- At the JPMorgan Healthcare meeting in San Francisco, the new National Immunotherapy Coalition laid out its strategy for revolutionizing cancer treatment under the just-announced Cancer MoonShot 2020 initiative.
- Members of the newly formed NIC include Amgen, Celgene, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Patrick Soon-Shiong's NantWorks, and a slew of other biotechs (alongside academic institutions). One of the most surprising members? Independence Blue Cross.
- The coalition will provide access to 60 novel and approved immunotherapy agents that can be tested within the framework of an open-source research agreement.
The underlying idea that supports the necessity for Cancer MoonShot 2020 is that there are numerous potential breakthroughs in oncology currently, mainly in the area of immunotherapy, which are not being maximized or brought to fruition because research teams often work in secrecy and isolation.
The logic of bringing an open-source approach is to broaden genome testing and testing of numerous combinations of different approaches and drugs to various cancers, at all stages of disease. The goal is to deploy clinical trials across a 20,000-patient subset across up to 20 cancer types by 2020 in an attempt to discover immunotherapy combinations that provide lasting remission.
But that will require a whole lot of genomic sequencing, which is a costly proposition. Which is what makes Independence Blue Cross' decision to pay the costs of patients requiring this type of sequencing so striking.
"At Independence Blue Cross, we are proud to be the first major insurer offering reimbursement to our members for this next generation whole genome sequencing," said Independence CEO Daniel J. Hilferty. "We are committed to bringing state-of-the-art advances in oncology care to our members and making care accessible and affordable."
Soon-Shiong has said that the immunotherapy coalition will try to get other payers, including the Blue Cross insurance agency at large, on board with paying patients' sequencing costs.