NIH Partnership Seeks to Advance Cancer Immunotherapy Research

The Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies seeks to standardize biomarkers for cancer immunotherapy drugs.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and 11 biopharmaceutical companies recently announced the launch of the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT). The 5-year collaboration supports the Cancer Moonshot project and will provide $215 million to fund further efforts to develop cancer immunotherapies, according to a press release.

PACT will focus on efforts to identify, develop, and validate biomarkers that can be used to create immunotherapy treatments, according to the NIH.

“This new public-private partnership is a significant step forward in the battle against cancer and a real boost to the potential of immunotherapy,” said Acting Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Eric Hargan. “We are excited for this partnership, which will strengthen efforts already underway across HHS.”

Immunotherapies have proven to be a groundbreaking treatment for multiple types of cancer. Many biopharmaceutical companies have invested heavily into these drugs to provide better treatments for patients who do not respond to traditional treatments.

However, immunotherapy is not always been effective for all patients. The identification of biomarkers that can lead to a better understanding of immunotherapy is necessary to understand how to make the drugs effective in more patients, according to the release.

“We have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy, often eradicating cancer completely for some cancer patients,” said Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, NIH director. “We need to bring that kind of success—and hope—for more people and more types of cancers, and we need to do it quickly. A systematic approach like PACT will help us to achieve success faster.”

PACT will include systematic clinical testing of biomarkers to expand knowledge of the mechanisms behind response or resistance to cancer drugs, according to the release.

Under the collaboration, research will also implement immune and related cancer biomarkers into novel clinical trials by standardizing biomarkers. This approach will lead to consistent data, uniform assays to support data reproducibility, comparability of data, and discovery of new biomarkers, the NIH reported.

The collaboration will also foster information sharing to ensure that clinical trials are coordinated, innovative, and high-quality.

“A scientific and organizational challenge this complex cannot be addressed effectively by any one organization acting alone,” said Maria C. Freire, PhD, president and executive director of the Foundation for the NIH. “Instead, it requires the energies and resources of public and private partners working in close collaboration.”

The partnership includes biopharmaceutical manufacturers, such as AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene Corporation, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, and Pfizer. The NIH added that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association has also supported PACT.

These partners will contribute up to $1 million annually for 5 years and the NIH will contribute $160 million, according to the release.

“[National Cancer Institute’s] long-term support for basic and translational research in immunotherapy paved the way for the recent dramatic clinical successes in this area,” said Douglas R. Lowy, MD, acting director of the NCI. “This partnership, and the data the partners have committed to making publicly accessible to the broader research community, will facilitate our continued progress in helping to find the cancer treatments that benefit the greatest number of patients.”