Stanford Cancer Institute

Curing most advanced cancers has proven elusive, but breakthroughs in treating metastatic melanoma and a small subset of other tumors provide motivation to expand this paradigm to other cancers.

To explore innovative approaches, technologies, and strategies to cure advanced cancers, the Stanford Cancer Institute hosted a group of nationally recognized cancer experts on the Stanford campus for a two-day think tank collaborative on April 3 and 4, 2024.

"The aim of this event was to understand the challenges in curing advanced cancers. Some of the brightest minds in cancer research came to Stanford to define the roadblocks that have impeded progress and identify the innovative technologies and methodologies needed to cure advanced cancers. We drew from the lessons of past successes yet remain bold in our willingness to embrace new, untested approaches. Our task was clear: to plot an aggressive course of action for the next 5-10 years, one that pushes the boundaries of possibility and propels us toward a future where advanced cancers are no longer a formidable foe."

- Steven Artandi, MD, PhD

The dynamic and interactive nature of the meeting facilitated the free exchange of ideas among attendees. Throughout the event, collaboration centered on pressing cancer research and treatment issues, focusing on identifying partnerships and pioneering strategies to cure advanced cancers. The Think Tank marked a significant achievement in fostering innovation and collaboration within the field, setting the stage for future cancer research and treatment advancements.

Summary and next steps in curing advanced cancers

Curing advanced cancers has proven difficult because of the inherent complexity of these diseases, and the marked heterogeneity within individual tumors. The field has yet to fully define fundamental tenets underlying the challenges in curing patients with metastatic cancers. Experimental strategies to cure advanced cancers may include moving beyond well-validated targets, identifying better biomarkers (including those for residual disease), understanding why drugs fail, and examining success in extreme responders. Researchers may also look to other fields such as infectious disease, and optimize drug cocktails that have complementary pharmacokinetic properties.  In addition to further investigating tumor heterogeneity, focusing on spatial transcriptome biology and phenotypes may prove beneficial. So too could probing host heterogeneity.

Institutions can foster ecosystems that lead to cures by minimizing both real and perceived conflicts of interest, and by identifying and implementing best practices for clinical trials such as dedicated units, streamlined protocols, unified sequencing platforms, and master IRBs.  Furthermore, thoughtful collaborations between industry and academia can benefit both partners,  lead to breakthroughs that ultimately benefit the patient.

By working collaboratively across fields and sectors to optimize models, modalities (both alone and in combination), patient groups, and clinical trial design, and by properly funding the work, we can make progress to cure advanced cancers.

The Stanford Cancer Institute was honored to have these experts contribute their expertise in immunology, targeted therapies, and the intersection of computer science, AI, and cancer therapies: