Ohio State, ORIEN Could Play Role in Vice President's Cancer Moonshot Initiative

Map of ORIEN member hospitals

Ohio State University and the rapidly growing Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN) could play an important role in the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force headed by Vice President Joe Biden.

“The Vice President is frustrated that people are not collaborating more (and sharing data) through a single platform,” said Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

“Senior members of Vice President Joe Biden’s staff were delighted to hear about ORIEN and I can see it emerge as the (data-gathering) platform to solve the moonshot issue,” Dr. Caligiuri said.

On January 28, Dr. Caligiuri and representatives from other ORIEN member institutions traveled to Washington, D.C., to brief Biden’s staff on the data-gathering platform.

Ohio State and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., launched ORIEN in May 2014. ORIEN now has 11 cancer center members from all over the United States. Cancer patients treated at these centers have the option to participate in a universal protocol, called Total Cancer Care® or TCC. By participating in TCC a patient agrees to donate their unused tissue, blood, fluids and clinical data for research in order to understand cancer at the molecular level. TCC is a life long partnership with the patient, allowing researchers at the cancer hospitals to contact patients if they are candidates for clinical trials or new treatments that could help treat their cancer in the future.

“There are many ideas being presented on how to achieve the moonshot initiative,” Tom Sellers, PhD, MPH, director of Moffitt Cancer Center said in a press release. “However, ORIEN is not just an idea. It is well-established. We have consented more than 130,000 patients, demonstrated that we can share data and contribute our individual experiences and expertise to further develop the partnership.”

President Barack Obama announced the National Cancer Moonshot in his 2016 State of the Union Address, tapping Biden to lead an initiative to accelerate cancer research, completing a decade's worth of work in five years, and eventually eliminating cancer altogether.

Dr. Caligiuri drew a comparison to Amazon to explain the big-data capabilities of ORIEN during his recent Annual Fireside Chat.

“I bought my wife One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Amazon,” Dr. Caligiuri said. Seconds later, he said he received an alert from Amazon telling him that if he liked that book, he might like a selection of other books too.

“How did they know?” Dr. Caligiuri asked rhetorically, responding that the answer is big data.

Amazon has millions of customers and can sort through the purchasing habits of all the customers worldwide who purchased One Hundred Years of Solitude to discover and rank the other books they ordered — all in a matter of seconds.

That’s the idea behind ORIEN — the data ORIEN collects forms a profile on the patients, and can suggest treatment options or clinical trials for similar patients, and it can draw connections between them to better understand their cancer.

It can take years to develop a new cancer drug and hundreds of millions of dollars, Dr. Caligiuri explained in his chat. One of the hurdles is that a cancer in different patients “can look the same, but at the DNA level it isn’t the same,” he said.

This makes it extremely difficult to find the candidates needed for a clinical trial of a new drug.

Using ORIEN, researchers can much more easily find the 50 or 100 women scattered across the country who, for example, have pancreatic cancer caused by similar genetic mutations, and enroll them in clinical trials.

“This will fuel research … and save months (and millions of dollars) in the development process,” Dr. Caligiuri said.

Along with programs like ORIEN, Dr. Caligiuri said it’s imperative to invest more funds in cancer research.

“If we spent three times more on cancer research we would have three times less cancer,” he said.