publication date: Oct. 9, 2020

In Brief

Kelvin Lee named director of IU Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Kelvin Lee was named director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

A $15 million fund established by the Walther Cancer Foundation will support him in this role.   

Lee’s position will begin in January 2021. He succeeds Patrick J. Loehrer, who served as cancer center director since 2009. Loehrer will continue to see patients with gastrointestinal and thymic malignancies and carry on his work focused on global oncology and health equities.

Lee was also named senior associate dean of cancer research at IU School of Medicine and the H.H. Gregg Professor of Oncology. He will also direct the cancer institute, an umbrella entity designed to facilitate collaboration among cancer disciplines at IU School of Medicine and Indiana University Health. He will have appointments with both the Department of Medicine and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. 

Since 2006, Lee was the Jacobs Family Chair of Immunology at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. The co-leader of the Cancer Center Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program from 2006 to 2018, Lee led the group through three successful NCI cancer center support grant renewals before stepping down to take on the position of senior vice president for the Basic Sciences.

The IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center was designated a comprehensive cancer center by the NCI in 2019. The center’s nearly 250 researchers conduct all phases of cancer research, from laboratory studies to clinical trials to population-based studies that address environmental and behavioral factors that contribute to cancer.

As cancer center director, Lee will also play a key role in setting the future course for two significant centers at IU School of Medicine—the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research and the Brown Center for Immunotherapy.

“I am very excited to join IU School of Medicine to continue to build the world-class effort in cancer research, education and care for the people of Indiana, nationally and globally. The renewal of the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center core grant and achievement of comprehensive designation speaks to the outstanding faculty and staff that are leading this charge,” Lee said in a statement. “I have also been incredibly impressed by the deep commitment of IU School of Medicine and IU Health in these efforts, and this was a major reason in my decision to join IU.

As a physician-scientist, Lee’s research interests are both laboratory and clinical based. In the lab, his research efforts are RO1-funded and primarily focus on multiple myeloma, as well as myeloid dendritic cell differentiation in cancer. Lee sees patients with multiple myeloma once a week in clinic and is the principal investigator on active clinical trials of immunotherapy in myeloma at Roswell Park.


Jan Kitajewski named director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center

Jan Kitajewski was named director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center, effective Oct. 16, 2020.

Kitajewski has been interim director of the UI Cancer Center since December 2019. During this time, he has established new pilot funding, managed an external advisory board visit, engaged community members, and worked recruited oncology physician scientists and other faculty. 

Last year, his laboratory successfully secured an industry-sponsored research agreement to develop a novel cancer therapeutic antibody. Kitajewski was recruited in 2016 as head of the department of physiology and biophysics in the College of Medicine. As head, Kitajewski has spearheaded the recruitment of faculty members—expanding departmental focus in cardiovascular biology, obesity, cancer, and cell biology. He also oversaw the launch of a new master of science in medical physiology program and a new vascular biology, signaling, and therapeutics T32-funded training program.

Previously, Kitajewski was Charles and Marie Robertson Professor at Columbia University. He was co-director of the Cancer Signaling Networks Program at Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, director of the Division of Reproductive Sciences in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and director of the Women’s Cancer Program. Kitajewski was a program leader for 12 years and led three rounds of NCI review, receiving an exceptional score in 2014. He has also served on review panels for NIH and Department of Defense research grants, program projects and training grants, and NCI intramural program research evaluations.

After earning his PhD in molecular biology from Princeton University, Kitajewski completed a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular oncology working with Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus at the University of California, San Francisco. As a scientist, Kitajewski has received continuous funding from the NIH for 25 years and he has been the recipient of the Irma T. Hirschl-Monique Weill-Caulier Career Scientist Award, the DOD Breast Cancer Program Career Development Award, and American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Award.

His work has uncovered mechanisms of embryonic, ovarian, retinal and tumor angiogenesis and contributed to our understanding of fertility, preeclampsia, vascular malformations, retinopathies, tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. He also recently completed service as the President of the North American Vascular Biology Organization.


Ira Pastan receives Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal

Ira Pastan, distinguished investigator at NCI, has received the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal from the Partnership for Public Service for his discovery of moxetumomab pasudotox-tdfk (Lumoxiti), which is indicated for the treatment of relapsed or refractory hairy cell leukemia. 

Pastan’s discovery led to the finding of a new class of drugs, recombinant Immunotoxins.

“Dr. Pastan is now building on the success of this new class of drugs he developed called recombinant immunotoxins that could also be effective against solid tumors such as pancreatic and lung cancer, and mesothelioma, in addition to leukemia,” Thomas Misteli, director of cancer research at NIH, said in a statement.

In 2018, FDA approved Lumoxiti to treat relapsed or refractory hairy cell leukemia. Lumoxiti, is the result of decades of research by Pastan, whose discovery has led to a class of drugs that can kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact and save patients’ lives.

When Pastan first came up with his idea of using bacterial toxins for treating cancer, “it was not popular and most immunologists said it would never work, but he has taken this idea and this dream and turned it into reality,” Michael Gottesman, deputy director for Intramural Research at NIH, said in a statement.

“Lumoxiti fills an unmet need for patients with hairy cell leukemia whose disease has progressed after trying other FDA-approved therapies,” Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence and acting director of the Office of Oncologic Diseases in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement at the time the drug was approved.

Reflecting on the FDA approval, Pastan, who continues to work at age 88, said, “I am very excited about that. It is how things usually begin. Once a drug is approved for one kind of cancer, you try to make it useful for treating other types of cancer.” 

Pastan’s research focuses on bacterial protein toxins that are toxic to human and other animal cells.

He worked to direct the biotoxin to target cancer cells. The agents are termed “recombinant immunotoxins,” and they kill cells by interfering with the cell’s ability to build proteins and grow, a mechanism not employed by other anti-cancer agents.  

Once Pastan and his lab partners had a drug in hand, they started clinical trials and awaited the results. Pastan said he would always remember the moment he got word of the trial’s effect on patients.   

“I was on vacation, and I got a call from my clinical colleague. ‘Ira! The leukemia counts have fallen by 50% and it’s only day one.’ The cancer went away entirely for many patients,” Pastan said. “Eight or 10 years later, some of those patients have survived without any detectable cancer. So, the drug can cure many people.” 

Pastan is also known for mentoring other scientists, including Nobel Prize winners Harold Varmus and Robert Lefkowitz as well as Doug Lowy, deputy director of NCI. 


Thomas J. Fuchs named dean of artificial intelligence and human health, co-director of Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai

Thomas J. Fuchs was named co-director of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai, dean of artificial intelligence and human health, and professor of computational pathology and computer science in the Department of Pathology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Fuchs will build on AI initiatives at Mount Sinai Digital and Artificial Intelligence-Enabled Pathology Center of Excellence. In his research, Fuchs develops large-scale systems for mapping the pathology, origins, and progress of cancer, building a high-performance computer cluster to train deep data networks at petabyte scale.

Fuchs will co-lead the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai, established in 2019 by the Mount Sinai Health System and the Hasso Plattner Institute.

Previously, Fuchs was director of the Warren Alpert Center for Digital and Computational Pathology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and associate professor at Weill Cornell Graduate School for Medical Sciences.

At MSK, he led a laboratory focused on computational pathology and medical machine learning. Fuchs co-founded Paige.AI in 2017, and led its initial growth as an AI company in pathology. He is a former research technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and visiting scientist at the California Institute of Technology.


Kevin Kalinsky named director of Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship

Kevin Kalinsky was named director of the Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.  Kalinsky was also named associate professor in Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology.

Kalinsky comes to Winship from New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Irving Medical Center. He was on the faculty there for 12 years as a breast cancer physician and investigator. 

His research includes drug development in metastatic breast cancer. 


David Gius named associate cancer center director for translational research at Mays Cancer Center

David Gius was named associate cancer center director for translational research at the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson.

Gius was recruited to the Mays Cancer Center from the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University with a $6 million senior investigator recruitment grant awarded in August by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Gius, professor of radiation oncology, studies the cellular processes that govern aging, cellular metabolism and cancer. He has developed several mouse models to study these health issues in breast cancer and other types of human malignancies.

He brought four researchers with him to the Mays Cancer Center and, in addition to the $6 million CPRIT grant, three NCI grants totaling about $4 million. He has developed eight genetically modified mouse models to study human breast, prostate and liver tumors.

“Our work addresses a fundamental issue in oncology, namely that age represents a strong cancer risk factor. I focus on the biology of the aging protein Sirtuin-3 (SIRT3) and two mitochondrial proteins that direct the mechanisms that affect the flow of energy in the development and growth of cancer and tumor cell resistance,” he said in a statement. “Through our research, we hope to eventually be able to help medical practitioners identify patients who are more likely to respond to therapy, predict the duration of drug response and explain acquired drug resistance.”


Sarasota Memorial Cancer receives $25 million from Brian and Sheila Jellison Family Foundation

Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation has received $25 million from the Brian and Sheila Jellison Family Foundation.

The Jellisons’ donation is the largest in the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation’s history, pushing the healthcare foundation’s cancer campaign closer to its $75 million goal.

The cancer institute is expanding its team of oncology specialists and creating a centralized place for coordinated care and support for patients, families and caregivers.

The cancer Institute will now be known as the Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute, which will include the eight-story oncology tower being built on the hospital’s main campus. The building is expected to be open in fall 2021.


Yale’s Sidi Chen receives $500,000 ACGT grant for pancreatic cancer research

Sidi Chen, assistant professor in the Department of Genetics and Systems Biology Institute at Yale School of Medicine and member of Yale Cancer Center, received a $500,000 grant from Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy for pancreatic cancer research.

With the funding, Chen plans to advance a highly scalable strategy he’s been developing—known as MAEGI, or Multiplexed Activation of Endogenous Genes as an Immunotherapy.

“The ACGT Scientific Advisory Council finds Dr. Chen’s MAEGI technology to be unique and exciting because it simultaneously targets multiple differences and activates multiple immune system responses,” Kevin Honeycutt, CEO and president of ACGT, said in a statement. “It has proven to be very effective in animal models. We believe our support will enable its advancement into the clinic where it would have major, life-saving impact on pancreatic and other difficult-to-treat cancers, such as melanoma, glioblastoma and triple negative breast cancer.”


City of Hope forms AccessHope for employers to improve care, experience, outcomes and value

City of Hope has established AccessHope, a wholly owned subsidiary dedicated to serving employers and their health care partners by providing access to City of Hope’s cancer expertise.

The institution has invested over $40 million into AccessHope, a company that partners with employers to provide their employees with cancer information and expert clinical decision support.

The company serves approximately 1.95 million members who receive cancer care through 34 employers, including 11 Fortune 500 companies, and collaborative relationships with Health Transformation Alliance and Quantum Health.

A pilot program with Blue Shield of California is also underway so community oncologists treating Blue Shield PPO members can consult directly with cancer specialists, and discuss the latest information on cancer treatments.

AccessHope has designed a suite of cancer support services including:

  • Accountable Precision Oncology: Accountable Precision Oncology uses a proprietary algorithm of ICD10 and Rx condition triggers to target the top 20% of cancers that are most vulnerable to care mismatches in the treatment plan, are the most complicated/complex, and will be most positively impacted with respect to outcomes and cost savings by early and effective intervention.

  • Expert Advisory Review: After a cancer diagnosis, patients can contact AccessHope to request a review of their medical record from an expert in their specific cancer type to evaluate the therapeutic approach. When needed, AccessHope’s expert can work with an employee’s local physician to provide input on a clinically appropriate treatment plan — with the goal of achieving optimal outcomes without the patient ever needing to travel for care.

  • Cancer Support Team: Experienced oncology nurses are available to speak with patients and their families. Nurses can help patients understand their specific type of cancer, prepare for their first appointment with an oncologist, and provide emotional support and direction to trusted informational materials.

  • Expert Evaluation: During an in-person evaluation at City of Hope, patients are paired with an oncologist or hematologist who specializes in their specific type of cancer and receive consultations with additional experts as needed (e.g., surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, supportive care practitioner or other specialists). The service is inclusive of coordination with the patient’s local doctor in continuing their ongoing care.

“We recognized several years ago the tremendous benefit to cancer patients of re-imagining how they can receive the most innovative care available as close to home as possible,” Robert Stone, City of Hope’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “The demand we have experienced from employers across the country led us to form AccessHope, which will accelerate and expand our ability to partner with like-minded employers, doctors and health care providers to transform the industry.”

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.