Cancer is not a single deadly disease, but nearly 100 different ones. It impacts every patient differently, often changing during the course of disease and becoming resistant to treatment. While there has been significant progress in treating many types of cancer, current treatments still leave far too many of the 33 million people living with cancer today without viable options – and this number is expected to sharply climb in the next two decades.

The oncology community has reached a point where a deluge of data is available that contributes to the understanding of which patients will benefit most from which therapies, and how best to apply treatment. Of all the knowledge gained, perhaps the most fundamental learning is the insight that no one entity alone can take on the fight against cancer. This guiding principle applies to industry, to academia, and even to treatment approaches themselves.

The strategic unification of cancer research and development has happened only recently. A couple of years ago, cancer research was often divided down academia and industry lines, and seldom did the two share information. Today, something quite different is happening as multidisciplinary fields collaborate openly to identify cancer treatments. With so much information available, these types of partnerships are not always easy to implement -- but there are a few key elements that ensure the success of the confluence of knowledge and information, which make true innovation for the benefit of patients possible.

Building Systematic Catalogues

Given the vast amount of data available, there is a real opportunity to transform medicine by using systematic approaches to accelerate the availability of successful therapies. This transformation can take shape through the creation of methods, tools and data sets made available to the scientific community through interconnected networks.

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which currently has collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide, has contributed significantly to the creation of  systematic catalogues of cancer genome alterations across different types of tumors. Built around a deeply cooperative spirit across disciplines and organizations, Broad Institute's Cancer Program is focused on understanding the basic molecular mechanisms of cancer and applying this knowledge to transform the practice of cancer medicine. As part of this network, Bayer is supporting research that characterizes genetic alterations associated with cancer through data collection and analysis, under a five-year strategic alliance with the Broad Institute. Both parties explore their compound libraries and use their screening platforms as well as medicinal chemistry expertise to benefit joint projects.

Working Side-by-Side

To advance transition from basic research to early drug discovery and development, Bayer has made an effort to create partnerships right in the lab, where researchers can collaborate side-by-side. Bayer’s strategic collaboration with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, the largest biomedical research institute in Germany, is rooted in a growing team from Bayer and the DKFZ physically working together on research findings that are aimed to be translated into new treatment strategies to enhance the anti-tumor immune response. Besides project funding, the partnership supports scientific exchange and promotes interdisciplinary teamwork between DKFZ and Bayer employees.

Together, the partners have already initiated more than 30 projects to discover new approaches for cancer treatment, and have progressed more than 10 of them to compound/antibody screening for new potential drug candidates.

Open Information Exchange

When it comes to confronting major obstacles in oncology, open information exchange has the power to change the status quo for the better. For that very reason, it is important that research efforts and learnings be applied beyond in-house pharmaceutical development, and that they are made available to the scientific community. Through its collaboration with the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), an international, not-for-profit organization that promotes networking among more than 200 research groups from academia and eight other pharmaceutical companies, Bayer provides a subset of its compound library for screening by groups in the network. The Consortium aims to identify chemical structures that support preclinical target validation, which may open up new possibilities for the development of novel therapies for less well-studied targets and proteins. The ultimate goal is to promote advancement and dialogue among scientists and as a result novel medicines reaching the patients faster. By opening up opportunities on a broader scale, success in developing innovative treatments becomes a more attainable goal, particularly when all parties can unite on a common mission to find effective solutions for cancer patients.

Winning the War in the Age of Information

We have arrived at the age of information in cancer research. With so much at our fingertips, it is critical that those on the front lines of cancer care come together successfully to decipher and apply the knowledge that has been accumulated in order to advance meaningful treatments and solutions. Only through the continued collaborative research and development can we unite and advance against the world’s most pressing health concerns and develop new therapies that offer true benefits to the oncology community.