The National Institutes of Health announced Thursday a $215 million global partnership with 11 biopharmaceutical companies to develop cancer therapies that use a patient’s own immune system to battle the disease.
The public-private Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT), or “cancer moonshot,” is intended to be a five-year endeavor mostly funded by the NIH.
“The concept of providing public investment and biomedical research with private industry will mean more cures and more lives saved in a shorter time period,” said Eric Hargan, in his first appearance since being named acting secretary of Health and Human Services on Tuesday. Mr. Hargan replaced Tom Price, who resigned Sept. 29 after criticism about his use of private charters and military aircraft.
“We all recognize that something ground-breaking has been happening with cancer and immunotherapy,” said NIH Director Francis Collins.
Dr. Collins noted that there have been remarkable recoveries for patients with life-threatening diseases, but some patients have failed to respond to certain treatments and different cancers require different responses.
One of PACT’s first missions will be to compile a database of the most prominent biomarkers that respond to specific therapies. This will allow physicians to test their patients for those biomarkers and refer them to the most appropriate clinical trial.
Dr. Tom Hudson, vice president of oncology discovery and early development at pharmaceutical company AbbVie Inc., likened PACT’s goal to that of the standardization of the internet.
“The computer industry had 19 different IP addresses and one day the industry said, ‘We can’t communicate from AOL to others,’ and they built a standard, and that was enabling for the industry,” Dr. Hudson said, adding that the new public-private partnership will achieve a similar result in the development of cancer immunotherapies.
PACT is not the NIH’s first partnership with private companies to advance medical research: In 2014, the health agency launched the Accelerating Medicines Partnership to expand understanding, diagnostics and therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes and autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The 11 biopharmaceutical companies participating in PACT are AbbVie, Amgen Inc., Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Genentech Inc., Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos. of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Novartis. Each has pledged $1 million to PACT and has agreed to a “pre-competitive” research collaboration that will establish a database that each company will contribute to and will be able to access.
Asked how issues about intellectual property would be handled, Dr. Collins said the companies had to sign on to terms of agreement stating that PACT is only about information-sharing.
“Everybody agrees this is an opportunity to learn about information that then needs to be made accessible to everybody and intellectual property, in the usual, traditional way that might happen inside bigger companies, is not what we’re about,” he said.
Immunotherapy has the potential to treat a wide array of cancers and patients, but today it has been proven effective only in certain patients’ cancers, and within that patient population, it has not always succeeded.