Vice President Biden announced the development of the National Cancer Moonshot in February, 2016. The national cancer research community responded by intensifying its commitment to improved prevention strategies, development of new tools, increased data sharing and discovery of new therapies to treat cancer.

Creating new solutions

Organizations and community oncology practices took part in New England’s Cancer Moonshot Summit earlier this year at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, to discuss the ways in which the initiative could positively impact the lives of people with lymphoma, the most common form of blood cancer.

The last decade has seen researchers develop a better understanding of the biological mechanisms contributing to the development of cancer and a corresponding rise in new therapies to treat the disease. Some of these novel treatments include immunotherapy and other targeted agents.

“While effective in treating and curing many types of cancer, including lymphoma, chemotherapy often takes a serious toll on patients...”

The National Cancer Moonshot seeks to build upon these discoveries and hasten the development of new cancer detection and treatment options for the benefit of all. With the advent of such targeted therapies, the need for more general — and toxic — treatment options like chemotherapy are increasingly being scrutinized. While effective in treating and curing many types of cancer, including lymphoma, chemotherapy often takes a serious toll on patients, in addition to their disease.

Today, with the commitment of even greater investment in cancer care in the United States, researchers are able to ask themselves: could the end of chemotherapy be a reality in our lifetime?

Breaking down lymphoma

The answer to that question lies in our understanding of lymphoma. With more than 70 different subtypes of lymphoma recognized, personalized treatment and decision-making has long been a part of the treatment paradigm for this complex disease. From the early days of combination chemotherapy, to monoclonal antibodies to checkpoint inhibitors and chimeric antigen receptor T-cell and other innovative immunotherapies, finding the right treatment for the right lymphoma subtype — and for the right patient at the right time — has always been central to treating lymphoma patients.

These concepts have helped pave the way to what today is known as precision medicine. And while researchers are continually improving our understanding of the disease and developing new, more refined therapies to more effectively treat the many subtypes of lymphoma, they also seek to reduce toxicities for patients and the long term side effects of treatment.

Looking for biomarkers

As a result of this auspicious goal, there are already several types of lymphoma being effectively treated without chemotherapy. Specific markers in protein typing and genetic coding of the tumor, as well as analysis of the patient’s own DNA, may enable doctors and patients to make informed decisions for predicting the most effective and least toxic therapy in order to develop highly individualized cancer care plans.

With significant and sustained federal support for the National Cancer Moonshot, coupled with innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors and with improved cooperation across academic centers and in patient-centered alliances with community oncology, the key to a chemotherapy-free future lies in our continued biologic understanding of diseases, such as lymphoma. With a better understanding of these complex cancers in combination with increased funding and enhanced collaborations, the moon may very well be within reach.