ViVe 2023: CancerX co-hosts Moffitt Cancer Center, Digital Medicine Society unveil 'Moonshot' digital health effort

NASHVILLE—Moffitt Cancer Center and the Digital Medicine Society are calling on the healthcare and digital health industry to pour an accelerant on technology-driven efforts to fight cancer.

The two organizations are collaborating to speed up the pace of cancer innovation and they want others to join the effort.

As unveiled on Tuesday at the ViVE conference, Moffitt Cancer Center and DiMe are co-hosting the new CancerX public-private partnership as part of the Biden administration's reignited Cancer Moonshot. The aim is to leverage industry collaboration and disruptive innovation to reduce the burden of cancer for all people, executives said.

In collaboration with government agencies, specifically the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), the CancerX initiative will initially tackle health equity in cancer care and will recruit stakeholders through the industry to join the massive effort.

First launched in 2016, the Cancer Moonshot aims to reduce the cancer death rate by at least half over the next 25 years, by 2047, and improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer. President Joe Biden revived the national campaign a year ago.

Last month, the Biden administration announced three new actions to fuel the Cancer Moonshot, including the establishment of CancerX.

Executives from Moffitt Cancer Center and DiMe also unveiled Tuesday the first 21 organizations participating as founding partners in the CancerX effort, including the American Cancer Society, Biofourmis, Current Health, Memorial Sloane Kettering, Takeda Digital Ventures, Lightship, Science37 and the Veterans Health Administration, among many others.

The reach the Cancer Moonshot goal of reducing the national cancer rate by 50% by 2047, the healthcare industry "needs to move fast," said Stephen Konya, ONC's senior advisor and innovation portfolio lead, in an exclusive interview before the details of the initiative were publicly announced.

Cancer impacts almost everyone's life in some way, Konya noted.

"If we can get a solution to market faster, even one month faster, that's one more month somebody might have been with their family member. These are important things to keep in mind. Time is of the essence. We are at a lucky point in our lives right now where everybody is focused on this. We're fortunate in the sense that still many organizations have been responding to the Cancer Moonshot individually and now it's time for them to put an accelerant on that to work together collectively to get things to market even faster," Konya said.

He added, "This is about harnessing everybody's collective efforts. It's great to do work in silos, but it's time to collaborate and work together. That's how we're going to be able to make an impact on that timeline."

Digital innovation is generally lagging behind in cancer compared to all other therapeutic areas, according to Jennifer Goldsack, the CEO of the Digital Medicine Society.

The CancerX effort will require commitments from established industry players and new startups with creative ideas, she noted.

"We have to run the whole gamut and we have to think 'big picture' around a true reimagination of how we care for people. What does it mean to move the care of people with cancer upstream? How can we think about reducing the cancer burden from the very start," Goldsack said in an interview.

In 2023, 1,958,310 new cancer cases and 609,820 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the U.S.  Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S,  and those patients that do survive are 2½ times more likely to declare bankruptcy than those without the disease. Cancer affects all population groups in the U.S., but due to social, environmental, and economic disadvantages, certain groups bear a disproportionate burden of cancer compared with other groups.

"We find ourselves at a particular juncture where there is all of this focus and there are these new innovative approaches that we haven't yet harnessed. If we can bring all of those opportunities, all of that expertise, all of that momentum to bear together as more than the sum of the parts, the impact can be extraordinary," Goldsack said. "There is absolutely no reason why it can't happen. And we were completely committed to delivering on this timeline because the alternative is unacceptable."

The CancerX initiative wants to convene a diverse group of stakeholders across the industry the join the effort including academic medical centers, providers, patient advocacy groups, venture capital firms, technology companies and government agencies.

On Tuesday, the CancerX co-hosts also announced the initiative's inaugural project, what Goldsack calls a "pre-competitive evidence generation project," to focus on using digital innovation to reduce disparities and financial toxicity in cancer care and research. 

A team of multi-stakeholder leaders in cancer care, research, digital innovation, and regulatory science - alongside patient experts – will focus on the root causes of health inequity and financial toxicity in cancer. Certain subgroups of patients experience avoidable disparities in access to specialized cancer treatment and discrepancies in clinical outcomes, including higher mortality rates, following treatment. The risk of financial toxicity - which is the detrimental effects of the excess financial strain caused by the diagnosis of cancer on the well-being of patients, their families, and society - following a cancer diagnosis is also not equally distributed.

"If we are going to innovate and if we are going to change the way that we care for people with cancer, it has to work for everyone. We have an opportunity to do things differently. Let's make sure that we bring everyone with us," Goldsack said. "It is unacceptable to just come up with innovations that only work for the fortunate few in the community. Starting with this project [focused on health equity] was absolutely imperative to all of us."

The effort also will require the participation of digital health startups developing creative solutions to tackle digital patient care coordination, software for community outreach or new platforms to support patients with their post-treatment care. 

The CancerX effort also includes a new national innovation accelerator and the initial cohort of startups will be announced in the fall.

"We aren't going to solve this problem with individual point solutions. We have to think about all of the new innovations that we have access to in the digital era," Goldsack said. Those innovations could include clinical decision support tools that enable care providers who are outside of NCI Centers of Excellence and outside of academic medical centers or digital health tools to open up access to virtual clinical trials or event patient-facing apps to support cancer patients at home.

"We have to we have to run the whole gamut and we have to think 'big picture' around a true reimagination of how we care for people. What does it mean to move the care of people with cancer upstream? How can we think about reducing cancer burden from the very stuff?

Demonstration projects will then begin in early 2024.

Goldsack says CancerX uniquely blends DiMe’s expertise in convening cross-disciplinary groups to develop clinical-quality resources on a tech timeline with Moffitt’s top research and care experts working side-by-side to revolutionize cancer treatment, extend access to the highest-quality care, and save more lives.

The initiative is open to all those working in the field who are committed to working collaboratively and share a vision of unleashing the power of innovation to design and create a future that's free of the burden of cancer, she said.

Member organizations will include government agencies and sub-agencies alongside a diverse range of industry members, academic centers, and at least two patient advocacy organizations at all times. 

A steering committee of 12 individual representatives from member organizations will serve as equals to set the priorities and practices of the private-public partnership.