20150417 - Apr 17, 2015
ISSUE 15 – APRIL 17, 2015PDF

Lowy: “We Need to Continually Look at the Distribution of Funds That We Allocate to the Areas of Investment”

Douglas Lowy became the NCI acting director April 1. On April 16, Lowy spoke with Paul Goldberg, editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter.

Paul Goldberg: Congratulations, first of all. How is the job treating you?

Douglas Lowy: Well, it is certainly a lot of work, but it’s an incredible opportunity—I have the opportunity of working with terrific people every day. I love it.

PG: Did you want this job?

DL: I never thought of myself as either becoming acting NCI director or the permanent NCI director, and it was not something I lobbied for.


MD Anderson Execs Get Big Raises In the Midst of Faculty Morale Woes

  

 

Two top administrators at MD Anderson Cancer Center, whose job responsibilities include maintaining harmony with the faculty, received substantial pay increases for having “excelled beyond expectation” and “effectively” directing the center’s clinical activities.

According to documents obtained by The Cancer Letter under the Texas Public Information Act, MD Anderson Provost Ethan Dmitrovsky and Physician-in-Chief Thomas Buchholz received $200,000 each in deferred compensation in 2015.

With incentive pay, supplemental annuity and deferred compensation included, the 2015 raise could boost Dmitrovsky’s total paycheck by as much as 22.9 percent compared to fiscal 2014. Buchholz’s compensation could increase by 31.4 percent.

Lawmakers Repeal Medicare SGR in Bipartisan Vote

President Barack Obama signed the Medicare Access and Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act on April 14, permanently repealing the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula.

The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support: The House of Representatives voted 392 to 37 on April 2, and the Senate approved it with a 92 to 8 vote April 14.

In Brief

  • NCI renews Purdue’s designation as an NCI Basic Science Cancer Center

  • Joseph Gulfo named executive director of the Rothman Institute at Fairleigh Dickinson University

  • Don Gabriel joins United BioSource Corp.

  • Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin opened its MACC Fund Center clinical and Northwestern Mutual Day Hospital

  • Roche acquires CAPP Medical

Drugs and Targets

  • Health Canada approves new indication for Xtandi

  • Bayer HealthCare expands global clinical development of copanlisib

  • Immunocore and MedImmune enter into second collaboration

20150410 - Apr 10, 2015
ISSUE 14 – APRIL 10, 2015PDF

MD Anderson Violated Academic Freedom, Governance, Tenure Standards, AAUP Says

MD Anderson Cancer Center President Ronald DePinho’s administration acted in disregard of academic standards and the institution’s internal faculty appointment policy, according to a 23-page final report published April 8 by the American Association of University Professors. 

 The report is the outcome of a yearlong feud between the cancer center and AAUP, which defends academic freedom and shared governance.


  

Congress Steps in to Examine FDA Device Regs As Insurers Restrict Coverage of Morcellation

Nearly a year and a half after a surgical tool routinely used by gynecologists disseminated her undiagnosed sarcoma, Amy Reed found herself back in the operating room—this time for removal of a second metastasis.

Reed’s leiomyosarcoma, which had been in remission after a massive surgery and post-morcellation chemotherapy, has spread to her lumbar vertebrae.

False Positive Mammograms, Overdiagnosis Cost $4 Billion

The costs of false-positive mammograms and breast cancer overdiagnoses add up to $4 billion a year, according to a paper in the April edition of the journal Health Affairs.

The issue contains a cluster of papers focusing on the cost and quality of cancer care.

Draft Guideline on Colorectal Cancer Biomarker Published

The American Society for Clinical Pathology, the College of American Pathologists, the Association for Molecular Pathology, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology released a draft of a clinical practice guideline on the use of molecular marker testing for patients with primary or metastatic colorectal carcinoma.

This evidence-based guideline will help establish standard molecular marker testing, guide targeted therapies, and advance personalized care for these patients.

In Brief

  • Karen Jensen joins Scripps Health as director of the oncology clinical care line

  • Chandini Portteus named president and CEO of LIVESTRONG Foundation 

  • Margaret Hamburg, former FDA commissioner, appointed foreign secretary of IOM

  • The NCCN Foundation awarded fifth series of Young Investigator Awards to six oncology researchers

  • Christina Coughlin named chief medical officer of Immunocore Ltd.

  • Gerrit Los named vice president of pharmacology at AnaptysBio Inc.

Drugs and Targets

  • Vectibix gets European approval for wild-type RAS colon cancer

  • Intrexon Corp. signs cooperative research and development agreement with NCI

  • Rubicon Genomics Inc. extends its clinical supply agreement with Agendia

  • Merck and Pfizer will begin co-promoting Xalkori in eight countries

20150403 - Apr 3, 2015
ISSUE 13 – APRIL 3, 2015PDF

Over 48 Hours, Power Shifts at NCI, ACS, Dana-Farber and MD Anderson

Over the first two days in April, massive leadership changes occurred at top institutions in cancer research:

• On April 1, the top job at NCI switched from Harold Varmus to Douglas Lowy, with the Lowy being formally named acting director.

• On April 1, Edward Benz announced his plans to leave presidency at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the institution’s board began the search for his successor.

• On April 2, the American Cancer Society announced that the job of CEO would go to former Johnson & Johnson executive Gary Reedy.

• On April 2, the UT System announced that Lynda Chin will be vacating her jobs as head of genomic medicine and scientific director of a research institute she co-founded. Chin, who is married to MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, came to Houston from Dana-Farber as a team in 2011.

Resolving Disputes in Precision Medicine: The Question of CYP2D6 Remains Open

What does it take to declare that a scientific dispute is resolved? 

A long-running argument over the role of a biomarker in the treatment of breast cancer illustrates a challenge that runs through the heart of precision medicine: the absence of mechanisms for resolving disagreements between scientists.

The story of CYP2D6, a mutation that may (or may not) predict the manner in which the patient metabolizes the cheap, widely used drug tamoxifen, is of the sort that makes insiders shake their heads.

The question is relevant to an estimated 150,000 newly diagnosed estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer patients a year in the U.S. alone.

A Biomarker Court? Who Should Decide?

Answers from: Carmen Allegra, Lisa McShane, Robert Cook-Deegan, Barnett Kramer, Frances Visco, and FDA

No pharma company is clamoring to get a response to the question of significance of CYP2D6. 

Since an estimated 7 percent of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are poor metabolizers of tamoxifen, perhaps as many as 93 percent are good candidates for receiving this cheap generic drug. 

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory And North Shore-LIJ to Form $120 Million Collaboration

Two New York institutions—Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the North Shore-LIJ Health System—announced a $120 million cancer research collaboration on April 2.

The collaboration aims to develop a clinical cancer research unit at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s headquarters in Lake Success, N.Y., support early-phase clinical studies, and recruit and train clinician-scientists.

North Shore-LIJ and CSHL will continue as independent organizations governed by their respective boards of trustees. The sources of funds for the collaboration were not disclosed.

In Brief

  • Lewis Cantley to Deliver Takamatsu Lecture at AACR Annual Meeting

  • Lucille Adams-Campbell to Deliver Minorities in Cancer Research Lecture at AACR Annual Meeting

  • Robert Gentleman appointed vice president of computational biology at 23andMe Inc.

  • Aleksandar Zafirovski named associate director for administration for Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern University

  • Scripps Clinic Medical Group acquires three radiation oncology services

  • Aeterna Zentaris to transfer library of 100,000 compounds to center at Medical University of South Carolina

  • GlaxoSmithKline to establish third global center for vaccine research in Rockville, Md.

Drugs and Targets

  • FDA approves Jadenu, an oral formulation of Exjade

  • FDA grants priority review to Kyprolis

  • FDA updates label for Zytiga plus prednisone in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center and Astellas Pharma Inc. sign option agreement for AML research

  • Eli Lilly and OncoMed Pharmaceuticals to evaluate combination of demcizumab and Alimta

  • Merck and Syndax Pharmaceuticals to evaluate combination of Keytruda and entinostat

  • Intrexon Corporation and Merck Serono to collaborate on CAR-T cancer therapies

20150327 - Mar 27, 2015
ISSUE 12 – MARCH 27, 2015PDF

“All Pull; No Push”—Varmus Describes his Reasons for Leaving In Farewell Town Hall

In a farewell town hall meeting March 24, NCI Director Harold Varmus reflected on statements he made during his first day on the job, July 12, 2010, summarizing the proceeding four-and-three-quarter years; listing goals met and lamenting work left unfinished.

After Varmus steps down March 31, he will be replaced by Deputy Director Douglas Lowy, who will become the acting director.

Varmus’s remarks ranged from his reasons for leaving NCI—“All pull; no push”—to the accomplishments of the institute during his tenure, and lessons learned from obstacles unforeseen.

He discussed his Provocative Questions initiative and sequestration; the RAS initiative and the Frederick National Lab; as well as the formation of the National Clinical Trials Network and the completion of the National Lung Screening Trial.

Guest Editorial

How the Lung-MAP Clinical Trial is Responding to Rapidly Changing Science

By Roy S. Herbst, David Gandara and Vassiliki Papadimitrakopoulou

When the Lung Master Protocol clinical trial (Lung-MAP or S1400) (1) was launched in June 2014, the goal of this first-of-its kind trial was simple: find effective treatments for seriously ill patients suffering from a specific type of lung cancer.

Lung-MAP is unique—a biomarker driven, multi-drug, multi-arm, study design, using a targeted screening approach, with state-of-the-art genomic profiling of neoplastic cells to match patients with sub-studies testing investigational new drugs and immunotherapies, based on their unique tumor profiles.

Seventeen Percent of MD Anderson Faculty Signed Petition Disagreeing with Faculty Senate Executive Committee

About 17 percent of the faculty members at MD Anderson Cancer Center signed a petition that disagreed with the institution’s Faculty Senate in its efforts to step in and improve morale at the Houston-based institution.

The Faculty Senate recently sent out a letter requesting that the UT System officials and the Board of Regents “provide guidance” to the MD Anderson administration “in establishing milestones and timelines to implement measures to improve the morale of the faculty and the general health of the Institution.”

 

Republican Budgets Propose $5 Trillion Cut, On Top of Sequestration, Through 2025

The Senate passed its 2016 budget early Friday morning in a marathon voting session—an event called “vote-a-rama” in Washington-speak—that split along party lines with a 52-46 Republican margin.

The Senate budget resolution would slash $5.1 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, mirroring the resolution passed by the House 228 to 199 March 25, which cut spending by $5.5 trillion over the next nine years.

Both budgets agree on keeping sequestration cuts in place, and on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

House Votes to Repeal Sustainable Growth Rate; Senate Delays Action

The House voted 392-37 to approve legislation that would eliminate the Sustainable Growth Rate, a method currently used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to control spending by Medicare on physician services.

While the House voted on March 26, the Senate adjourned for spring recess without acting on the bill.

Physicians are now faced with the prospect of a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement when the current SGR payment patch expires next week on March 31.

Report: 2 in 5 Cancer Patients “Seriously Concerned” About Bankruptcy

Out-of-pocket costs for health care remain a top concern for many people living with cancer, according to a report by the Cancer Support Community, an international nonprofit.

The study, “An Insight into Patient Access to Care in Cancer,” surveyed 511 cancer patients, 480 of whom live in the U.S. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents were women, and nearly two-thirds were between the ages of 45 and 64.

Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and UPMC Form Big Data Alliance

Three Pittsburgh institutions—Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—are pooling their electronic medical records to form the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance.

The alliance is funded by UPMC and designed to support applied research and commercialization, along with basic foundational research in medicine and computer science. UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization arm of UPMC, will lead the effort.

In Brief

  • FDA’s Richard Pazdur named one of 50 World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune magazine

  • Elizabeth Jaffee receives clinical care research award from AACR

  • Jimmie Holland receives Women of Influence award

  • Gairdner Foundation names 2015 award winners

  • Bloomberg Philanthropies to launch Data for Health system

Drugs and Targets

  • CHMP grants positive opinion to Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine

  • EMA grants orphan designation to Reolysin

  • Teikoku Pharma USA submits NDA for alcohol-free docetaxel formulation

  • Rich Pharmaceuticals plans to launch clinical trials at Khon Kaen University in Thailand

20150320 - Mar 20, 2015
ISSUE 11 – MARCH 20, 2015PDF

“Trust Has Been Broken” at MD Anderson; UT Chancellor Calls for Shared Governance

There will be no more faculty surveys at MD Anderson, UT System Chancellor William McRaven pledged to the institution’s faculty in a closed-door meeting March 18.

“I don’t intend to have any more surveys,” McRaven said in a meeting where he acknowledged the concerns of the faculty, but also expressed support for the administration of the Houston-based cancer hospital.

“I think your surveys—at least the ones I’ve seen—give me a clear indication of where the faculty is,” McRaven said at the meeting that lasted for about an hour-and-a-half. “And maybe it’s not unanimous, but I’ve got to tell you that the numbers in the surveys are pretty damning, for the lack of a better term.”

McRaven, the former admiral who, as head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, oversaw the covert operation responsible for killing Osama bin Laden, expressed support for the institution’s Faculty Senate, thereby establishing it as the negotiating partner for the administration headed by President Ronald DePinho.

MD Anderson Pre-empts AAUP Report by Releasing Draft to The Press—with a Foreword

MD Anderson’s message to the American Association of University Professors boils down to this: A pox on your house.

For starters, President Ronald DePinho and his administration declined to meet with an AAUP committee when it came to campus to investigate a tenure dispute. (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 19, 2014).

This snub notwithstanding, AAUP provided MD Anderson with a draft report marked CONFIDENTIAL: NOT FOR RELEASE. The association’s objective was to give MD Anderson the opportunity to comment—and a comment is exactly what they got.

In the afternoon of March 13, the cancer center’s executive team threw the thing to the press.

Varmus Recommends Funding Boost For NCI Cancer Centers Program

NCI Director Harold Varmus announced plans to gradually increase in the institute’s cancer centers budget over the next four to five years.

“It seems to me, we get more bang for our buck from the centers—many of which have many direct-cost budgets of no more than a million dollars, a lot less than the grants we give out,” Varmus said at the March 11 meeting of the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors.

He suggested boosting the centers budget by $10-15 million per year, increasing the total cancer centers budget from $260 million to about $310 million. This plan follows a proposal to reconfigure the formula for awarding cancer center grants.

Lowy Discusses Reducing Cuts to Modular R01 Grants

Following Harold Varmus’s remarks to the Board of Scientific Advisors, Douglas Lowy, soon-to-be acting director of the NCI, focused on reducing the amount of the planned cuts for modular R01 grants.

The plan is cut the reductions in half starting in this fiscal year, from the automatic 17 percent reduction to 8.5 percent, or cutting a 10 percent reduction to 5 percent.

“Our long-term goal is to try to eliminate those cuts completely, but this we estimate will cost about $10 million from the RPG pool, and we would like to see what the is impact on that,” Lowy said.

ASCO Announces Winners Of 2015 Special Awards

The American Society of Clinical Oncology announced the winners of its Special Awards Program. 

The Special Awards recognize the dedication and significant contributions of researchers, patient advocates, and leaders of the global oncology community to enhancing cancer prevention, treatment, and patient care. 

ASCO also named seven recipients of the Fellows of the American Society of Clinical Oncology distinction.

In Brief

  • Fadlo Khuri named president of the American University of Beirut

  • Philip Low receives the AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chemistry in Cancer Research 

  • Julie Johnson receives Distinguished Scientist Award from Southeastern Universities Research Association

  • Thomas Merchant named chair of St. Jude Department of Radiation Oncology

  • The Community Oncology Alliance forms Community Oncology Pharmacy Association

Drugs and Targets

  • EU approves Jakavi in Polycythemia Vera

  • EMA grants orphan designation to ImMucin

  • Hong Kong Department of Health approves Abraxane

20150318 - Mar 18, 2015
SPECIAL REPORT – MARCH 18, 2015 

MD Anderson Preempts AAUP’s Report By Releasing the Draft to the Press—With a Foreword

MD Anderson’s message to the American Association of University Professors boils down to this:

A pox on your house.

For starters, President Ronald DePinho and his administration declined to meet with an AAUP committee when it came to campus to investigate a tenure dispute. (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 19, 2014).

This snub notwithstanding, AAUP provided MD Anderson with a draft report marked CONFIDENTIAL: NOT FOR RELEASE. The association’s objective was to give MD Anderson the opportunity to comment—and a comment is exactly what they got.

 

20150313 - Mar 13, 2015
ISSUE 10 – MARCH 13, 2015PDF

Cancer Centers Join to Accelerate Trials, Industry Collaborations, Drug Development

Six NCI-designated cancer centers have agreed to pool data from their electronic medical record systems and cancer registries to accelerate discovery of targets and the development of biomarkers.

Launched in May 2014, the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, or ORIEN, was founded by Moffitt Cancer Center and The Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center (The Cancer Letter, May 30, 2014).

Recently, ORIEN added four cancer centers: City of Hope, University of Virginia Cancer Center, University of Colorado Cancer Center, and the University of New Mexico Cancer Center  (The Cancer Letter, Feb. 27).

Conversation with The Cancer Letter

Dalton: I Don’t Know Another Place like ORIEN

The Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, a partnership of academic cancer centers, has collected data from over 120,000 patients, and recently added four institutions.

“I don’t know of another place that actually follows patients and has the patients donate all their clinical data throughout their lifetime, and tissue to be studied, and allows them the right of contacting the patient,” said Bill Dalton, CEO of M2Gen, founding director of the Moffitt Cancer Center Personalized Medicine Institute, and one of the founders of ORIEN.

U.S. Prescription Drug Spending Increased 13 Percent in 2014

New hepatitis C therapies with high price tags and the exploitation of loopholes for compounded medications contributed to a 13.1 percent increase in U.S. drug spending in 2014, a rate not seen in more than a decade, according to the 2014 Express Scripts Drug Trend Report.

Hepatitis C and compounded medications are responsible for more than half of the increase in overall spending. Excluding those two therapy classes, 2014 drug trend (the year-over-year increase in per capita drug spending) was 6.4 percent.

In Brief

  • Nancy Davidson chosen as president-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research

  • Geoffrey Kim named director of FDA’s Division of Hematology Oncology Products 1

  • Sagar Lonial and Charles Stately join senior leadership of Winship Cancer Institute

  • Kevin Behrns named co-editor-and-chief of Surgery

  • Inderbir Gill appointed chair of global initiatives for the American Urological Association

  • University of Virginia and Novant Health to form Northern Virginia regional health system

  • World Molecular Imaging Society and NCI to collaborate on best practices for co-clinical trials

  • Varian Medical Systems chosen to equip two proton therapy centers in England

  • Cancer researchers launch mobile app to track breast cancer symptoms

Drugs and Targets

  • FDA approves Unituxin for neuroblastoma

  • Fast Track Designation granted to HS-410 in bladder cancer

  • Reolysin granted third orphan drug designation

  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society published a study on capping cost-sharing for prescription drugs

20150306 - Mar 6, 2015
ISSUE 9 – MARCH 6, 2015PDF

News Analysis
The Years With Harold

The National Cancer Institute Harold Varmus will leave on March 31 is leaner, cleaner, and more focused than it was on July 12, 2010, the day he became its 14th director. 

Chalk it up to irony, but the first phase of the Nobel laureate’s stewardship at the circa-$5 billion-a-year institution can be classified as janitorial work—clearing out the pet projects of his predecessors.

The Andrew Von Eschenbach-era dysfunctional bioinformatics and biorepository projects got the defenestration they deserved. The institute’s outsized PR operation got edited down with deft ax work. 


FDA’s Activism Changes the Landscape In Treatment, Trials of Squamous NSCLC

Citing a dramatic improvement in overall survival in second-line squamous non-small cell lung cancer, FDA rapidly approved the Bristol-Myers Squibb drug Opdivo (nivolumab).

The action, announced March 4, demonstrates the extraordinary activist stance FDA can take when it sees an advantage in overall survival. 

In this case, FDA received the data and sprung into action before the results were unblinded to the sponsor, said Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. 

“With regard to the impetus for this rapid action, we began working immediately on this review and submission strategy after being informed of the survival results. This was prior to BMS having been informed of the results since they were still blinded,” Pazdur said to The Cancer Letter. 

NCI Director Harold Varmus To Step Down March 31

NCI Director Harold Varmus announced that he will be stepping down at the end of this month.

Douglas Lowy, the current deputy director, will serve as acting director for NCI beginning April 1. Lowy, a long-time NCI intramural researcher, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama in 2014 for his research that led to the development of the human papillomavirus vaccine.

In a letter to colleagues March 4, Varmus, 75, reflected on his five years at the institute, saying that he is leaving with a “mixture of regret and anticipation.” 

From the Kilimanjaro Summit

By Charles D. Blanke

After months of training, hundreds of hours spent in a high-altitude sleep tent, and almost a week spent ascending the mountain, our climbing group was destined to have only 12 minutes at Mt. Kilimanjaro’s summit. However, that was enough to pay tribute to the 200,000 heroes who have participated in more than a half-century of SWOG cancer clinical trials.

 

FDA Approves Zarxio—First Biosimilar Drug

FDA approved Zarxio, making Sandoz’s granulocyte-colony stimulating factor the first biosimilar product to enter the U.S. market.

The agency announced its decision March 6. Biosimilars are approved based on a demonstration that they are similar to already-approved “reference” agents. 

Obituary

Mark Green, 70, Cancer Center Director

Mark Green, former director of Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of California, San Diego, Moores Cancer Center, died Feb. 23, at the age of 70. 

Green was an important figure in the development of medical oncology and played a pivotal role in the history of both cancer centers.

Green received his MD from Harvard University and trained at Harvard’s Beth Israel Hospital, the NCI and Stanford University. In 1976, he joined UCSD, where he held the Edwin and Evelyn Tasch Chair in Cancer Research and served as director of the UCSD Cancer Center. In 1986, he led the center to its first NCI designation.

In Brief

  • Howard Bailey named director of UW Carbone Cancer Center

  • Meredith Mullins joins University of Arizona Cancer Center as associate director of administration

  • Silvia Formenti appointed chair of Department of Radiation Oncology at Weill Cornell Medical College

  • Phillip Sharp awarded Othmer Gold Medal by the Chemical Heritage Foundation

  • Andrew Robbins appointed chief operating officer of Array BioPharma

  • Indiana University and Lilly USA form medical student rotation program

  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center expands relationship with Cryoport Inc.

  • Memorial Sloan Kettering partners with PeraHealth

  • CMS approves American College of Radiology’s Lung Cancer Screening Registry

Drugs and Targets

  • FDA grants breakthrough therapy designation to EBV-CTL

  • CHMP issues positive opinion on Vectibix in metastatic colorectal cancer

  • FDA launches mobile app focused on drug shortage information

  • AbbVie acquires Pharmacyclics and Imbruvica

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb and Bavarian Nordic form agreement for Prostvac

  • Amgen launches Neulasta Delivery Kit

  • Array BioPharma completes two agreements with Novartis

20150304 - Mar 4, 2015
SPECIAL REPORT – MARCH 4, 2015 

NCI Director Harold Varmus Steps Down

NCI Director Harold Varmus has announced that he will be stepping down at the end of March 2015.

Douglas Lowy, the current deputy director, will serve as acting director for NCI, beginning April 1. Lowy, a long-time NCI intramural researcher, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2014 for his research that led to the development of the human papillomavirus vaccine.

In a letter to colleagues March 4, Varmus, 75, reflected on his five years at the institute, saying that he is leaving with a “mixture of regret and anticipation.”

20150227 - Feb 27, 2015
ISSUE 8 – FEB. 27, 2015PDF

Former MD Anderson Faculty Chairs: “We are Disheartened and Dismayed At the Precipitous Decline in Faculty Morale”

A group of eight past chairs of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Faculty Senate have weighed into the controversy over leadership and morale at the Houston-based hospital.

“As former chairs, we are disheartened and dismayed at the precipitous decline in faculty morale that has occurred at MDACC under the current executive leadership,” the past chairs wrote in an email distributed to the faculty on Feb. 26. “We are further troubled by the continuing loss of outstanding long-term senior faculty from MDACC, an exodus that many have attributed to current administrative policies.”

The group’s letter suggests that discussion of morale at the cancer center is becoming more open at a time when its current president, Ronald DePinho, is on notice to improve his relationship with the faculty. 

With this latest salvo from the eight past chairs, peace between DePinho and the faculty is slipping further from the embattled president’s grasp. No commander wants open conflict with his troops. Yet, open conflict appears to be exactly what DePinho has on his hands.

Guest Editorial

NCCS CEO Shelley Fuld Nasso Applauds CMS Oncology Care Model

The recent announcement by the Innovation Center at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regarding the launch of an Oncology Care Model is an important step toward patient-centered cancer care. 

In 2013, the Institute of Medicine released its report, “Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis.” According to the IOM, the American cancer care system is in crisis due to three failings: it is often not patient-centered, does not provide well-coordinated care, and does not always encourage evidence-based treatment decisions. One of the IOM’s recommendations is that CMS and other payers should design and evaluate innovative payment models to improve care delivery.

 

ORIEN Big Data Collaboration Adds Four Cancer Centers

The Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, a precision cancer research collaboration founded by Moffitt Cancer Center and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, announced the addition of four cancer centers Feb. 23, bringing its membership to six.

The new members of ORIEN include City of Hope, University of Virginia Cancer Center, University of Colorado Cancer Center, and the University of New Mexico Cancer Center.

PCORI Approves $64 Million for Five 2015 Grant Awards

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute approved awards totaling more than $64 million to fund five large patient-centered comparative effectiveness research studies concentrating on cancer, back pain and stroke.

These are the first awards made through the institute’s Pragmatic Clinical Studies Initiative, an effort to produce results that can be more quickly taken up in routine clinical practice. The grants range from $7.75 million to $14.5 million each. 

Obituary

Meir Wetzler, 60, Roswell Park Hematologic Oncologist

Meir Wetzler, 60, chief of the Leukemia Section at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, died Feb. 23, nearly two weeks after a skiing accident in Denver, Colo.

Remembered as a brilliant and compassionate physician, he worked with cooperative groups and pharmaceutical companies to make clinical trials available to leukemia patients at Roswell Park. At the time of his death, he was principal investigator at the institute for clinical trials for CML, acute myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma and myelofibrosis.

His research focused on autocrine and paracrine growth factor regulatory loops in the pathogenesis of leukemia, and signal transducer and activator of transcription proteins in leukemogenesis.

In Brief

  • Patrick Hwu named division head of Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • William Nelson named editor-in-chief of Cancer Today

  • Beaumont Hospital Cancer Institute in Royal Oak breaks ground on proton beam center

Drugs and Targets

  • FDA grants accelerated approval to Farydak in multiple myeloma

  • FDA grants breakthrough therapy designation to Rintega in glioblastoma

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb and Rigel Pharmaceuticals enter collaboration

  • FDA approves marketing of 23andMe’s Bloom Syndrome carrier test

  • FDA issues safety alert regarding disinfection of duodenoscopes