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Cancer InnovationVU

About the Solution

Cancer Innovation Visualization & Understanding (Cancer InnovationVU)

Starting with 1971’s National Cancer Act (“War on Cancer”) and continuing on to the current Cancer Moonshot Initiative, it has been well recognized that innovation is integral to accelerating advances in cancer prevention, treatment, and control. Innovations in this sense can be tracked over time through patent filings and granted patents. These innovations may results from funding disbursed through initiatives such as the War on Cancer and the Cancer Moonshot which themselves are a response to increasing or consistently high cancer incidence and mortality rates.  By calling for increased funding and research capacity building, these initiatives are expected to lead to breakthroughs and innovations that reduce the cancer burden.

However, the story is not that simple and the inherent assumptions in this narrative require thorough examination. As an example, it is unclear whether cancer trends, after allowing for a suitable time delay to account for funding and research, have been a direct stimulus for increased cancer-related patent activity. Similarly, it is not clear how much of the increased patent activity, again accounting for a time delay, may explain decreasing cancer incidence and mortality. These are issues that represent just the tip of the iceberg. The story becomes more complex if we ask questions such as:   Has cancer innovation over time responded to trends in the most common cancers or in the deadliest cancers? Are cancer trends driving innovation in a similar fashion across cancers that affect different gender and racial/ethnic groups?  What is the time delay between funding and patent filing and has it remained constant over time? How might it differ across cancer sites, technology types, and innovation sectors? Has the diversity of patent assignees and funded entities in the cancer research increased or decreased over time? Are there certain cancers that have been overlooked by funders, scientists, and innovators? What factors might explain the increase in patent activity for a particular cancer and lack of activity for another?

These were some of the questions that motivated us to design the Cancer InnovationVU (Innovation Visualization & Understanding) tool using publicly available intellectual property data from the USPTO, cancer registry data from the NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, and funding data from NIH ExPORTER. Our approach was to develop an interactive tool to enable various users (policy-makers, research program directors/managers, researchers, the general public, and patient populations) to quickly assess the rate and state of innovation for the control of some of the most common and deadly cancers in the United States.  Like most data visualization tools, Cancer InnovationVU is not designed to definitively answer the questions presented above, but rather as a tool for forming hypotheses that can then be rigorously tested.

The Cancer InnovationVU tool is the result of transdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration between Thomson Reuters and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, and is available at Please click on the “About” tab on the website for details on the tool, data sources, the team, and disclaimers.

The visualization website is designed as two side-by-side panels. The top part of both panels display time trend plots between two user-selected data seta, chosen from among the following:  (a) Patent Documents, (b) NIH Cancer Research Funding, and (c) Cancer Incidence and Mortality. The default view plots NIH cancer funding alongside patent documents on the left panel and cancer incidence and mortality with patent documents on the right. Users can change the displayed data in both plots. In addition, users may filter the displayed information by: Cancer site (different cancer sites for all 3 data sets); Technology types (for patent data); and, Gender and Race (for cancer incidence and mortality).  Users also control the “time” component of the displayed data. On the left panel a sliding scale allows users to select time intervals between 1975 and 2017 to display data. The plot on the right panel is automatically revised to the time interval selected in the left panel to aid comparisons between the panels. The right panel has a unique “time” component:  the “year lag”. This allows users to visualize a hypothesized time lag between patenting and cancer incidence/mortality or between funding and patenting activity or between funding and cancer incidence and mortality. For example, in the plot of patent documents with cancer incidence and mortality, sliding the year lag scale to ‘-5’ for patent documents will overlay current incidence/mortality data with patent data from 5 years before. This time delayed plot might suggest that increases in granted patents since 1990 are related to decreasing cancer mortality starting in the mid-90s.

Finally, the bottom of both panels display entities associated with either patent data (technology type, patents by cancer site, patent assignees) or funding data (funded organizations, funding mechanism, and FOA type).  The time period for these data can be synchronized to the plots on the top of the panels, or selected to a customized time period to allow examination in greater detail. The bottom of the panel is automatically updated for Cancer site and/or Technology type based on the filters selected for the plots in the corresponding top panel. This bottom panel allows users to explore the technology types or funding mechanisms that have been most responsive to changing cancer trends. It also allows users to see whether a few assignees or funded organizations have monopolized cancer innovation or if there is much needed diversity in these categories.

Using InnovationVU, policy-makers interested in identifying cancer types that are under-funded can visualize cancer sites with high incidence and/or mortality and low rates of patenting activity to prioritize funding. A program manager/director can use it to visualize how their program fits into the innovation landscape within or across cancer sites. The general public, researchers, and patient populations may use InnnovationVU to determine whether there is active research and innovation in specific cancers of their interest.

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