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Develop Effective Treatments - National Cancer Plan

Goal: Effective treatment, with minimal side effects, is accessible to all people with all cancers, including those with rare cancers, metastatic cancers, and treatment-resistant disease.

For some cancers, there are proven and highly effective treatment options. For too many others, including rare cancers, treatments are limited or lacking altogether. And many treatments that control cancer have harmful side effects that can permanently affect a survivor's quality of life. Progress must therefore include treatments for all cancers, with a focus on making therapies with the fewest side effects.

A yellow, circular icon with a photo of a woman in a lab coat, clear safety goggles, and gloves looking to a microscope. Above her are the words Develop Effective Treatments.

The state of cancer treatment today

We’ve made great strides in cancer treatment, marked by innovations such as:

  • the emergence of precision oncology, which tailors a person’s treatment based on the unique molecular makeup of their tumor
  • advances in immunotherapy that have, for example, led to the doubling of the 5-year survival rate for people with advanced melanoma
  • significant progress using targeted therapies for lung cancer—the most common and, for many years, one of the most difficult to treat cancers

Developments like these would not be possible without clinical trials, which allow promising new treatments to be carefully tested to determine if they are safe and more effective than current treatments. However, the number of people with cancer taking part in clinical trials—particularly those from some racial and ethnic groups, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the elderly, and those with other serious health conditions—remain low. This may perpetuate inequities and limit who benefits from trial results.

Strategies to develop effective cancer treatments

  • Improve understanding of how cancer develops and spreads and using technology to predict tumor growth.
  • Use all available resources and knowledge to identify what molecules involved in cancer cell growth should be targeted for treatment.
  • Emphasize the development of new biological and technological approaches to treat rare cancers, treatment-resistant tumors, and childhood cancers.
  • Move promising new treatments from discovery to clinical trials more quickly and ensure equitable access to all treatments.
  • Collect population-wide data on cancer spread and recurrence to inform treatment discovery and improve clinical care.
  • Minimize toxicities from treatment that may lead to short- or long-term harm, including second cancers in survivors.
  • Develop methods for predicting a patient’s treatment response and long-term outcomes.

Examples of NCI-supported research to achieve this goal

  • The Human Tumor Atlas Network is making virtual 3D maps of tumors and the tissues and cells around them from a diverse population of people with cancer. The atlases generated will enhance biological understanding of cancer and inform development of new treatments.
  • Collaboration through the Immuno-Oncology Translational Network is working to speed up the development of new immunotherapies to treat and prevent adult cancers.
  • The Pragmatica-Lung trial is evaluating whether a combination of drugs (ramucirumab and pembrolizumab) can help those with advanced lung cancer live longer than with standard chemotherapy.
  • The NCI Formulary is a public-private partnership between the NCI and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that provides access to drugs for cancer clinical trials or preclinical research.

Examples of activities across the government to achieve this goal

  • ARPA-H’s new Precision Surgical Interventions program will develop novel technologies that will allow surgeons to remove cancerous tumors with more precision and accuracy, potentially resulting in better health outcomes for people with cancer.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is partnering with the International Space Station on projects to develop new cancer treatments, broaden research advancements, foster new collaborations, and accelerate biomanufacturing.
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office expanded and extended its program to expedite consideration of patents for innovations to detect and treat cancer.
  • Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered a cancer trigger that occurs in humans through researching plant-microbe biology; the results of this research are hopeful for the development of drug therapies to fight various cancers.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology Regenerative Medicine program is working with the Food and Drug Administration, the Standards Coordinating Body, and industry to develop global manufacturing and testing standards, as well as the measurement infrastructure needed to advance emerging advanced therapies, including cellular immunotherapies for treating cancer.
Learn more about this goal
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