publication date: Apr. 5, 2019

In Brief

Amy Abernethy appointed FDA acting chief information officer

Amy Abernethy, FDA principal deputy commissioner, was appointed the agency’s acting chief information officer and lead the Office of Information Management and Technology in addition to her other duties.

Craig Taylor has been acting as FDA’s CIO in addition to serving as the Chief Information Security Officer. He will continue to serve as the Chief Information Security Officer.

Abernethy came to FDA earlier this year, leaving her position as chief medical officer, chief scientific officer and senior vice president of oncology at Flatiron Health (The Cancer Letter, Dec. 17, 2018).

As acting CIO, Abernethy will “bring a new perspective to the FDA’s information technology programs and priorities,” agency officials said in an announcement of Abernethy’s appointment. “She was one of the pioneers in bioinformatics, and her career has focused on how to use software and data to simultaneously accelerate clinical research while informing personalized healthcare and scientific discovery.

“As science and medicine continue to evolve, the FDA’s priorities and regulatory science programs will continue to require the efficient and effective application of new technology; including the latest advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, scientific and high-performance computing, and other technologies to support the specific mission areas of each Center and Office.”


Zihai Li named director of Ohio State Institute for Immuno-Oncology

Zihai Li was named director of the Institute for Immuno-Oncology at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-James Cancer Hospital.

He comes to Ohio State from the Medical University of South Carolina, where he was a professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and co-leader of the Center Immunology Program at Hollings Cancer Center.

Li is an elected member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians. His primary interests are in the mechanisms of immune regulation in cancer. Some of his research focuses on immunological properties of heat shock proteins in cancer immunotherapeutics against cancer by reprogramming the tumor microenvironment, including regulatory T cells, thrombocytes, and unfolded protein response. His work is supported by NIH, including a program project grant from NCI and four RO1s.


Eberlein, Tempero, Hoppe, Kolodziej, Burns win NCCN awards

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network announced the recipients of a series of awards honoring individuals whose contributions fueled progress in improving and facilitating quality, effective, efficient, and accessible cancer care over the past year:

  • Timothy Eberlein,
    Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

    • Outgoing board of directors chair Eberlein was presented with a Board of Producers Award. 

  • Margaret Tempero,
    UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

    • A Board of Producers Award went to Tempero in honor of her long history of contributions to NCCN, which include chairing the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology Panel for Pancreatic Cancer

  • Richard Hoppe,
    Stanford Cancer Institute

    • Hoppe received the Rodger Winn Award for expert judgment and commitment to excellence in service of the NCCN Guidelines. As the founding chair of the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Hodgkin Lymphoma, the award is in memory of the first leader of the NCCN Guidelines program.

  • Michael Kolodziej,

    • Kolodziej was awarded as a Partner in Cancer Care in appreciation for his efforts to engage policymakers, employers, payers, and others to improve the accessibility of high-quality cancer care.

  • Jennifer Burns,

    • Burns is a Guidelines Coordinator with NCCN’s Clinical Information Operations team. She was named the Pat Daulerio Employee of the Year Award recipient by her peers at NCCN. The award honors the memory of a longtime employee in NCCN’s meetings department.


Jonas Bergh wins first ESMO Breast Cancer Award

The European Society for Medical Oncology announced Jonas Bergh from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm will receive the newly established 2019 ESMO Breast Cancer Award in connection with the inaugural ESMO Breast Cancer Congress.

The ESMO Breast Cancer Award acknowledges experts who have devoted a major part of their career and made a special contribution to the discovery and development of education, research and clinical practice in the field of breast cancer.

Bergh is Cancer Theme Prefect and Director of Strategic Research Programme in Cancer at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, where he is also member of the Nobel Assembly and holds the Mimi Althainz’ Professorship in Oncology.

Bergh is also Senior Consultant in Oncology at the Karolinska University Hospital, acting chair of the Scientific Council in Oncology/Haematology for the European Medicines Agency, Visiting Professor of Breast Cancer Research at Oxford University, and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London, UK.

Bergh’s research is mainly focused on breast cancer biology, including alteration of characteristics during progression and tailored breast cancer treatments. He is co-chair of the Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group, whose publications have had a global impact on primary breast cancer treatment, and was Chair of the Swedish Breast Cancer Group between 1995 and 2016.


Cornelis Melief wins 2019 AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology 

The American Association for Cancer Research recognized Cornelis Melief with the seventh AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology during the AACR Annual Meeting 2019.

Melief is an emeritus professor at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, as well as chief scientific officer at ISA Pharmaceuticals.

He is being recognized for his discovery of mechanisms of immune recognition of cancer antigens and activation of antitumor responses, and for his role in the development of innovative immunotherapies, including a vaccine against the human papillomavirus, a leading cause of cervical cancer. He currently focuses on developing new immunotherapies and improving their effectiveness through combination therapies.  

As a member of the AACR, he served as a member of the Immunology Advisory Committee from 2005 to 2011, and as a member of the editorial board of the AACR journal Cancer Research.

Melief has been recognized with many scientific honors, including the SOFI Prize Leiden in 1986, the AkzoNobel Prize in 1995, the European Federation of Immunological Societies Lecture Award in 2007, the Ceppellini Lecture from the European Society of Immunogenetics in 2009, the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute in 2009, and the Queen Wilhelmina Research Prize from the Dutch Cancer Society in 2010.


Rosen, Querfeld awarded $7.5M to develop better treatment for CTCL

City of Hope has received $7.5 million in grant awards to study cutaneous T cell lymphoma.

NCI awarded two grants valued at $6.3 million over five years to City of Hope’s Steven Rosen and Christiane Querfeld to work on developing improved therapies for CTCL, a disfiguring, incurable cancer that affects about 3,000 new individuals each year.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also gave the researchers two individual grants totaling $1.2 million over three years. Rosen and Querfeld will approach the problem from different angles in their respective laboratories.

“City of Hope is creating a national model for how to treat CTCL,” Rosen, its provost, chief scientific officer and the Morgan & Helen Chu Director’s Chair of the Beckman Research Institute, said in a statement. “Symptoms can include large, disfiguring plaques and tumors on the skin or a red rash that may cover the entire body. You can’t imagine the joy in patients’ eyes when our experimental treatments mollify CTCL symptoms. We are grateful for the trust the federal government and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have in us and our results.”

Querfeld, chief of dermatology and director of City of Hope’s Cutaneous Lymphoma Program and a Schwartz Ward Family Foundation LLS Scholar, has been studying and treating patients with CTCL for 17 years.

She will use her grants to advance her clinical phase I/II trial that looked at immune checkpoint PD1/PD-L1 inhibition. Her team will map the communication network among the disease’s cellular, molecular and immunological microenvironment. Blocking or silencing certain communication networks could eliminate tumors or cancers, she said. 

“The result of this newly funded study will allow physicians to use personalized medicine for certain patients with CTCL,” Querfeld said in a statement. “We will identify potential therapeutic targets and correlative markers that help guide immunotherapy treatments.”

Querfeld was mentored by Rosen, City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair, when she first entered the research world. CTCL has been one of Rosen’s research foci since the 1980s. He has identified novel groups of targets to advance the development of therapeutic compounds for this disease.

His NCI and LLS grant awards will build the foundational knowledge scientists need to develop targeted drug therapies for people with CTCL. Specifically, he will look at molecular regulators like p38γ, a protein kinase that is overexpressed in CTCL cells, but not in healthy immune T cells.

Conventional treatments for CTCL work for a few months, and only about 30% of patients respond to treatment, Querfeld said.


Olivera Finn receives Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award and Lectureship

Olivera Finn, University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor and founding chair of the Department of Immunology, was named the 2019 recipient of the Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award and Lectureship from the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, the society’s highest honor.

Finn is credited with identifying the first tumor-associated T cell target on human adenocarcinomas in 1989. Her research group also identified certain antibodies in cancers of the breast, pancreas and colon, which led to the development of a potential cancer vaccine currently being tested in clinical trials.

The Smalley Memorial Award, established by SITC in 2005, is presented annually to a clinician or scientist who has significantly contributed to the advancement of research in the field of cancer immunotherapy. The award is named in honor of the past SITC president and charter member of the society.

Finn is the former director of the Pitt Cancer Institute Cancer Immunology Program.


Feng Yue named director for cancer genomics at Lurie Cancer Center

Feng Yue was appointed director of the Center for Cancer Genomics of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

Yue joins Northwestern from the Penn State College of Medicine, where he was director of bioinformatics in the Penn State Institute for Personalized Medicine. His research focuses on how genetic variants contribute to gene regulation and three-dimensional organization of DNA molecules that influence human diseases.

He was recruited in a joint effort with the department of biochemistry and molecular genetics, the Simpson Querrey Center for Epigenetics, and the Center for Genetic Medicine, and will join Northwestern this summer. His hiring will advance basic, translational and clinical research in cancer genomics, and promote data sharing across disciplines.

“The recruitment of Feng Yue will dramatically impact our research efforts,” Leonidas Platanias, director of the Lurie Cancer Center and the Jesse, Sara, Andrew, Abigail, Benjamin and Elizabeth Lurie Professor of Oncology, said in a statement. “We are poised to maximize the potential of cancer genomics and accelerate its translation to precision oncology and individually tailored therapies.”

Yue received his postdoctoral training at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, UCSD School of Medicine.


ACS awards research and training grants

The American Cancer Society has approved funding for 93 research and training grants totaling $40,277,750 in the first of two grant cycles for 2019. The grants will fund investigators at 65 institutions across the U.S.; 86 are new grants while seven are renewals of previous grants. All the grants go into effect July 1, 2019.

Highlights of the current cycle:

  • Dirk Hockemeyer, University of California, will investigate the mechanism by which mutations in the telomerase gene result in cancer cell immortality and to what extent these mutations are driving melanoma progression. Telomerase mutations are found in 10-15% of all cancers and in 70% of melanomas.

  • Taru Muranen, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will utilize patient-derived pancreatic cancer organoids together with stromal cells to identify effective drug combinations that could enhance the effectiveness of current therapies  in pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal types of cancer

  • Daniel Wahl, University of Michigan, is studying the factors that make glioblastoma multiforme brain tumors resistant to radiation. The aim is to inhibit certain metabolic pathways that appear altered in cancer cells to make radiation treatments more effective.

  • Tyler Risom, Stanford University, will lead a project that seeks to identify which ductal carcinoma in situ tumors will progress to invasive breast cancer using a new microscope technology: Multiplexed Ion Beam Imaging, which allows 40+ distinct protein markers to be seen simultaneously within a single tumor image. The work has the potential to greatly reduce patient over-treatment and expand the availability of effective drugs for the patients that need it.

  • Avonne Connor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will investigate the roles of tumor type, overall health status, and socioeconomic status on outcomes for African American and Hispanic breast cancer survivors.

Health Professional Training grants include:

  • Two new sites were awarded Training Grants in Clinical Oncology Social Work, University of Rochester and Thomas Jefferson University. Four other sites successfully renewed their existing support. The grants train second-year master’s students to provide psychosocial services to cancer patients and their families.

  • Twelve new grants to support doctoral study were awarded to ten oncology nurses and two oncology social workers. Matthew LeBlanc of Duke University will work to identify needs among a newly growing group of cancer survivors: those with multiple myeloma. New treatments have led to impressive survival gains. This extended survival comes at a cost; patients are on perpetual treatment as they consistently transition to new medications when previous therapies stop working. He expects that findings from the study will help direct future research, intervention development, and clinical practice.

The American Cancer Society Extramural Research program supports research and training in a wide range of cancer-related disciplines at more than 200 institutions. The program primarily funds early career investigators. In addition, the Extramural Research program focuses on needs that are unmet by other funding organizations.

The Council for Extramural Research also approved 101 grant applications for funding, totaling $47,290,250 that could not be funded due to budgetary constraints. These “pay-if” applications represent work that passed the Society’s multi-disciplinary review process but are beyond the Society’s current funding resources. They can be and often are subsidized by donors who wish to support research that would not otherwise be funded. In 2018, more than $7 million in additional funding helped finance 32 “pay-if” applications.

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