilot program will grant priority review for patent applications for immunotherapy treatments with the goal of completing reviews within 12 months. The pilot will run for 12 months, beginning this week, according to a Federal Register notice published Wednesday.

The FDA’s new Oncology Center of Excellence is designed to coordinate efforts by officials across the different centers at the agency with expertise in oncology. Richard Pazdur, currently the head of the FDA’s Office of Hematology and Oncology Products, was tapped to lead the new center.

Agency spokeswoman Angela Stark said in an emailed statement that the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal year 2017 budget included $75 million for the new center.

“The ability of the FDA to build an OCE that meets the agency’s goals is dependent in part on the level of funding that is received,” she said.

Stark did not respond immediately to inquiries as to how the center would be funded without additional appropriations and whether those funds will be drawn from money provided by industry.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Wednesday also revealed that almost 200 physician groups and 17 payers such as insurance companies will participate in a previously announced cancer-focused multi-payer Medicare model, known as the oncology care model.

The OCM, which will begin on July 1 and last through June 30, 2021, will align financial incentives in an aim to lower costs and improve care. Those incentives include performance-based payments and traditional fee-for-service reimbursements.

The OCM was developed by CMS’ Innovation Center, which was established in the 2010 health care overhaul.

A number of private sector organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, also committed on Wednesday to increasing their research investments.

While a summit on Wednesday will provide the Obama administration the opportunity to highlight several new programs and partnerships driven by the moonshot initiative, funding still remains a major hurdle.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, previously told CQ Roll Call the still unreleased fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill for those agencies is unlikely to include funding specifically for the cancer moonshot.

The Senate funding bill approved earlier this month did not include additional funds explicitly for the moonshot.

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©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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