These Md. companies are participating in the ‘cancer moonshot’

Jason Whong//October 17, 2016

These Md. companies are participating in the ‘cancer moonshot’

By Jason Whong

//October 17, 2016

President Barack Obama listens as Vice President Joe Biden speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, about the release of the Cancer Moonshot Report. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama listens as Vice President Joe Biden speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, about the release of the Cancer Moonshot Report. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Maryland-based companies and organizations of all sizes are contributing to the national initiative to end cancer.

More than 70 commitments to new actions, such as funding additional research, making new ways of sharing data and increasing outreach efforts in communities, were detailed Monday in Vice President Joe Biden’s progress report on the initiative, called the “cancer moonshot.”

President Barack Obama announced the initiative in January during his last State of the Union address; he put Biden, whose son died from cancer in 2015, in charge of the effort.

The White House hopes the initiative will increase the rate of research, allowing for 10 years’ worth of scientific progress in only five years.

The initiatives announced Monday involving companies, organizations and government agencies based in Maryland were:

— The National Cancer Institute, which is located at the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health, announced collaborations with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft to maintain cancer genomic data in the cloud. The data would be available securely to cancer researchers through the cancer institute’s Genomic Data Commons and Cancer Genomics Cloud pilots. The cloud could be used for storage, genomic analysis, visualization, and computation, helping researchers mine the data.

— Twenty stakeholders from government, academia, and drug and diagnostic companies have partnered to make an open database for liquid biopsies. That database could speed up the development of blood profiling diagnostic technologies. Personal Genome Diagnostics Inc., based in Baltimore, and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., based in Halethorpe, are among firms contributing data for the database, which is called the Blood Profiling Atlas.

— Columbia-based MedStar Health Inc. is launching an early cancer detection program in Washington. MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Washington Cancer Institute’s “Colon Cancer Prevention in the Neighborhood” program focuses on finding cancer among African Americans in Washington’s Ward 5, an area afflicted with many cases of late-stage colon cancer. MedStar health professionals will offer colon cancer education, perform risk assessments, and distribute free colon cancer tests to more than 1,400 patients.

MedStar’s initiative is funded in part by the Herb Gordon Foundation for Gastrointestinal Cancer, based in Rockville.

— Johns Hopkins University is one of seven research centers working together on an initiative to improve the sharing of cancer genomic data called the Contribute & Change Cancer Commons. The software that powers the commons is based on the same open-source software that powers the National Cancer Institute’s Genomic Data Commons, and also hosts complementary datasets submitted by members.

The new commons will also work with a new platform in which multiple systems can connect to share cancer data, called the Cancer Commons Hub. The commons and the hub will more than double the data now available to researchers, according to a statement from the White House.

— Rockville-based CosmosID Inc. has granted access to its automated bioinformatics platform, MetaGenID, to five cancer microbiome research studies. The value of the support is $150,000. MetaGenID has more than 65,000 curated microbial genomes and can very quickly identify microorganisms at the strain level, according to CosmosID.

For these five studies, data collected will be made freely available to researchers to help them consider the microbiome and its role in development, management, and treatment of human cancers.

— Metavivor Research and Support Inc., an Annapolis-based nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of advanced breast cancer and equity in research and patient support, committed to funding $1 million in metastasis research grants in 2017 and doubling that amount in 2018.

Since its founding in 2009, Metavivor has awarded $2.4 million to stage IV, patient-focused metastasis research conducted through a scientific peer review process led by career metastasis researchers.

— The Department of Defense’s Joint Pathology Center, based in Silver Spring, said it would consider digitizing and making available its more than 34 million unique pathology samples.

That effort would give more researchers and diagnosticians more access to the data, and builds on recent efforts that combine image analysis and machine learning algorithms to improve cancer diagnoses, according to the Department of Defense.

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