Under the leadership of preeminent U.S. cancer center directors, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) announced [on September 13] the formation of an innovative initiative, the AACR Cancer Centers Alliance. The Alliance will bring together the nation’s cancer centers with the goal of markedly expanding the scope and impact of these world-class institutions for the benefit of all patients across geographies and diverse populations.
An article outlining the Alliance’s initial plans was published in the AACR journal Cancer Discovery and will be published in the coming days in AACR’s nine other peer-reviewed journals.
“Despite tremendous forward momentum in our progress against this complex disease, cancer in all its forms remains a major public health challenge,” said David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD, FAACR, chair of the AACR Cancer Centers Alliance steering committee and director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center. “Innovative approaches and partnerships are urgently needed if we are to improve outcomes for all patients. I am inspired by the collaborative mindset of my fellow cancer center directors and their collective enthusiasm for this exciting new strategic approach to tackling cancer and am thrilled to join my esteemed colleagues in announcing the AACR Cancer Centers Alliance.”
Unprecedented advances in cancer research have led to an increased understanding of the biology and development of cancer, and to remarkable improvements in cancer prevention, screening, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment. As a result of this progress—and as reported in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2023 released September 13—the U.S. cancer death rate has declined 33% since 1991. More than 18 million cancer survivors are now living longer and fuller lives following their cancer diagnoses.
These scientific breakthroughs have largely originated within our nation’s National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated cancer centers. Established as part of the National Cancer Act in 1971, NCI-designated cancer centers are laser focused on driving advances in cancer research, patient care, education and training, and community outreach and engagement. They represent the nation’s engine for discovery science, translational research, and practice-changing cancer clinical trials, while also deeply engaging the diverse communities they serve and training the nation’s diverse cancer workforce of researchers and clinicians. Supported by NCI and by significant institutional, state, and philanthropic funds, NCI-designated cancer centers and other academic and community-based cancer centers are crucial to achieving the nation’s cancer mission.
Too often, however, these institutions operate independently of one another, limiting their impact. Recognizing the need for and promise of greater collaboration in an increasingly interconnected world, AACR convened cancer center directors from across the country in a series of historic meetings over the past year to discuss how their individual institutions could work together to accelerate the pace of discovery for patient benefit. These discussions provided the foundation and momentum for the formation of the AACR Cancer Centers Alliance.
With an eye toward achieving the goals of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot and the National Cancer Plan led by NCI Director Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, the Alliance will work synergistically to reduce the cancer burden across the nation. Since the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) has historically focused on enhancing the role of cancer centers, the Alliance will identify opportunities for fruitful interactions with AACI as part of this novel endeavor.
This initiative will accelerate the pace of discovery by providing an ongoing mechanism for transferring new knowledge, sharing resources, developing national demonstration projects, and driving innovation that impacts cancer science, cancer care delivery, and science and health policy.
The Alliance will initially focus on four main areas of collaboration:
- Basic and translational research
The Alliance aims to develop innovative funding models and expand the sharing of best practices, specialized skills, and sophisticated core facilities among cancer centers. This collective approach will de-risk the most challenging research projects being undertaken by cancer scientists, such as furthering the understanding of the biology of cancer and exploring opportunities in drug discovery and development, computational science, bioengineering, and other areas of data science.
- Clinical research, clinical trials, and regulatory science and policy
As one part of a multipronged, collaborative effort to improve clinical trials and reach diverse, understudied, and underserved patient populations, the Alliance will provide cancer centers with additional opportunities to explore state-of-the-art technologies, including artificial intelligence-driven approaches to harness real-world data and digital and platform approaches to develop and deliver decentralized and pragmatic trials.
- Education, training, professional advancement, and diversity, equity, and inclusion
By working together, the Alliance aims to increase optimism about careers in the cancer field and create new and inclusive opportunities for the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians, with the goal of creating a workforce that is reflective of the diverse communities that the nation’s cancer centers serve.
- Speaking with a unified voice
Through the Alliance, the nation’s cancer centers will speak with a unified voice to address priorities in cancer science, clinical trials, and patient care; issues related to science and health policy and cancer health equity; and the urgent need to develop innovative, robust, and sustainable funding research models. As the convener of this initiative, AACR will apply its expertise and resources to help amplify these messages to policy makers, the cancer community at large, and the public.
Esteemed cancer center directors from across the country will guide the initiative. The Alliance steering committee chair and subgroup chairs are:
- David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD, FAACR, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center (Steering Committee Chair)
- Carlos L. Arteaga, MD, FAACR, UT Southwestern Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center (Subgroup Co-Chair: Clinical Research, Clinical Trials, and Regulatory Science and Policy)
- John L. Cleveland, PhD, Moffitt Cancer Center (Subgroup Chair: Basic and Translational Research)
- Ruben A. Mesa, MD, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center (Subgroup Chair: Education, Training, Professional Advancement, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion)
- Louis M. Weiner, MD, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University (Subgroup Co-Chair: Clinical Research, Clinical Trials, and Regulatory Science and Policy)
- Cheryl L. Willman, MD, Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center (Subgroup Chair: Speaking with a Unified Voice)
As the first and largest professional organization in the world dedicated to advancing every area of cancer science and medicine, AACR is uniquely positioned to identify and accelerate scientific priorities that lead to lifesaving discoveries. AACR will serve as a catalyst in support of the cancer centers’ goal to marshal their resources and collaborate directly, effectively, and synergistically to address the nation’s cancer mission and its major challenges.
“Fostering collaboration in support of cancer research has always been at the core of AACR’s mission,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of AACR. “The formation of this innovative initiative that is being led by our nation’s cancer center directors is a watershed moment in cancer research and patient care. The scope and impact of cancer centers will be significantly amplified by working together. AACR is honored to serve as the convener for the AACR Cancer Centers Alliance, and we look forward to working closely with cancer center directors across the country to speed the pace of progress and save more lives from cancer.”
This announcement was originally released on September 13, 2023, by the American Institute for Cancer Research. It is republished with permission.