In multiple ways, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) has been ahead of the curve by more than a few years.
While President Barack Obama just announced a moonshot initiative to find a cure for cancer, NBCC launched its own campaign in 2010 called Breast Cancer Deadline 2020. The purpose is to know how to end breast cancer by the year 2020. The campaign is about having a plan of action that involves public policy, government and scientific collaboration.
Above everything, NBCC is taking the stance that the effort to end breast cancer needs to be led by advocates because they are the ones who can bring together the various groups that each have their own individual agendas.
“Advocates are the one group … that really has no agenda other than to end breast cancer,” said Fran Visco, president of NBCC. “We don’t have a particular area of expertise in science that we’re interested in advancing. We aren’t interested in getting published or promoted.”
Part of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 is a research effort called the Artemis Project, which focuses on prevention, both primary prevention and prevention of metastasis. At the beginning of the campaign, NBCC brought together a collaboration of scientists and regulators to determine if there could be a preventive breast cancer vaccine.
“The idea of preventing breast cancer for future generations is what drives many advocates. They’re worried about their daughters, their granddaughters, their sons,” Visco said. “So we wanted to bring a focus on the idea of primary prevention of breast cancer because very little research and attention goes into that area.”
The vaccine would be for everyone to use, not just something that would be available for individuals with high risk of developing breast cancer. According to Visco, the project is just a few years away from entering a preventive vaccine into a phase 1 clinical trial.
As for prevention of metastasis, NBCC has identified immuno-oncology as a promising area. This is yet another instance of how NBCC has been ahead of the curve. While the American Society of Clinical Oncology just named immunotherapy the medical advance of 2015, NBCC has been working in the area of immuno-oncology since the launch of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020.
“It remains to be seen what immuno-oncology will really bring into the clinic for breast cancer,” Visco said. “We don’t really have those answers yet, but it is a promising area.”
Despite the progress NBCC has made, with four years left in the campaign there are still challenges to overcome. For decades, focus has been on raising awareness of breast cancer and increasing screening, but NBCC is trying to shift the focus to prevention. However, this is easier said than done considering the billions of dollars that have been invested into awareness and screening, and the institutions and organizations focused on the message that early detection saves lives.
Another potential barrier is getting researchers to share their data. NBCC has walked away from partnerships with people who didn’t want to make their data available to all participants in the Artemis Project. Transparency is important to the project and it’s up to NBCC and other advocates to push and break down the silos that exist if an end to breast cancer is ever going to be found, according to Visco.
“Science is slow in terms of changing minds, getting institutions to open up and share data and getting individuals to trust others to share their ideas,” she said. “That, I think, is the largest barrier to making progress.”