In a letter to Congress, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) called for immediate action to be taken to protect patients with cancer against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to the AACR, the scientific and clinical knowledge of AACR members positions them to be able to contribute to the deployment of resources and the advancement of research to overcome this pandemic. However, in order for them to be able to do so, they indicate that congress must swiftly take the following steps to alleviate the COVID-19 public health emergency, while also ensuring that patients with cancer and those in the cancer workforce are protected.
First, the organization urges President Trump to immediately and fully implement the Defense Production Act (DPA) to direct industries to accelerate the manufacture of all crucial medically equipment needed to protect frontline healthcare workers and to save the lives of patients with COVID-19.
“It is absolutely critical that we equip our healthcare providers currently entrenched in a ‘medical war zone’ with the personal protective equipment (PPE) that is necessary to keep them, their families, and others safe, such as surgical and N95 masks, gloves, gowns and face shields,” the authors wrote. “In addition, we implore you to take steps that provide critically ill patients with access to advanced life support systems, such as ventilators and ECMO devices.”
Additionally, the AACR called for the implementation of widespread testing for symptomatic individuals, as well as asymptomatic individuals who have been exposed to the virus or those in high-risk patient groups, such as patients with cancer. Continuing a nationwide social distancing policy for as long as necessary is also essential according to the AACR, as it will reduce COVID-19 disease incidence, overall death toll, and help to effectively protect frontline healthcare providers.
In regard to the FDA, the AACR asked that science-based approaches be upheld in the FDA’s approval of all COVID-19 therapies. Further, they suggested that the FDA expand the access program or “compassionate use” as the primary pathway for patients to access investigational medical products, and immediately deploy a COVID-19 focused version of Project Facilitate.
“Project Facilitate is an innovative, common sense, single point of contact program that helps healthcare providers navigate expanded access for oncology therapeutics administered by the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence,” the authors wrote. “Importantly, expanded access allows us to learn from the experience of every patient treated with investigational drugs, knowledge that will be vital for the conquest of COVID-19.”
Notably, providing the infrastructure for telehealth digital technologies is necessary to ensure the continuity of care for patients with cancer, according to the AACR. Additionally, the organization highlighted the need to utilize the brain trust of cancer researchers and oncology healthcare providers who are contributing to the national capacity to address COVID-19.
“Through the study and use of new immunotherapies, including CAR T-cell therapies, cancer researchers have gained experience using immune-modulating therapies and managing severe immune-mediated side effects also seen in COVID-19,” the authors wrote. “Serious consideration should be given to engaging cancer researchers from various disciplines, oncology healthcare providers, and laboratory professionals in a call to action to study, detect, and defeat COVID-19.”
Lastly, the AACR brought attention to the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on cancer and medical research. Particularly, the economic security of the facilities and programs that perform cancer research and the researchers themselves is of great concern.
“The future of cancer and medical research depends on ensuring career continuity for researchers despite the adverse influences of COVID-19,” the authors wrote. “When this global pandemic is behind us, Congress must provide the necessary resources to maximize the potential for future advances in cancer and medical research and treatment.”
The AACR and its members indicated that they are ready to do what is necessary to aid Congress in achieving these recommendations and will herein make any journal article containing information relevant to advancing the understanding of COVID-19 open access and available online.
AACR Calls on Congress to Take Immediate Action Against COVID-19, Protect Patients with Cancer During the Pandemic [news release]. Published March 30, 2020. Accessed March 31, 2020.