Dr. Sam Hanash of MD Anderson Cancer with Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy
Exact Sciences announced last week that it will partner with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to jointly develop and commercialize blood-based screening and diagnostics tests for the early detection of lung cancer.
A veteran in the fight against cancer, MD Anderson certainly needs no introduction. One of the country’s three original comprehensive cancer centers, MD Anderson has ranked as one of the nation's top two cancer centers in U.S. News & World Report's annual "Best Hospitals" survey for 25 years.
But what you may not know is that in 2012, MD Anderson kicked off perhaps its most ambitious effort thus far in the war on cancer. Inspired by America's drive to put a man on moon in the 1960s, the Houston-based center launched its Moon Shots Program, an initiative aimed at reducing mortality rates for many of the world's deadliest cancers.
One of these cancers, of course, is lung cancer, America's leading cancer killer. Lung cancer is especially dangerous because it lacks early-stage symptoms and usually goes undetected until it reaches an advanced, and unfortunately often incurable, stage.
Sam Hanash, M.D., Ph.D., director of MD Anderson’s Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer, is leading research efforts to create a new blood test that can detect early-stage lung cancer.
“Lung cancer is, and will continue to be, America’s leading cancer killer unless we identify new approaches to diagnose it early, at its most treatable stages,” said Dr. Hanash.
Since the launch of Moon Shots, Dr. Hanash and his colleagues have experimented with various screening methods, each bringing them closer to the ideal procedure, and gathering data to identify the tumor markers in blood that most effectively predict lung cancer. Once this is identified, they can use the information to formulate an accurate test.
This is where Exact Sciences comes in. By bringing together some of the top minds in molecular diagnostics and cancer research, Exact Sciences and MD Anderson want to develop a simple blood-based lung cancer screening test from start to finish. This test would offer the opportunity to screen nearly 11 million Americans considered high risk smokers and former smokers.
Eventually, Dr. Hanash hopes that people will be able to take the test at home using a drop of blood from a finger prick.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have a blood test as our first line of defense?” Dr. Hanash said. “If the blood test signals possible cancer, then, and only then, would patients be sent for further testing.”
It may take a moon shot, but together, Exact Sciences and MD Anderson hope to increase the accessibility of at-home lung cancer screenings that can detect the disease before it's too late.