WASHINGTON — The National Institutes of Health on Thursday announced a $215 million public-private partnership with 11 pharmaceutical companies in what the agency bills as a significant next step in its cancer moonshot.
The Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies, or PACT, is a five-year agreement to push ahead with research that seeks to “identify, develop and validate robust biomarkers — standardized biological markers of disease and treatment response — to advance new immunotherapy treatments that harness the immune system to attack cancer,” the agency said.
The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, a congressionally established nonprofit that manages public-private partnerships involving the NIH, will oversee the initiative.
“We have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy, often eradicating cancer completely for some cancer patients,” Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH director, said 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.”
Each of the industry partners will contribute $1 million a year to the initiative, for a total of $55 million, while the NIH will provide $160 million in support over the next five years.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit,” Collins said of the partnership, quoting former President Harry Truman.
He also addressed questions of intellectual property, comparing the initiative to the Accelerating Medicines Partnership, a “pre-competitive” collaboration with industry groups launched three years ago that requires all parties to agree to initial data and resource-sharing without regard to future considerations of products and profit.
The pharma companies participating are: AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene Corporation, Genentech, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Pfizer.
“If we are collecting the same biomarkers with the same standards, we can actually be able to compare [drugs to one another],” said Thomas Hudson, the vice president for oncology and early discovery at Abbvie. “It’s enabling to have a standard that accelerates us making the right decision for the next trial.”
The newly installed acting secretary of health and human services, Eric Hargan, attended the event alongside Collins, a slate of pharmaceutical executives, and Dr. Douglas Lowy, the National Cancer Institute’s acting director.
Reed Cordish, who in his role within President Trump’s American Office of Innovation has focused on issues including biopharmaceutical manufacturing and the opioid crisis, also attended.
It is the second major public-private collaboration announced by the NIH in the last month. Collins appeared alongside Stephen J. Ubl, the CEO of the industry group PhRMA, in New Jersey on Sept. 18 to announce a partnership that aims to discover non-addictive alternatives to pain treatment in light of the nationwide opioid crisis.
Also Thursday, a different (but overlapping) group of pharma companies announced a coalition to test new combinations of their immunotherapy drugs. The clinical trials, to be conducted at medical research institutions across the U.S. and Canada, will test combinations of drugs from rival companies with a goal of expanding the number of patients who respond to immunotherapy. Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Genentech will provide funding to support the trials.