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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday is rolling out a series of initiatives to build momentum for cancer research, announcing that it will try to expedite scientists’ access to experimental drugs for research purposes and partner with foundations and the private sector to fund more “precompetitive” studies.

The initiatives, along with a host of others, are being announced in conjunction with a daylong summit in Washington being held as part of Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer research initiative.

While many of the new efforts are relatively small in scale and come at the tail end of the administration, they are intended to mark “the beginning of a new discussion” on cancer and represent “down payments on actions that we can achieve this year,” Greg Simon, the executive director of Biden’s cancer effort, told reporters on a conference call.


Among the initiatives:

  • The National Cancer Institute will work with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to give researchers faster access to investigational drugs by letting them work off of a new, preapproved list. Researchers will be able to obtain compounds through one preapproved “formulary,” rather than having to enter into lengthy negotiations with companies independently for individual research projects.
  • The Energy Department’s supercomputers will be used to analyze data from the “Million Veteran Program,” the Department of Veteran Affair’s project to sequence the DNA of 1 million veterans to help develop more personalized medical treatments.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is creating a new Oncology Center of Excellence, which will bring together oncologists from across the agency to speed up work on new cancer treatments. The acting director will be Dr. Richard Pazdur, the FDA’s oncology chief.
  • The National Institutes of Health is launching a partnership with 12 biopharmaceutical companies, research foundations, and philanthropies to share more “precompetitive research,” as Simon put it, so early research on cancer therapies can be better understood and developed more quickly.
  • NCI is also redesigning the search function on its website to make it easier for cancer patients and oncologists to search for clinical trials that could fit their needs — an effort to improve the poor record of getting cancer patients to participate in those trials.

There will be other nonprofit and private sector commitments, as well. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which raises money for the study of new treatments, will commit to doubling its annual research funding from $50 million to $100 million a year by 2021.


And IBM is promising to help the VA expand its precision oncology program by letting the agency use its Watson for Genomics technology, which helps physicians by producing lists of potential cancer therapies along with information about the evidence and clinical trials that support them. They’re hoping to improve care for 10,000 veterans with cancer.

Biden’s team is also trying to draw attention to the importance of the early detection of cancer, including better screening techniques.

“We have many cancers that, if we detect them early, people can survive. One of the biggest challenges we have as a nation is making certain that every citizen has the kind of testing and screening to be saved from a cancer that could be fatal if it’s not caught in time,” Simon said.