publication date: Feb. 1, 2019

In Brief

Califano named physician-in-chief of Moores Cancer Center

Joseph Califano was named physician-in-chief of Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health. Califano will retain his roles as professor of surgery and director of the Head and Neck Cancer Center as well as maintain an active clinical practice in head and neck surgery.

His principal role will be to oversee clinical operations related to Moores Cancer Center and all related inpatient and outpatient oncology services at UC San Diego Health, as well as operations with affiliates and outreach clinics.

In this role, Califano will be directly responsible to Scott Lippman, director of Moores Cancer Center, or as delegated to Catriona Jamieson, deputy director of Moores Cancer Center.

For ambulatory clinic operations, Califano will have a reporting relationship to Christopher Kane, chief executive officer, UC San Diego Health Physician Group. For hospital-based services and quality initiatives, he will also have a reporting relationship to Thomas Moore, MD, interim chief medical officer.

As physician in chief, Califano will be appointed to the Cancer Center Executive Committee and will work in partnership with Julie Croner, chief administrative officer, on operational and strategic opportunities that further the mission and vision of the cancer center, including reviewing and redesigning the organizational structure for cancer center medical leadership, advising on clinical faculty recruitments and resource allocation, standardizing cancer center processes and procedures and coordinating with cancer center leaders for clinical research and education efforts.

Additionally, Califano will be responsible for service line performance, collaborating with ancillary services including radiology and pathology/laboratory, leading the oversight committee for Moores Cancer Center psychology and psychiatry services, overseeing clinical quality and patient satisfaction in conjunction with the chief medical officer, managing approvals for charity care, high cost drugs, and inpatient imaging, advancing the agenda of cancer center quality and value, and appointing a new director of quality.

As well, Califano will participate in Board of Visitors and philanthropy meetings and cancer center and health system strategic planning as well as oversee clinical space planning, including for new facilities and service offerings. He will also collaborate with chairs and division chiefs as it relates to the clinical faculty practice within the cancer center.

Califano will be directly responsible for:

  • Oversight of disease team leaders and cancer cabinet in collaboration with Croner and Razelle Kurzrock, senior deputy director of clinical research, including goal setting and annual review;

  • Oversight of clinic medical directors in collaboration with Kane and Croner, including goal setting and annual review;

  • Oversight of hospital medical directors in collaboration with Moore, including goal setting and annual review.


NYU receives anonymous $75M gift to establish center for blood cancers

NYU Langone Health’s Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center announced a transformational philanthropic gift to establish a Center for Blood Cancers that will house a new, world-class program for multiple myeloma care and research, along with its other blood cancer programs. The new center will significantly expand Perlmutter Cancer Center’s capacity to study and treat blood cancers.

The $75 million gift was donated anonymously in support of Perlmutter Cancer Center’s campaign to enhance its state-of-the art research and clinical space.

The new center will expand services for patients, bolster new and ongoing research efforts, and provide expanded educational resources for students and faculty at NYU School of Medicine. Lab space and cell processing within the Center for Blood Cancers will be increased considerably, and infusion and exam rooms will be added to ensure efficient patient flow.

In addition to bolstering multiple myeloma research and care, the new center will expand research capabilities focusing on clinical trial recruitment and efforts to identify markers for different cancer types to recognize blood cancers at its earliest stages. Enhanced educational opportunities in this area will now be available as well for fellows at NYU School of Medicine.

“There is a pressing need for more research in the areas of early diagnosis and prevention of blood cancers,” says Benjamin Neel, director of Perlmutter Cancer Center. “As a nationally recognized cancer center, we are proud to continue to be on the leading edge of research and clinical care in this area. This gift will help us as attract new talent, leaders, and added expertise to further our mission to prevent and treat these deadly diseases.”


Ross Mitchell named artificial intelligence officer at Moffitt

Ross Mitchell has joined Moffitt Cancer Center as the artificial intelligence officer.

In this new role, he will lead the cancer center’s efforts to develop digital tools and technologies that utilize computer science to improve the efficiency and quality of cancer care.

Mitchell is also a senior member of Moffitt’s Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics and will collaborate with fellow research faculty to optimize projects utilizing artificial intelligence applications.

“Data science is a growing area in cancer research and care. Through the analysis of data, we can better predict outcomes to assist with informed decision-making. Mitchell will help Moffitt identify those business and clinical opportunities where predictive analytics, machine learning and other advanced technologies can be used to improve our patient experience,” said Dana Rollison, vice president, chief data officer and associate center director of Data Science at Moffitt. “He will also bring this skillset to our research enterprise.”

Mitchell comes to Moffitt from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, where he led multiple medical imaging informatics initiatives such as the application of machine learning in brain tumor imaging.


Sagar Lonial awarded Gray Family Chair in Cancer at Winship

Sagar Lonial, chief medical officer for Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and chairman of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, was presented with the Anne and Bernard Gray Family Chair in Cancer.

The endowment honors the life of Gray’s sister, Karen Ammons Howell, who died of breast cancer.

Lonial is an expert in the biology and care of patients with multiple myeloma. His most recent research focuses on combining novel agents as therapy for myeloma patients and how to identify new targets and treatment strategies for patients with high-risk myeloma.

He was principal investigator on two large studies of novel monoclonal antibodies, both of which led to FDA approval. The research team he developed has contributed to all the major FDA approvals for myeloma therapeutics over the past decade. Lonial is currently leading a global genome sequencing study for patients with newly diagnosed myeloma.


Silvia Formenti and Heather McArthur awarded SU2C Laura Ziskin Prize

Stand Up To Cancer has awarded the 2019 Laura Ziskin Prize in Translational Research to two clinical investigators who will join in a bi-coastal collaboration to use radiation and immunotherapy pre-operatively to help the body create its own vaccine to fight breast cancer. A clinical trial is currently in development.

The prize was awarded at the 2019 SU2C Scientific Summit in Santa Monica.

Award winners Silvia Formenti of Weill Cornell Medicine Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center in New York City and Heather McArthur of Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles will share a $250,000 grant for their year-long project. They will be working with a team of immunologists, bioinformatics specialists and biostatisticians.

“These two doctors, with their complementary backgrounds, have serious potential to develop treatment protocols that could provide better outcomes for breast cancer patients and perhaps reduce mortality,” said the selection committee chair John Glaspy, professor of medicine at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.

Formenti is a recognized leader in breast cancer research and an international expert in the use of radiation therapy for cancer treatment. Her work in radiation biology demonstrates the efficacy of combining radiation therapy with immunotherapy to control cancer cell growth in solid tumors. It aims to have patients create a personalized immunotherapy by recruiting their immune system to reject an individual tumor. Formenti has translated preclinical work to clinical trials in metastatic breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma. Her work has opened a new field of application for radiotherapy, whereby localized radiation can be used as an adjuvant to immunotherapy of solid tumors and lymphomas.

McArthur researches novel immuno-oncology strategies for treating breast cancer, with a specific interest in multidisciplinary approaches. She is currently evaluating the impact of tumor destruction with cryoablation or radiation in combination with immune stimulation for the treatment of women with early-stage breast cancer. By augmenting one’s immune response to the unique biologic features of one’s tumor, it is hoped that an affected individual may develop long-term immunity against their tumor.


Helen Heslop named by SU2C to lead ‘Dream Team’

Stand Up To Cancer has awarded an $8 million grant to a top team of scientists to develop therapies that use a person’s immune cells to recognize and attack T-cell lymphoma.

Helen Heslop, of Baylor College of Medicine, will direct the team and Gianpietro Dotti, of University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will serve as co-leader of the grant.

The team is trying to find a way to develop CAR-T therapies covering the entire spectrum of T-cell lymphomas including an “off-the-shelf” basis so they will be available to more patients at lower cost. The team is also working to identify biomarkers that will help track the effectiveness of the therapy, and is evaluating a novel small molecule that shows encouraging activity in reducing the size of T-cell lymphomas.

The team is named in memory of Meg Vosburg, a lifelong learner, educator, and humanitarian, who died from T-cell lymphoma in 2018 at the age of 51. The SU2C Meg Vosburg T-Cell Lymphoma Dream Team will develop and study chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies, which involve modifying a person’s immune cells to treat T-cell lymphoma.

The multi-institutional Dream Team includes six researchers from UNC Lineberger: Anne Beaven, investigator; Gianpietro Dotti, co-leader; Paul Eldridge, investigator; Natalie Grover, young investigator; Joel Parker, investigator; and Barbara Savoldo, investigator.

Patty Spears, who chairs the UNC Lineberger Patient Research Advocacy Group, was appointed as advocate. The team’s other members are from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Comprehensive Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

SU2C made the announcement at its 2019 Scientific Summit in Santa Monica, CA.


Robert Prins receives grant to research brain tumor treatments

Robert Prins, professor of neurosurgery and molecular and medical pharmacology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has been awarded a $750,000 grant to support research in developing immunotherapies for brain tumors.

The grant was sponsored by the Brain Tumor Funders’ Collaborative, a partnership between six private philanthropic and advocacy organizations dedicated to accelerating progress in brain tumor research by supporting research and collaborations.

While there have been many advancements in cancer treatments in the past 20 years, there has been limited treatment developments for people with malignant gliomas.

Prins, an immunologist in the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and member researcher with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Center at UCLA, and members of the UCLA Brain Tumor Center are finding new ways to treat this deadly brain tumor by studying immune-based therapies.

Researchers are studying a new combination therapy using checkpoint blockade in conjunction with a personalized dendritic cell vaccine, which was developed at UCLA, for people diagnosed with glioblastoma. Prins and his team hope by combining the two treatments they will be able to create a new way to treat people with brain cancer, as well as develop new ways to track the immune response.


Johns Hopkins Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute Awards focused on bladder cancer in women

The Johns Hopkins Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute has awarded research grants to four projects focused on understanding how treatment of bladder cancer affects women, why the disease has a less favorable outcome for women than men, and how biology could play a role in offering new targets for cancer therapy.

The institute encourages new strategies for combating bladder cancer and rewards those areas of innovative study with grants of $25,000 to $50,000.

“Bladder cancer presents different clinical challenges in men and women. It is diagnosed more often in men, but on average, women develop more aggressive disease,” David McConkey. director of the Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute, said in a statement. “Identifying the root causes of these discrepancies is a top priority for ongoing research. We also need to optimize our surgical approaches in men and women to ensure that we are obtaining the best possible outcomes. The projects we are funding this year directly address both of these priorities.”

The Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute recently launched a women’s bladder program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Jean Hoffman-Censits and Armine Smith will lead the program.

Two of the projects awarded research grants are looking at how bladder cancer treatment impacts the sexual health of women and how women are counseled after undergoing radical cystectomy.

  • Natasha Gupta is a resident at the Brady Urological Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her project aims to examine the components of sexual health and dysfunction among women with bladder cancer who undergo radical cystectomy, as well as the counseling patients receive regarding these issues.
    Gupta and her team will also study national practice patterns among urologists regarding radical cystectomy in women and counseling about sexual dysfunction. They are conducting in-depth interviews with patients and their partners about these issues.
    Gupta hopes a better understanding of sexual health and dysfunction in women with bladder cancer will lead to improved decision making about treatment and better management of sexual dysfunction in patients who undergo radical cystectomy for bladder cancer.

  • Sima Porten is a member of the urologic oncology team at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Sumeet Bhanvadia is an assistant professor of clinical urology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. The two want to do an in-depth assessment of sexual outcomes among women after radial cystectomy to understand the extent of sexual dysfunction and its impact on patients and their partners.
    Their pilot study hopes to generate data to develop a quantitative measure of degrees of sexual dysfunction and quality of life issues among women with bladder cancer. This information can be used to develop alternative treatment plans and properly prepare patients for what they may experience after radical cystectomy.

  • Margaret Knowles, at the University of Leeds, and Benjamin Hopkins, a Ph.D. student at Leeds, have identified biological differences between cultured normal cells from the bladders of men and women.
    “Such differences may have a major influence on the process of tumor development,” Knowles said. “This award will allow us to examine normal cells directly isolated from the bladders of normal males and females to determine whether such differences also exist within the body.”
    While acknowledging that different exposure risks have been highlighted, Knowles and her team suggest a complete explanation for the gender-related differences in bladder tumor behavior relates to genetic and epigenetic distinctions in these tumors, and such differences may develop because of inherent differences in the biology of the normal male and female bladder. Their goal is to make it possible for treatments to target the specific biology of tumors, taking into account any gender-related differences.

  • Jenny Southgate, director of the Jack Birch Unit for Molecular Carcinogenesis at the University of York, and Simon Baker, deputy director of the Jack Birch Unit, are examining how the skin layers inside the bladder—known as urothelial cells—develop and how those cells have genetic qualities seen in some subsets of bladder cancer.
    Southgate and Baker will look at receptors in the urothelial cells—turning them on and off—to discover what role they may have in tumor development. They believe their work will provide new insights into bladder cancer subtypes and a new understanding of urothelial biology.


ASCO names advance of the year: progress in treating rare cancers

Over the past year, major research advances provided new treatment options for patients with rare, difficult-to-treat cancers. In recognition of these achievements, the American Society of Clinical Oncology names “Progress in Treating Rare Cancers” as the Advance of the Year. To continue the forward momentum, ASCO also debuts its list of Research Priorities to accelerate progress against cancer. These and additional milestones in cancer research are featured in ASCO’s annual Clinical Cancer Advances report.

Although rare cancers account for about 20 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year, treatment progress has lagged behind that of more common forms of the disease. In the past year, however, research and regulatory achievements in five rare cancers were particularly impactful and together comprise ASCO’s Advance of the Year:

Anaplastic Thyroid Carcinoma: FDA approved the first treatment for this form of thyroid cancer in nearly 50 years, a targeted therapy combination of dabrafenib (Tafinlar) plus trametinib (Mekinist) for patients with BRAF-mutated ATC. This approach produced tumor shrinkage in over two-thirds of study participants.

Desmoid Tumors: Sorafenib (Nexavar) became the first treatment to improve progression-free survival for patients with this rare form of sarcoma.

Midgut Neuroendocrine Tumors: FDA approved 177Lu-Dotatate (Lutathera), which delivers targeted radiation to tumor cells, based on research showing it lowers the risk of disease progression or death by 79% for patients with advanced disease.

Uterine Serous Carcinoma: Trastuzumab (Herceptin) was shown to slow progression of HER2-positive uterine serous carcinoma, one of the most aggressive forms of endometrial cancer.

Tenosynovial Giant Cell Tumor: Research identified the first promising therapy, pexidartinib, for this rare cancer of the joints, producing responses in nearly 40% of patients.

This progress could not have come about without decades of sustained federal support for clinical cancer research. Several ongoing research initiatives sponsored by the National Institutes of Health have yielded key insights for rare cancers, and three of the five studies featured as part of the Advance of the Year received funding from the U.S. government.

Nine Research Priorities to Advance Progress Against Cancer.

For the first time, ASCO has identified specific areas to focus future cancer research efforts. These priorities, listed in no particular order, represent areas of vital unmet need or knowledge gaps that could significantly improve clinical decision-making. ASCO’s Research Priorities include:

  • Identify strategies that better predict response to immunotherapies

  • Better define the patient populations that benefit from post-operative (adjuvant) therapy

  • Translate innovations in cellular therapies to solid tumors

  • Increase precision medicine research and treatment approaches in pediatric cancers

  • Optimize care for older adults with cancer

  • Increase equitable access to cancer clinical trials

  • Reduce the long-term consequences of cancer treatment

  • Reduce obesity and its impact on cancer incidence and outcomes

  • Identify strategies to detect and treat premalignant lesions.

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