M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Will Use Reduced Mortality As New Measure Of Research Success

The program is called “Moon Shots” and takes its inspiration from the national push to reach the moon in the 1960s.

M.D. Anderson President Ron DePinho says that too often, cancer researchers work in small, isolated groups. They focus narrowly on studying a specific problem and then publishing a paper. 

“Studying is not enough. Kennedy did not say we’re going to study as to how to go to the moon. He said ‘We’re going to go to the moon.’ So we’re going to have a very goal-oriented mentality, an execution mentality, that allows us to take the existing knowledge, the technology today, to really, truly make cancer history.”

DePinho says reaching the moon, in this case, would mean achieving an actual reduction in patient deaths.

The eight target cancers include big killers like lung, prostate and breast cancers.

“It’s a matter of execution. And that’s where I think the system has failed, it’s not enough to discover, we must do.”

Dorothy Paterson is a cancer survivor and patient advocate.

She says the massive re-organization of the hospital’s research teams will have everyone pulling together and sharing the latest in genetic technology.

“It’s sort of like you take one plus one plus one and it makes twenty with that synergistic approach. I’m just so excited. I’m a 15-year survivor of stage-three, very aggressive breast cancer, my husband is a four-year survivor of prostate now and two-year (survivor of) ocular melanoma. It’s, like, enough already. Let’s get out there and really end these diseases.”

Dr. John Heymach will help lead the “moon shot” approach to lung cancer.

He says there’s been an explosion of knowledge about the genetics of cancer in just the past five to ten years. But getting that knowledge all the way to the patients has been a problem.

“You know, even though we had world leaders in screening and in doing blood tests and genomic profiling, they’d never before been integrated into a single platform, where we’re really putting all these resources together and using it to attack a single problem. That’s part of what the moon shot is doing. But we know that’s the right thing to do, we shouldn’t be looking at these bits of information in isolation.”

DePinho became the hospital’s president one year ago. The “Moon Shots” program reflects his focus on translating research into patient outcomes, and quickly.

But he didn’t set any specific goals on how much mortality should drop for each cancer.  

He also admits that all of the funding isn’t in place. The program could cost $3 billion over a decade.

DePinho expects the money to come from grants, donations, and selling the discoveries as commercial products.

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