publication date: Oct. 18, 2019

In Brief

Brown named Syapse chief medical officer

Thomas D. Brown was named chief medical officer at Syapse.

Brown joins Syapse from the Swedish Cancer Institute at Providence St. Joseph Health, where he served as executive director of SCI and led the establishment of the SCI Personalized Medicine Program. Brown also served in leadership roles across PSJH, including co-chair of the PSJH Cancer Leadership Council and co-chair of the PSJH Genomics Initiative.

Brown’s clinical and research efforts have been focused on gastrointestinal malignancies, broad developmental therapeutics in oncology, specifically phase I and II clinical trials, and health care policy and global medicine.

Prior to SCI, Brown served as professor of medicine and chief operating officer at the University of Arizona Cancer Center. He also spent a decade at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he was a professor of medicine, and served as both deputy head and head ad interim of the Division of Cancer Medicine, as well as vice president for international programs.

While on the faculty at Duke University, Brown was one of the founding members of the multi-disciplinary GI cancer program, and of a southeast regional clinical trials consortium. Brown began his career as a faculty member at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, working as a member of its phase I program, and serving as an executive officer within the Southwest Oncology Group where he was responsible for coordination of SWOG’s phase II portfolio.


Barker, Fingert, Hayes-Jordan and Vadaparampil named to NCAB

The White House has named the following individuals to the National Cancer Advisory Board:

  • Anna D. Barker, director of Arizona State University Transformative Healthcare Networks, co-director of the Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative and as a professor of practice within the School of Life Sciences. She is also a former NCI deputy director.

  • Howard Fingert, a long-time biotechnology company executive who now works as an industry consultant. Fingert is a member of the NCI Clinical Trials and Translational Research Advisory Committee and a former industry representative on the FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee.

  • Andrea Hayes-Jordan, chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at the UNC School of Medicine, and surgeon-in-chief at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

  • Susan T. Vadaparampil, associate center director of Community Outreach, Engagement, & Equity at Moffitt Cancer Center. She joined the Moffitt faculty after completing postdoctoral training at the NCI. Her work is focused on health disparities.


Virginia Tech announces cancer research initiative

Virginia Tech has developed a strategy to increase cooperation and connections among its more than 30 cancer research teams, help recruit additional cancer researchers, provide access to state-of-the-art shared research resources, foster relationships with institutions and agencies recognized as world leaders in cancer treatment and research, and enhance the already substantial cancer research funding at the university.

“By looking at the totality of Virginia Tech’s efforts, the optics reveal a broad, diverse landscape of faculty members and expertise across colleges, centers, and institutes being applied to solve the health issues and social problems caused by cancer,” Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology, said in a statement.

Virginia Tech has 22 active cancer research awards from NCI with an annual value of $4.3 million.

More than 30 research teams are distributed across its Blacksburg-Roanoke campus with affiliations that include the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, the College of Science, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, and the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery.

In addition, synergies continue to flourish with Carilion Clinic, Virginia Tech’s clinical partner.

“With Carilion’s expansive plans for growth to improve health care in the region, along with the recent announcement regarding a new Carilion children’s facility for specialty services, Virginia Tech expects additional opportunities for collaborations and partnerships in children’s health will increase, including cancer research and care,” Friedlander said.

Virginia Tech will now create a new strategic focus on cancer in children while it continues to develop cross-cutting research throughout the university and strategic relationships with federal agencies, private industry, and community partners — all aimed at the development of successful diagnostics and treatments for cancer.

Friedlander cited a relationship with Children’s National Hospital in Washington. Its neonatology program is ranked No. 1 in the country.  

“Virginia Tech and Children’s National have a long history of collaboration, including joint NIH research grants, shared intellectual property, and shared scientific advisory efforts,” said Friedlander, who is also the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “We fully expect to become more engaged in the rich innovation ecosystem in the Washington, D.C., area as we move forward.”

The university plans to recruit several new research teams to work on pediatric brain cancer research.

The new cancer research effort will be coordinated through Virginia Tech’s Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology, which is under the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.


Ribas, Jaffee, Eshhar, Samelson, Seed and Weiss share Coley awards for immunology

The Cancer Research Institute has presented awards to seven scientists:

2019 William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Tumor Immunology

Antoni Ribas, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Elizabeth M. Jaffee, of Johns Hopkins, shared the William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Tumor Immunology.

Ribas is a professor of medicine, surgery, and molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA and director of the Tumor Immunology Program at Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

He received the award in recognition of his efforts to spearhead the clinical adoption of checkpoint immunotherapy, his complementary research that has defined mechanisms and identified biomarkers of response and acquired resistance to PD-1 blockade therapies, and his development of stem cell-based adoptive cell therapies.

Jaffee is a deputy director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, associate director, Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Johns Hopkins University.

She received the award for research focused on novel vaccine approaches that overcome immune tolerance to cancers and her development of both genomic and proteomic methods to identify new pathways and biomarkers associated with the initiation and progression of pancreatic cancers.

2019 William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic Immunology

The Coley award for basic immunology went to four researchers for their collective contributions to identifying and elucidating the role of the T cell antigen receptor zeta chain as a key T cell signaling molecule and its application to CAR T-cell therapy. They are:

Zelig Eshhar, professor of chemical and cellular immunology, Weizmann Institute of Science; Lawrence E. Samelson, chief of the NCI Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology, Center for Cancer Research; Brian Seed, professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School and investigator, Center for Computational and Integrative Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital; and Arthur Weiss, investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Engleman Distinguished Professor, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. 

2019 Frederick W. Alt Award for New Discoveries in Immunology

The Frederick W. Alt Award went to Shane Crotty, professor at the Division of Vaccine Discovery, La Jolla Institute for Immunology, in recognition of his body of scientific research contributing to our understanding of the underlying immunology of vaccines, particularly the development of potent antibody responses and immune memory, and his elucidation of the important role of CD4+ “helper” T cells in these processes.


Cambridge’s Nik-Zainal wins Josef Steiner Cancer Research prize

The Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019, goes to Serena Nik-Zainal from the Department of Medical Genetics, University of Cambridge.

Nik-Zainal won the award, originally also known as the “Nobel Prize for Cancer Research,” for her successful application to accelerate holistic cancer genome interpretation towards the clinic with collaborators Paul Calleja and Ignacio Medina.

Thanks to her research, mutations in cancer tumors can be analyzed using new bioinformatic methods, which enables new approaches to targeted therapies. The prize will be awarded on Oct. 18 at the University of Bern. Nik-Zainal will present her work under the title “Accelerating holistic cancer genome interpretation towards the clinic”.

In a statement, Nik-Zainal said:

“The rate-limiting step in cancer genomics today is not the ability to perform sequencing. It is the expertise in performing downstream analysis and making a clinically-useful interpretation, that remains the hurdle between genomic technology and the clinical context.

“Our research efforts began with showing that the totality of mutagenesis from large cohorts of whole genome sequenced tumors could reveal mutational signatures, imprints left by mutagenic DNA damage and repair processes that have occurred through cancer development. Subsequently, our team focused on experimentally validating these analytical concepts in cellular model systems. We examined mechanisms of mutagenesis related to DNA repair defects and of environmental mutagens. The powerful combination of computational analytics and experimental insights helped to drive the development of clinical computational tools to interpret whole cancer genomes more effectively.

“At the Clinical School, University of Cambridge, the Josef Steiner Award will help us enhance translation of our expertise and develop novel, clinically meaningful algorithmic tools. We seek to consolidate our current knowledge into infrastructure that is appropriate for the future. We are building a more automated foundation, that can be referred back to at any point, and that will scale with more data coming. It needs to be more user-friendly for the next generation of clinicians and scientists to explore and be suitable for advanced data analytics. We will be able to focus on asking novel biological and clinical questions of these large datasets and ultimately, accelerate making clinically-relevant progress.”


Backman named associate director for research technology at Northwestern

Vadim Backman was named associate director for Research Technology and Infrastructure at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

In addition to this new role, Backman, the Walter Dill Scott Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, will continue to serve as leader of the Cancer and Physical Sciences Program at the Lurie Cancer Center.

As associate director, Backman will oversee Lurie Cancer Center’s infrastructure for interdisciplinary programs and initiatives, which include the center’s 16 Shared Resources that foster basic, clinical and translational research. He will also lead the development of innovative tools, technologies and services to support emerging disciplines across the cancer center.

Backman succeeds Milan Mrksich, the Henry Wade Rogers Professor, who was recently named Northwestern University’s interim vice president for research.

An expert in biomedical optics, Backman has developed numerous imaging technologies. Through his nanocytology technique, he developed a simple, easy-to-use test for diagnosing multiple forms of cancer at the earliest stage of disease formation. He leads Northwestern’s new Center for Physical Genomics and Engineering, focused on the entirely new field using optical imaging and computational genomics to reprogram the genome’s chromatin, which regulates gene expression.


City of Hope provides cancer support services to Amazon employees  

City of Hope announced a partnership to provide a range of enhanced cancer support services to Amazon employees in the U.S.—including a dedicated phone line staffed by oncology nurses, specialized support for complex cancers and diagnosis and treatment plan review.

Amazon employs more than 275,000 people across the U.S.

The services include:

  • Cancer Support Line
    Whether an employee has a question about the side effects of treatment or needs emotional support, a dedicated team of cancer care nurses is available to answer questions and provide information. Employees can call about their own diagnosis or if a family member is diagnosed with cancer.

  • Expert Review
    Employees can benefit from this subspecialized expertise in their own communities by requesting that a City of Hope physician review their diagnosis and treatment plan and provide a written recommendation to the patient’s treating physician regarding the clinical appropriateness of the proposed therapeutic approach. If appropriate, City of Hope physicians will recommend improvements to the proposed treatment plan, including recommendations for–and interpretation of–genetic/genomic testing, identification of potential clinical trials and therapeutic options. An employee may also choose to go to City of Hope for an in-person evaluation with its premier physicians.

  • City of Hope Accountable Precision Oncology Program
    City of Hope specialists work with Amazon’s health plans to support the care of patients with the most complex cancers. City of Hope cancer experts directly engage local primary oncologists to provide a recommendation for appropriate genetic testing and accurate interpretation of test results and advice for optimal treatment, including the appropriate use of the most leading edge, targeted therapies.


NCI grant UNC to help patients navigate costs of cancer care

NCI has awarded a four-year, more than $1.87 million grant to University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers to study the impact of implementing financial navigation services at five rural cancer centers in North Carolina to help patients cope with the financial burden, or financial toxicity, related to cancer care.

Building on pilot studies launched at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, UNC Lineberger’s Stephanie Wheeler, and Donald Rosenstein, will use the grant to connect cancer patients with potential financial support resources in Carteret, Dare, Jackson, Lenoir, and Nash counties.

The study is an extension of an ongoing investigation by UNC Lineberger researchers into the cost that cancer care places on patients through the direct costs associated with treatment, lost income or wages, the psychological burden associated with high-cost care as well as potentially harmful behavioral strategies that patients might use to cope with costs, such as skipping treatment. Collectively, researchers refer to this impact as financial toxicity.

Wheeler reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Quality Care Symposium last year on the results of a national survey of more than 1,000 women with metastatic breast cancer that was funded by Pfizer and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

Nearly a third of these women lacked insurance, and many felt “significant” or “catastrophic” financial effects from cancer. Rosenstein and Wheeler realized that this problem extends well beyond metastatic disease and breast cancer.

The team, led by Wheeler and Rosenstein, mapped the process of applying for financial assistance, and it became clear patients needed a trained professional to help navigate these resources. The need for financial navigation also was identified as a priority by a statewide network of oncology navigators, whose role was to support cancer patients as they transitioned from active care into survivorship.

Informed by work led by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and published in the American Journal of Managed Care, the team tested a financial navigation program for 50 patients at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital. In this pilot program, funded by the UNC Center for Health Innovation, researchers screened patients for financial risk and then had a social work-trained financial navigator work with the patient to assess their financial needs and identify potential resources to help them.

The results of the study have not yet been released, but researchers said their early data show that having a financial navigator eases patients’ anxiety and connects them to resources that help to reduce measurements of financial toxicity.

“The striking thing was that nearly everyone we screened in the cancer clinic showed signs of financial stress or risk,” Rosenstein said.

The new grant is a follow-up to that study to see if financial navigation can be disseminated to rural areas, Rosenstein said. They will be partnering with Carteret Health Care in Carteret County, Harris Regional Hospital in Jackson County, The Outer Banks Hospital in Dare County, UNC Lenoir Health Care in Lenoir County, UNC Cancer Care at Nash in Nash County, and the Patient Advocate Foundation.


Third Edition of Cancer Atlas highlights patterns and inequities in cancer burden

The American Cancer Society, Union for International Cancer Control and International Agency for Research on Cancer have published The Cancer Atlas, 3rd edition, an overview of cancer around the globe.

The document, released at the World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, can be downloaded here. In addition to the printed report, the information is included on this interactive website.

The atlas highlights distinct patterns and inequities in the cancer burden around the world; outlines the risk factors that are driving cancer patterns; and details the prospects for cancer prevention and control. The theme of the current edition is “Access Creates Progress.”

Cancer is the leading or second-leading cause of premature death (under age 70) in 91 countries. Based on expected population growth and aging alone, the number of global cancer cases is expected to increase by 60% in 2040. More widespread distribution of lifestyle factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity are likely to make that number considerably larger.

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.