Moonshot Summit: Changing Cancer As We Know it

DAVID NANUS, MD

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Photo credit: Ira Fox

On June 29, Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital joined more than 270 institutions across the country in holding a Moonshot Summit. These summits were held in conjunction with Vice President Biden’s Moonshot initiative to fight cancer. On this national day of action, cancer experts throughout our institution, survivors, and advocates came together to share their ideas for increased collaboration and cures.

The summit conversation started with a constructive dialogue about clinical trials and the unfortunate fact that for many cancer types, the “standard of care” chemotherapies are not good enough. At Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, immunotherapies and precision medicine are opening new doors in cancer treatment, but sadly not all patients currently have access to these types of cutting-edge treatments.

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A packed room at the Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Cancer Moonshot Summit (photo credit: Ira Fox)

Clinical trials may have gotten a bad rap in the past, but they are a powerful tool to access innovative treatments. The speakers agreed that clinical trials should be easily accessible to all patients, but at times there are obstacles. These range from lengthy forms that deter enrollment, to bureaucracy that slows the timeline for opening new clinical trials, to disinterest and concerns about the treatments’ effectiveness. On a global scale, there has been a lack of adult participation in cancer clinical trials, while for children we actually see the opposite trend – very high enrollment. What can we learn from this information?

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(L-R) Dr. Gail Roboz and Dr. Susan Pannullo speaking at the Cancer Moonshot Summit (photo credit: Ira Fox)

One of my colleagues Dr. Gail Roboz wisely stated, “I always tell my patients, be afraid of the disease, not the treatment.” She’s right in that we need to reframe the conversation to focus on making strides in increasing cure rates through new research that leads to new treatment breakthroughs across disease states.

We also talked about access to care. Not all patients are able to get a correct diagnosis quickly. This can be due to a variety of reasons including a lack of access to specialists, living in a rural area, or financial limitations. By increasing government research funding, as well as making it easier for patients to reach quality care, we can remove some of these barriers nationally. If we increase the number of people who are diagnosed with cancer early on, we can increase the cure rates. Additionally, as a country, we need to provide comprehensive care for patients and families and always put the interests of patients first. This includes offering supportive services beyond just the best medical care.

I felt so empowered by my colleagues and our patients’ great ideas about how we can overcome the challenges we face in cancer care. The Cancer Moonshot initiative is giving high hopes to many and will help ultimately change the world of cancer care as our country stands together with common goals and a renewed commitment to collaboration. By bringing everyone together at an event like this, we hear diverse perspectives and glean new insights. The fight against this terrible disease truly unites us all.

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Photo credit: Ira Fox

“Moonshots” and More: How We’re Developing Personal Cancer “Cures” through Precision Medicine

In President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, he emphasized the “moonshot” need to cure cancer. At Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, we are actively working towards that goal.

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Irene Price and Dr. David Nanus, Chief, Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine

Through our use of gene sequencing and precision medicine, we are transforming the way cancer is characterized and treated. Using a multidisciplinary approach and the EXaCT-1 test, here at the Weill Cornell Genitourinary (GU) Oncology Program, we are able to sequence the genes of advanced stage cancer patients. We can then narrowly tailor personalized treatment regimens based on the genetic makeup of a patient’s tumor which indicates whether a cancer is likely to respond to a particular treatment therapy.

Irene Price came to Dr. David Nanus, Chief of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology, with metastatic bladder cancer, and had more than 20,000 genes sequenced with the EXaCT-1 test. Dr. Nanus and his colleagues determined that the reason she wasn’t responding to prior treatment rested in a specific genetic mutation within her tumor. As a result, the team was able to prescribe a personalized treatment regimen – one more often used in the treatment of breast cancer.

The results were life changing. It caused her cancer to completely disappear. According to Price, “I’ve had college graduations that I wouldn’t have had, weddings that I wouldn’t have had, and the birth of great grandchildren that I wouldn’t have had.”

Learn more about our personalized approach to cancer care in a two-part series on NY1:

Part 1: “Gene Sequencing Effort Helps Pinpoint Cancer Treatments”

Part 2: “Tailored Cancer Treatments Fit Doctors’ New Approach”


To make an appointment with one of our clinicians, please call 646-962-2072.