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A New Era

June 2, 2016

Photo by Joe Howell

Photo by Joe Howell

A new era in cancer research and treatment is dawning. Decades of hard work, scientific investment and diligent commitment led to the development of the first targeted therapies and immunotherapies 20 years ago, but only a few of these therapies had become widely available—until recently.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved several immunotherapies in 2015, including the first one for lung cancer.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) scientists and partner researchers across the country are at the cusp of other new discoveries. The National Cancer Moonshot Initiative is an effort to accelerate that pace—and achieve much more.

In April, I was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Panel that will help Vice President Joe Biden and his task force guide that effort. I’m very honored to serve on this committee of scientific experts, cancer leaders and patient advocates. In this issue of Momentum, we explain the goals of the Moonshot Initiative.

Other features in this issue illustrate why research matters and why philanthropic support makes a difference. Dr. Vandana Abramson shares vignettes from a day treating people at the Vanderbilt Breast Center, including one patient who traveled 4,000 miles to participate in a clinical trial.

In another article, we explore new immunotherapies for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney cancer and melanoma. In our “Stories of Survival” feature, Kimberly Jessop tells us how a new immunotherapy for melanoma saved her life.

But there are still limited options for many types of cancer or pre-cancer conditions, including myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).  In this issue, we detail how teams of VICC researchers are investigating what causes these bone marrow failure disorders and are probing into the molecular mysteries of MDS in hopes of finding pathways for new treatments.

We take a look at prostate cancer in our “spotlight” feature, specifically the debate about prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level tests and the important role active surveillance plays in deciding treatment options.

This Momentum also highlights ideas for more precise targeting of tumors while protecting healthy tissues from damage. One of those ideas, a genetically engineered cancer-killing virus, has already become a reality.

This new era has been a long time coming. There has never been a better time to launch a Moonshot Initiative to cure cancer.

– Jennifer Pietenpol