A novel public-private partnership could hold the key to creating the next generation of potent oncology therapies.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with 11 biopharmaceutical firms announced a new initiative called the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT), which is a five-year research collaboration totaling $215 million as part of the Cancer Moonshot.

PACT’s initial focus will be on identifying, developing, and validating biomarkers to help move forward development of new immunotherapy treatments.

The current crop of immunotherapies have produced dramatic responses in certain cancer cases, which is why pharmaceutical companies have dedicated substantial investment to identify promising new treatment options for these patients.

This effort will comprise enabling systematic and uniform clinical testing of these disease indicators so researchers can gain a better understanding of biological response and resistance to certain cancer therapies. Immune and other related oncology biomarkers will be integrated into future clinical trials by establishing a guideline of standard biomarkers to be tested across all different types of studies.

“A scientific and organizational challenge this complex cannot be addressed effectively by any one organization acting alone,” said Maria C. Freire, Ph.D., the President and Executive Director of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, in a statement. “Instead, it requires the energies and resources of public and private partners working in close collaboration.” 

Immunotherapies don’t work for all patients so developing and standardizing these biomarkers to gain deeper insight into how these drugs work could lead to new mechanisms of action that may provide a higher benefit.

“We have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy, often eradicating cancer completely for some cancer patients,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in a statement. 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.”

Other aspects of PACT include facilitating information sharing between all groups involved with the clinical trial process to better coordinate investigative approaches and limit data duplication.

Some of the companies participating in this effort include AbbVie, Amgen, Celgene Corporation, and Roche.