This is an exciting time in kidney cancer care. Decades of work on refining surgical techniques, immunotherapy, targeted therapies, and cancer genetics and epigenetics are coming together in ways that help patients live longer, better lives.
As a community, we want to keep the momentum going – there are infinite points in the path of cancer progression, any of which could be the next big breakthrough in cancer therapy. So what’s the best way to continue making an even bigger difference in the lives of kidney cancer patients?
Bringing together diverse stakeholders
First, we need a diversity of voices working together. Last November, the Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) gathered 25 of the top minds in kidney cancer with expertise in a wide variety of disciplines, from urologic oncology to medical oncology to patient advocacy and industry, for the inaugural kidney cancer “Think Tank: Coalition for a Cure.” The primary goal was to define key areas of unmet needs in kidney cancer research and care and then discuss how to best meet those needs in the upcoming years.
Some of the topics under discussion were improving how long someone responds to kidney cancer treatment – even to the point of declaring their kidney cancer cured – improving our ability to screen for small renal masses to catch cancer at an earlier stage, and improving care for people with rare types of kidney cancer that have fewer effective treatments.
The results of those discussions are forthcoming, but they will provide a roadmap of what the research priorities should be for both the KCA and the scientific community at large.
Effective use of funding
Second, we should allocate funds for kidney cancer research effectively. Historically, kidney cancer has been underfunded compared to the disease burden, but this is changing. Investments in kidney cancer research from programs like the Kidney Cancer Research Program within the Department of Defense have increased over the last several years. Additionally, in 2019, the KCA awarded its largest amount of grants thus far – $1.3 million to fund six grant projects focused on biomarkers to improve early kidney cancer detection and discover new treatments.
“Our project focuses on the identification of a potential new immune therapy for kidney cancer,” said Dr. Rupal Bhatt, an oncologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass., who received a KCA Advanced Discovery Award last year.
“If we are successful, we’d love for the kidney cancer community to help us develop it, and we would need the support of other clinicians and patients… We have such curious patients who are always wondering ‘what’s next, what’s new, what’s on the horizon?’ It’s a testament to them that it is not often about what could be in it for them but what could benefit the community. Some therapies that are in development might not benefit every patient who is actively being treated but could lead to future treatments, either for the patients themselves or future patients.”
The priorities roadmap that emerged from the Think Tank should help the kidney cancer community better understand where investments in research could lead to big payoffs in improving patient health and survival – hopefully for patients today but certainly for patients in the future.