NIH launches clinical trials network to evaluate emerging technologies for cancer screening

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a clinical trials network to evaluate emerging technologies for cancer screening. The Cancer Screening Research Network (CSRN) will support the Biden-Harris administration's Cancer Moonshot℠ by investigating how to identify cancers earlier, when they may be easier to treat. Eight groups have received funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of NIH, to carry out the initial activities of the network.

There are many cancers we still cannot reliably detect until it is so late that they become extremely difficult to treat. Emerging technologies such as multi-cancer detection tests could transform cancer screening and help to extend the lives of many more people. We need to be sure that these technologies work and understand how to use them so they benefit everyone."

W. Kimryn Rathmell, M.D., Ph.D., Director of NCI

Studies are needed, for example, to evaluate the benefits and harms of promising new technologies for cancer screening and to determine how best to incorporate these technologies into the standard of care. 

In 2024, the network will launch a pilot study, known as the Vanguard Study on Multi-Cancer Detection, to address the feasibility of using multi-cancer detection (MCD) tests in future randomized controlled trials. MCDs are blood tests that can screen for several types of cancers. The study will enroll up to 24,000 people to inform the design of a much larger randomized controlled trial. This larger trial will evaluate whether the benefits of using MCD tests to screen for cancer outweigh the harms, and whether they can detect cancer early in a way that reduces deaths.

"Our goal is to systematically evaluate cancer screening technologies to understand how best to use them to ultimately save lives. Data collected through these clinical trials can be used to develop evidence-based guidelines for cancer screening," said Lori M. Minasian, M.D., deputy director of the Division of Cancer Prevention at NCI.

In its studies, the network aims to reach diverse populations that are receiving routine care in a variety of health care settings. Study sites are geographically diverse and include underserved populations. Study investigators will come from a variety of disciplines that are actively engaged in cancer screening.

"We want to ensure that the organizations involved in this network will also be recruiting from populations historically underrepresented in clinical trials, which will make the data we generate as representative as possible," Dr. Minasian said. "It is important to make sure that these new technologies benefit all Americans."

Initial funding will provide resources for study coordination, communication activities, statistics and data management, and accrual and enrollment of participants into clinical trials and studies. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle will serve as the network's coordinating and communications center and the statistics and data management center.

The seven additional funded sites will lead efforts to enroll participants in their geographic and coverage areas and include:

  • Henry Ford Health + Michigan State University Health Sciences in Detroit
  • Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine
  • OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences in Oklahoma City
  • University of Colorado Cancer Center in Aurora
  • University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chapel Hill
  • Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Inova, and Sentara Health
  • Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

The Department of Defense Uniformed Services University and the Department of Veterans Affairs will also participate as sites funded by their respective agencies.

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