(Adds advisory: updates with comments from news conference, byline)
By Julie Steenhuysen
Oct 12 (Reuters) - The Trump Administration threw its support behind a public-private partnership with 11 drug companies to advance a new class of drugs that uses the body's immune system to fight cancer.
The five-year collaboration is part of the Cancer Moonshot, a program started during the Obama administration and led by former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer.
The Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies or PACT will devote $215 million to identify and test chemical signatures in the body that will help predict which patients will benefit from cancer immunotherapy.
Drug industry partners include AbbVie, Roche Holding AG and Bristol-Myers Squibb, whose drug Opdivo works by enlisting the body's defenses to fight tumors.
Merck & Co Inc, whose Keytruda leads the fast-expanding field of immunotherapies, is not involved.
In a Thursday press conference announcing the collaboration, Reed Cordish, who heads the Office of American Innovation, an initiative led by President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, said the program represents the "type of collaboration and partnership between the private sector and government that this administration is trying to foster across many sectors."
Eric Hargan, the newly tapped Acting Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters: "Under President Trump, we are going to continue making significant investments in cancer cures. Advancing great American medicine and science is a top, top priority for this administration."
Plans for the partnership began two years ago under the leadership of Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins said the group will work to explain why cancer immunotherapies, which have transformed treatment for melanoma, leukemia and some other cancers, do not work for more patients.
"By standardizing and validating biomarkers for immunotherapy while also developing and exploring new biomarkers, we hope to advance rapidly toward a new future of precision oncology that benefits all patients," Collins told the briefing.
Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen Inc , Celgene Corp, Gilead Sciences Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc are part of the effort, NIH said.
The 11 partners would contribute up to $55 million, while NIH would add about $160 million, based on availability of funds.
The partnership will be managed by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. (Editing by James Dalgleish)