publication date: Jan. 6, 2017

In Brief

Chi Van Dang named scientific director of Ludwig Institute

Chi Van Dang was appointed scientific director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

He joins Ludwig from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, which he has directed since 2011.

As scientific director, Dang will oversee the execution of Ludwig’s scientific strategy to advance the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, with a special focus on the operations and staffing of the Lausanne, Oxford and San Diego Branches of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

He will also align these efforts with those of the six independent Ludwig Centers across the U.S. to further cultivate collaboration within Ludwig’s global research community.

Dang is best known for his elucidation of the molecular signaling pathways and mechanisms that govern the unusual metabolism of cancer cells, which require vast quantities of energy and molecular supplies to sustain their wild proliferation. His laboratory was the first to show that a master regulator of gene expression named MYC—a gene whose mutation or aberrant expression is associated with many types of cancer—alters the utilization of a key sugar in cancer cells.

This body of work, which explained a hallmark of tumor metabolism known as the “Warburg effect”, bolstered the hypothesis that cancer cells can become addicted to their reengineered signaling pathways and dependent on particular nutrients.

Dang and his colleagues also showed that disrupting those pathways could be a powerful approach to treating cancer and identified drug targets to that end. Therapies based on this work are today in various stages of clinical development.

Dang has served as vice dean for research at John Hopkins University and director of the Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering before joining the Abramson Cancer Center. He was recently appointed to the Blue Ribbon panel that provided strategic guidance to Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and currently chairs the NCI Board of
Scientific Advisors.

“Ludwig has a rich history of discovery in basic and translational cancer research and I am excited and honored by the opportunity to lead its network of accomplished scientists,” said Dang.

“We are today at a unique place in the history of this field, in which advances in a variety of biomedical disciplines are converging at an unprecedented rate to revolutionize our understanding of cancer. Ludwig is well positioned to take advantage of this phenomenon, as many of its scientists and research groups are playing a leading role in driving this convergence.

“I look forward to working with Ludwig researchers across institutions and disciplines, drawing on each group’s expertise and interests to forge collaborations aimed at solving specific and significant challenges of cancer research—and to translating their insights into therapies and diagnostics that will
benefit patients.”


Vacirca elected COA president

Jeffrey Vacirca was elected president of the Community Oncology Alliance for a one year term starting Jan. 1.

Vacirca is the CEO and managing partner/director of clinical research at New York Cancer Specialists in Long Island, NY.

In addition to Vacirca, new executive committee officers and members of the board of directors were elected.

A complete and updated list of Officers and Board members can be viewed here.


Ruckdeschel heads cancer institute at University of Mississippi Medical Center

John Ruckdeschel was named director of the cancer institute of the University of Mississippi Medical Center as well as Ergon Chair in Cancer Research.

Ruckdeschel, who previously served as the director of the Moffitt Cancer Center, led that institution to NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center designation and to become the third largest clinical cancer program in the U.S.

He then moved to the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit where he re-acquired its NCI comprehensive status and completed the process of making Karmanos a freestanding cancer hospital.

His research was originally in basic immunology but gravitated to clinical and translational research in thoracic malignancies. Ruckdeschel’s career has focused on lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies. He is credited with more than 150 peer reviewed manuscripts and co-editorship of the Textbook of Thoracic Oncology. He is a North American Editor for the Cochrane Lung Cancer Review Group.

Ruckdeschel and Terrance Albrecht co-developed a means to effectively video record patient-physician interactions and applied this technology to understanding clinical trials accrual and end of life decision-making.


Cassels retires as chief administrator at Winship

Diane Cassels will retire as chief administrator of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University after 24 years of service, having served in a number roles including including chief department administrator for radiation oncology and administrator for the Emory Clinic’s Section of Radiation Oncology and chief operating officer at the Emory Children’s Center and Department of Pediatrics.

Cassels was named Winship’s executive administrator in 2010, transitioning to Winship’s chief administrative officer in January 2016.

During her tenure, Winship doubled its clinical footprint and clinical patient volume, expanded its membership from 268 to 434, and expanded the infrastructure for the conduct of clinical trials and laboratory research.


ACS names three new members to board

The American Cancer Society announced the election of three new members of its board of directors:

Amit Kumar, of San Jose, CA, executive chairman of ITUS Corporation, a cancer diagnostic company;

Joseph Naylor of San Ramon, CA, vice president of policy, government, and public affairs for Chevron Corp., a position he has held since April 2016.

William Novelli of Bethesda, MD, professor in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP. 

In other developments:

Arnold Baskies, of Cherry Hill, NJ, became chair of the board. Baskies is a medical director at Virtua Health Systems in southern New Jersey, where he specializes in surgical oncology and general surgery.

Kevin Cullen, of Baltimore, became vice chair. Cullen is the director at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center

Lewis Foxhall, of Houston, became board scientific officer. Foxhall is the vice president for health policy and professor of clinical cancer prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center;

John Alfonso, of Bellerose Village, NY, became sctretary/treadurer. Alfonso is a partner in the CohnReznick LLP New York office and leads the efforts of the firm’s not-for-profit and education industry practice in New York; and

Scarlott Mueller, of Gainesville, FL, became immediate past chair. Mueller is a former vice president and chief nursing officer at the North Florida
Regional Medical Center.

The ACS board consists of 21 members, including five officers and 16 directors. Directors are elected for a two-year term, and officers hold their position for a one-year term. The Board is responsible for setting policy, establishing long-term goals, monitoring general operations, and approving the organizational outcomes and allocation of resources.


Kratzke, O’Regan chosen to leadership roles at Big Ten consortium

Members of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium steering committee appointed Robert Kratzke as the committee’s first chair and Ruth O’Regan as its vice chair. Each will serve a one-year term, with O’Regan serving as chair in the subsequent year.

Kratzke is a lung cancer researcher at Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota and associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Medicine. He has served as the University of Minnesota steering committee representative since 2014, and is a member of the BTCRC’s Thoracic Clinical Trial Working Group.

O’Regan is division head, hematology/oncology, and associate director of faculty development and education at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center. She is a breast cancer researcher and physician, and has served as the University of Wisconsin’s representative on the steering committee since 2015. She is a member of the BTCRC’s Breast Clinical Trial Working Group.

The BTCRC Steering Committee is composed of one researcher from each member institution. The committee meets on a regular basis to review activities of the consortium and decide matters of policy.

The BTCRC opened its first multi-institutional clinical trial in the spring of 2015, and completed enrollment for the study in July 2016, six months ahead of projections. The BTCRC is currently offering clinical trials for patients with breast cancer, esophageal cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, and urothelial cancer. More studies are in development and are expected to open soon.

The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium was created in 2013 to transform the conduct of cancer research through collaborative, hypothesis-driven, highly translational oncology trials that leverage the scientific and clinical expertise of Big Ten universities.


PCORI approves $42 million in funding for comparative studies on healthcare approaches

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute Board of Governors has green-lighted nearly $42 million to fund 19 new studies comparing which healthcare approaches work best.

Thirteen of the projects will support research on which care options work best in treating a range of conditions and problems that impose high burdens on patients, caregivers, and the healthcare system. These include:

  • A $6 million study to compare the effectiveness of two types of palliative care, hospital-based versus home-based, in reducing patients’ pain, anxiety and depression.

  • A $2.7 million study to determine the effect of accupressure on relieving treatment-related symptoms in children with cancer.

  • A $2.3 million project to determine whether established treatment or a newer drug is more effective against treatment-resistant cases of Kawasaki disease, which can cause heart problems in children. 

Another six projects will study ways to improve methods for conducting patient-centered outcomes research. Among them are projects on assessing the quality of communications between healthcare providers and patients, preserving patient privacy when data sets including medical information are linked, and measuring patients’ preferences.

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