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VA partners with NCI, DoD for precision medicine program

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is partnering with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to form the nation’s first screening program intended to provide targeted and individualized therapies for cancer patients.

The tri-agency precision medicine partnership is called the Applied Proteogenomics Organizational Learning and Outcomes (APOLLO) and is part of the NCI’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. Proteogenomics is a combination of genomics, the study of the human genome, and proteomics, the study of a specific proteome (set of proteins).

Researchers in the APOLLO program will regularly screen tumors for protein and gene information in order to provide targeted and customized therapies for lung cancer patients in VA and DoD medical programs. Approximately 8,000 veterans in the VA system are diagnosed with lung cancer every year. The program will eventually include other types of cancer.

APOLLO clinicians and researchers will classify tumors in veterans’ lungs based on gene changes in the tumors, as well as the levels of proteins. The researchers will then use the findings to either recommend targeted therapies or refer patients to the appropriate clinical trials. The goal of the program is to share the information gathered with the global cancer community in order to provide precision medicine therapies to cancer patients.

“APOLLO will create a pipeline to move genetic discoveries from the lab to VA clinics where Veterans receive cutting-edge cancer care,” VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said in a press release. “This is an example of how we are striving to be an exemplary learning health care system. We are proud to join our federal partners in this exciting initiative, and we expect it will lead to real improvements in the lives of those affected by cancer.”

The NCI hopes to use precision medicine to accelerate research that will help identify which treatments work best for which cancer patients. APOLLO will complement other Cancer Moonshot initiatives, including a partnership between the VA and IBM that uses the Watson supercomputer to interpret tumor sequencing results.

Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau passed away in 2015 after a battle with brain cancer, leads the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

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