Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center is at the helm of a new clinical trials consortium, the Cancer Screening Research Network, or CSRN, created by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, to advance President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot by improving early detection of cancers.

Biden announced the formation of the Cancer Moonshot, intended to jumpstart progress in research, treating and curing cancer, in 2016 when he was vice president. Six years later, as president, he recommitted to the initiative. The CSRN will play a primary role in moving the Moonshot closer to its goals, which include slashing the age-adjusted death rate from cancer by at least half. The primary focus will be on diagnosing cancer sooner and reducing health inequities — and preventing cancer in the first place — by evaluating new and complex technologies that screen for cancer.

Screening for cancer is a key part of prevention because when more cancers are detected before people develop symptoms, it is expected that treatment — perhaps less aggressive treatment — can lead to better outcomes. Fred Hutch will lead the CSRN’s Coordinating and Communication Center (CCC) and the Statistics and Data Management Center (SDMC) that will oversee cancer screening clinical trials enrolling diverse participants. The initial studies will examine Multi-Cancer Detection assays (MCDs), which look for byproducts of cancer cells in blood or other bodily fluids that could indicate early-stage cancer.

Although these tests are being commercially marketed as effective cancer screening tools, they are so new that there is no research showing they actually work to reduce deaths from cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not authorized any MCD tests. But, if research shows that these new blood tests are successful at detecting cancer early and preventing cancer-related deaths, it could help reshape the cancer landscape. Any positive results would need to be confirmed by further testing.

“There is a real urgency to do this research,” said Garnet Anderson, PhD, senior vice president and director of Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division, who is leading the CCC along with Ruth Etzioni, PhD, and Scott Ramsey, MD, PhD. “There are about 50 companies all developing new kinds of tests, and we feel strongly that they need to be rigorously evaluated before being promoted in the community. We need to know if they’re accurate enough and how physicians can best use them.”

Anderson holds the Fred Hutch 40th Anniversary Endowed Chair, and Etzioni holds the Rosalie and Harold Rea Brown Endowed Chair.

Etzioni said that the new network is critical to keeping patients well-informed.

“That NCI is taking this on reflects their awareness of the potentially practice-changing nature of these technologies,” she said. “We are very proud to be partnering with them in making sure that people have the information they need to optimally manage their health.”

This article was originally published February 21, 2024, by Fred Hutch News Service. It is republished with permission.