Vice President Joe Biden spoke today at the 2016 gathering of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago, pushing for greater sharing of data and a team approach to cancer science and care, and calling cancer research “the only bipartisan issue left in America.”
“The current system is still based on the cult of the individual and fails to reward teamwork,” he said. ” We need to realign incentives to reward team science by bringing together the experts needed to answer big questions without being limited by jealousy.”
To work toward centralized sharing of cancer information, Biden announced a new initiative called the Genomic Data Commons (GDC), a database of cancer data spearheaded by the National Cancer Institute. In its first year, the GDC will host two petabytes of data, “The largest repository of public data,” Biden said. He noted that from this point forward, all research studies funded by the National Cancer Institute will be required to upload data directly to the database.
“Upload your raw genomic data. All of you know it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “If we aggregate enough data we can find patterns for new treatments.”
His comment is especially salient in the era of targeted treatments. Rather than blanketing a population of thousands of cancer patients with the same treatment, the modern approach to personalized medicine means that perhaps only a few patients with a specific genetic alteration would be predicted to benefit from a new treatment. This makes testing a new treatment at any one research hospital almost impossible — any single hospital will not see enough patients to reach solid conclusions. However, by sharing clinical and genomic data, many research institutions working together could generate enough data to shape the success of new targeted treatments.
In addition, Biden reminded the audience of the upcoming recommendations to be delivered by September by his Blue Ribbon Panel of advisors convened to look at the most effective ways to expand clinical trials and enhance data sharing. The panel is also gathering information on cancer immunology and prevention, implementation sciences, pediatric cancer, prevention and early detection, and tumor evolution and progression. Adopted recommendations and funding will be announced early in 2017 and the funding will be awarded in the summer of 2017.
“Every year, thousands of oncologists and millions of patients await the news coming from this meeting,” Biden told the audience of nearly 10,000 researchers and oncologists.
He asked the crowd to imagine what it would be like if, instead of working as separate disciplines within isolated research institutions, the field adopted the approach of team science. In fact, the University of Colorado Cancer Center and many institutions have taken steps toward solving the problem of this isolation, joining data-sharing collectives including the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN). Biden challenged institutions to go even further, making data freely available for research purposes even outside of these agreements.
“Hope. I know of no cadre of people in the world more in need of hope than the 16 million people with cancer,” he said. In fact, with the renewed focus afforded by Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, many in the field of cancer research, along with doctors and patients, are feeling the hope of improved treatments that make cancer a chronic as opposed to fatal condition.
“This is a moment you have to seize,” Biden says. At the CU Cancer Center, we couldn’t agree more.