publication date: Nov. 1, 2019

In Brief

Robert Winn named director of VCU Massey Cancer Center

Robert Winn was named director of Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center. The lung cancer and community-based health care expert will begin his role at VCU Dec. 2.

Winn comes to VCU from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he has served as director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center and as associate vice chancellor of health affairs for community-based practice at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Science System. At UIC, Winn built a community-to-bench integrated health model that brings together both the discovery and implementation sciences into one health delivery and research system, and he oversaw the research and clinical activities of 13 Federally Qualified Health Centers.

Prior to joining UIC, Winn spent 13 years at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and School of Medicine in leadership roles and clinical faculty appointments, including associate dean of admissions, vice chair of career development/diversity inclusion and senior medical director of the pulmonary nodule clinic.

“I am incredibly impressed with the cancer center’s research, clinical and educational programs as well as the collaboration that Massey fosters across VCU, VCU Health and beyond to discover, develop, deliver and teach effective means to prevent, detect, treat and cure cancer,” Winn said in a statement. “Also, Massey’s commitment to ensuring equal access to cancer care is deeply important to me.”

Winn is a pulmonologist whose scholarship has focused on lung cancer, health disparities and community-based health care. His basic science research, which was supported by NIH and Veterans Affairs Merit awards, focuses on the mechanisms that drive the proliferation of cancer and on the role of cellular senescence in lung cancer. He is a principal investigator on several community-based projects funded by the NIH and NCI, including the All of Us Research Program, a NIH precision medicine initiative. His research aims to develop methods to eliminate health disparities.

Winn replaces Gordon Ginder, who has served as Massey’s director for 22 years and announced his desire to step down last summer.


Myles Brown, Celina Kleer to receive awards at San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium

Myles Brown is the recipient of the 2019 AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research award at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, and Celina Kleer will receive the 2019 American Association for Cancer Research Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research at the symposium.

The Distinguished Lectureship is supported by Aflac Inc. Outstanding Investigator award is

supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Brown, the Emil Frei III Professor of Medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, is being recognized for his research on steroid receptor-coregulators that has put a spotlight on the dynamic ability of these proteins to regulate the genome. His research has elucidated the epigenetic factors underlying the action of steroid hormones and effectively shaped understanding of the role of nuclear hormone receptors in normal physiology and breast cancer. Brown will deliver a lecture Dec. 12, at 11:30 a.m., “Essential genes and cistromes in breast cancer.”

Kleer, the Harold A. Oberman Collegiate Professor of Pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School and Rogel Cancer Center, is being recognized for her work generating key insights into the development of aggressive forms of breast cancer and for advancing the characterization of clinical biomarkers and potential therapeutic targets for these cancer subsets.

Kleer’s research led to the initial demonstration of EZH2 overexpression in metastatic hormone receptor negative breast cancer and the elucidation of molecular determinants of metaplastic breast carcinoma. Kleer will present a lecture on Dec. 13 at 11:30 a.m., “Novel non-canonical functions of EZH2 in triple negative breast cancer.”

The 2019 SABCS will be held Dec. 10-14 at the Henry B. González Convention Center in San Antonio.


Brian Rini joins Vanderbilt-Ingram as chief of clinical trials

Brian Rini, an expert in genitourinary oncology, kidney cancer and clinical drug development, is joining Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center as the inaugural chief of clinical trials.

Rini was recruited from Cleveland Clinic, where he serves as director of the Genitourinary Cancer Program and professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. His start date is Jan. 28, 2020.

At Vanderbilt, he will be an Ingram Professor of Medicine and will lead kidney cancer clinical research efforts, in addition to the new role, which will focus on expanding oncology clinical research operations and training opportunities in clinical cancer research across the board.

Rini will join Jordan Berlin, associate director for Clinical Research at VICC and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, and Vicki Keedy, associate professor of medicine and medical director of the Clinical Trials Office.

Rini served as chair of the FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee in 2018-2019 and completed a four-year term on that committee. He was a founding member of the Kidney Cancer Programmatic Panel for the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, now the largest source of kidney cancer research support in the nation, directing more than $20 million in grant funding to kidney cancer basic, translational and clinical investigations.

FDA in April approved the combination of the targeted therapy axitinib and the immunotherapy pembrolizumab after results of a clinical trial were published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Rini was the lead author of that study.


NCI awards UCLA prostate cancer SPORE $8.7M

The prostate cancer program at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and UCLA Health was awarded a $8.7 million SPORE grant from NCI.

The grant will support the development of approaches for improving the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

The 2019 designation is the fourth time UCLA has received the five-year cycle of funding. The UCLA program is one of eight programs with this designation and the only one to be awarded the designation in the state of California.

The grant helped support the work of Michael Jung, a UCLA distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Charles Sawyers, a former professor of medicine and molecular pharmacology at UCLA. They developed enzalutamide and apalutamide, anti-androgen treatments that can prolong life for men when hormone and chemotherapies did not work for them. These drugs have been used by thousands of men with castration-resistant prostate cancer.

Developments in imaging for detecting prostate cancer have also been supported through the grant. UCLA was among the first places in the country to employ MRI for detection, diagnosis and management of prostate cancer. MRIs are now regularly used to detect and assess the aggressiveness of malignant prostate tumors.

Over the next five years, the grant will fund three translational research projects to find better ways to treat men with advanced stages of the disease:

  • Developing drug inhibitors for men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.
    Led by Jung and Matthew Rettig, the team will look to develop a drug inhibitor that helps minimize resistance, prolong life expectancy and improve quality of life for men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. This stage of prostate cancer accounts for virtually all prostate cancer-specific deaths.

  • Using CAR T-cell therapy to treat men with advanced prostate cancer.
    Working with researchers at City of Hope, Owen Witte and colleagues will test a new CAR T-cell targeting the prostate stem cell antigen in prostate cancer. The team has engineered and tested the CAR T-cell therapy in laboratory models of prostate cancer and will bring them to a human clinical trial to test its efficiency.

  • Targeting a protein to help inhibit lethal prostate cancer.
    The project, led by Isla Garraway from UCLA and Michael Freeman from Cedars Sinai, will test if the protein ONECUT2 is a target in a subset of aggressive prostate cancers where ONECUT2 is highly active. Currently, most drugs in development to treat advanced prostate cancer are focused on targeting the androgen receptor, which many men still do not benefit from.


Johns Hopkins opens proton center at Sibley Memorial Hospital

Johns Hopkins Medicine collaborated with Children’s National Hospital to open the Johns Hopkins National Proton Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital, providing proton technology for pediatric and adult cancer patients in the District of Columbia.

The proton center is part of the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore. Sibley houses the only proton center in the greater Washington, D.C. region with a dedicated pediatric team.

The proton collaboration with Children’s National Hospital represents an expansion of the earlier collaboration between Children’s and Johns Hopkins Medicine that established the pediatric radiation oncology program at Sibley, which treats a broad range of children’s cancers.

“We will be conducting groundbreaking research that will potentially help expand this technology for use in treating other types of cancers while at the same time helping improve the effectiveness of the proton treatments for the cancers currently most amenable to proton therapy,” Hasan Zia, interim president and CEO of Sibley Memorial Hospital, said in a statement.

The Johns Hopkins National Proton Center at Sibley will have a fully integrated research room, which will allow clinical, basic science, and medical physics faculty to advance clinical trial research, translational research, and technology development research in proton therapy. There, experts will lead efforts to study proton outcomes for sarcoma, gynecological tumors, pancreatic and liver tumors, lymph node cancers and tumors located near the heart and major blood vessels. In addition, the researchers will examine how the cancer cell-killing proton energy interacts with the cells and tissue surrounding the tumors.

Christina Tsien was appointed proton center medical director and Curtiland Deville will serve as the associate proton director, while maintaining his role as the clinical director for the Radiation Oncology Clinic at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Through a strategic partnership with Howard University, the proton center will serve as an educational and training site for students enrolled in Howard’s medical physics program.

The first treatment room opened in October. The second room is scheduled to open in spring 2020, and the third room and fixed beam research room are scheduled to open in fall 2020.


Allyson Kinzel named senior vice president and chief legal officer at MD Anderson

MD Anderson Cancer Center has named Allyson Hancock Kinzel as senior vice president and chief legal officer, effective Nov. 1.

Kinzel will lead legal and regulatory affairs in her role after serving as chief legal officer since 2018. She will report to the president and will be a member of the institution’s executive leadership team.

As senior vice president, Kinzel will oversee three legal and regulatory departments: Legal Services, Internal Audit and the Office of Institutional Compliance. Kinzel will be responsible for identifying and managing risk across the institution, leading auditing and monitoring efforts and ensuring the institution’s compliance with federal and state laws. As chief legal officer, she has guided responses to hospital-wide federal regulatory surveys, established MD Anderson’s institutional conflict of interest policy and program structure and led the institution’s response to the Office for Civil Rights regarding federal enforcement provisions.

Before serving as chief legal officer, Kinzel worked for 10 years in Institutional Compliance at MD Anderson and was vice president and chief compliance and ethics officer from 2014 to 2018. Prior to coming to MD Anderson, Kinzel represented health care providers as a partner at Baker Hostetler, LLP, and as an attorney at Vinson and Elkins, LLP.


James Kochenderfer receives Foundation for the NIH Awards 2019 Trailblazer Prize

The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health awarded the second annual Trailblazer Prize for Clinician-Scientists to NCI’s James Kochenderfer.

Kochenderfer received the Trailblazer Prize and a $10,000 honorarium for developing immunotherapies that leverage chimeric antigen receptor T-cells to treat blood cancers. John I. Gallin and Elaine Gallin fund the prize.

The Trailblazer Prize recognizes contributions of early career clinician-scientists whose work has the potential to or has led to innovations in patient care and seeks to raise awareness of the critical role the clinician-scientist plays in biomedical research and clinical care.

Kochenderfer and prize finalists Ami S. Bhatt, of Stanford University, and Evan Macosko, of Broad Institute, and Giovanni Traverso, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, gave presentations at an event on Capitol Hill to inform policymakers about their research and the need to inspire more clinician-scientists to join the field.

The FNIH’s Charles A. Sanders Legacy Fund has awarded all finalists $5,000 for their laboratories.

Kochenderfer is an investigator in the surgery branch at the Center for Cancer Research at NCI. He was the first to design and demonstrate the effectiveness of anti-CD19 CAR T cells in humans, leading to the first FDA approval of a CAR T-cell therapy for lymphoma. He also led the first clinical trials focused on the anti-B-cell maturation antigen CAR for the treatment of multiple myeloma.

Kochenderfer has open trials investigating novel CAR T-cell therapies for diseases and is developing new methods to improve the cancer fighting ability of CAR T cells.


Astellas awards $200,000 in cancer grants

Astellas awarded $200,000 in total grants and resources to winners of the fourth annual Changing Cancer Care prize, a challenge that funds ideas beyond medicine to improve cancer care for patients, caregivers and their loved ones.

Audrey Guth, founder of Nanny Angel Network in Toronto, was chosen as the 2019 Grand Prize winner.

Guth, a cancer survivor and mother of four, established the Nanny Angel Network in 2009 after she found a gap in healthcare and social services for mothers with cancer and their children. The program provides stability, normalcy, and support during a challenging time. Nanny Angel Network trains volunteers to care for children whose mothers have cancer.

This year’s challenge awarded four prizes totaling $200,000 in funds (one grand prize of $100,000, two $45,000 Innovation prizes, and one Emerging Ideas prize of $10,000). Along with the funding, all winners will have the opportunity to attend TEDMED 2020 as TEDMED Scholars.

The winners will receive a yearlong membership to MATTER, a global healthcare startup incubator.

The 2019 Innovation Prize winners are:

  • Daniella Koren, founder of Arches Technology, whose idea is to expand a digital patient education and engagement program called MyCareCompass that provides information and evidence-based education to people impacted by cancer throughout their treatment journey.

  • Leslie Schover, founder of Will2Love, whose idea is to tailor self-help programs for men and women to meet the needs of special populations including younger survivors and LGBTQ survivors. Will2Love provides online education and guidance to help people impacted by cancer overcome problems with sexual health and fertility, trains oncology professionals to better manage these problems, and consults with hospitals to establish reproductive health programs.

Astellas introduced a new Emerging Ideas prize to recognize ideas that need additional cultivation before implementation. Abby Westerman of b-present Foundation was selected for this prize and also presented at the live pitch event. Westerman plans to use the Emerging Ideas prize to extend the reach of b-there, a web-based patient and supporter connection tool to lower the barrier for young adults with cancer to stay connected with friends, offering a way to control visits, convey status updates, and request needed items.

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.