publication date: Nov. 20, 2020

In Brief

Hannah Hazard-Jenkins named director of WVU Cancer Institute

Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, associate chair of surgery for cancer services, was named the permanent director of the WVU Cancer Institute after having served in the position on an interim basis since January.

“I have been and will always be committed to ensuring that everyone who seeks us out for care has access to the latest advancements in treatment, procedures, and clinical trials regardless of where they come into our system—whether it’s at our flagship campus in Morgantown or one of our regional sites,” Hazard-Jenkins said in a statement.

As the director of clinical services for the WVU Cancer Institute’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, Hazard-Jenkins helped manage clinical affairs and programmatic development, as well as the institute’s statewide network of cancer care. She also serves as the director of the institute’s Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program and as chief of staff at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital.


Edward S. Kim named physician-in-chief of City of Hope Orange County

Edward S. Kim was named senior vice president and vice physician-in-chief at City of Hope, and physician-in-chief at City of Hope Orange County.

As City of Hope Orange County’s chief physician, he will be responsible for driving innovation in cancer care and delivery for the Orange County network of care and the planned Irvine campus.

He is an expert in molecular prognostication for lung, head and neck cancers.

Kim is a former chair of Solid Tumor Oncology and Investigational Therapeutics, the Donald S. Kim Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research, and medical director of the Clinical Trials Office at the Levine  Cancer Institute, Atrium Health. Kim was also a professor of medicine at the University of North  Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Prior to the Levine Cancer Institute, he held many leadership positions including associate tenured professor in the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Kim has recently completed his Masters in Business Administration at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler School of Business.


Julia H. Rowland and Tom Smith receive NCCS Ellen L. Stovall Award

Julia H. Rowland, member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship Board of Directors and former director of NCI’s Office of Cancer Survivorship, and Thomas J. Smith, director of palliative medicine for Johns Hopkins Medicine, received the 2020 Ellen L. Stovall Award for Innovation in Patient-Centered Cancer Care, presented by The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.

Rowland and Smith received the award Nov. 18 at the NCCS virtual awards reception.

The award is named for former NCCS CEO Ellen Stovall, who died in 2016 due to long-term complications from three bouts of cancer.

Rowland is a long-time clinician, researcher, and teacher in the area of psychosocial aspects of cancer. She has worked with and conducted competitively funded research among both pediatric and adult cancer survivors and published broadly in psycho-oncology.

She was recruited to NCI to become the first, full-time director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship. After 18 years in this role, Rowland retired from service at the NCI in September 2017 and assumed the role of senior strategic advisor at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, a small non-profit organization that provides integrative support services to cancer patients and their families.

Smith is a professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Harry J. Duffey Family Professor of Palliative Care.

He is a medical oncologist and a palliative care specialist with a lifelong interest in better symptom management, communication, and improving access to high quality affordable care.

Smith began Johns Hopkins’ hospital-wide palliative care consult service as well as an inpatient unit. He is also a prostate cancer survivor, experiencing first-hand surgery, recurrence, salvage radiation therapy and androgen deprivation therapy with many significant side effects.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) presented the award to her constituent, Julia H. Rowland, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) presented the award to his constituent, Thomas J. Smith.



Jedd Wolchok receives Hearst Foundation Grant

Jedd Wolchok received a $1 million grant over a three-year period from The William Randolph Hearst Foundation to establish a new immuno-oncology research fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and support postdoctoral students who are conducting exceptional research in the field of immune-oncology and immunotherapy.

Wolchok is the Lloyd J. Old/Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Chair in Clinical Investigation, chief of the Immuno-Oncology Service, director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and associate director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The fellowship program will be a part of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program’s Immuno-Oncology service, led by Wolchok.


CPRIT awards $26 million in new recruitment grants

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas awarded nine new academic research grants totaling $26 million to recruit cancer researchers to Texas.

“Applications to recruit distinguished cancer researchers from across the country and abroad continue to increase even during the pandemic because Texas is now a magnet for world-class cancer research,” CPRIT CEO Wayne Roberts, said in a statement.

The nine potential recruits will join 218 CPRIT Scholars working at 21 institutions across Texas. Two Established Investigator awards will allow MD Anderson Cancer Center to bring researchers from two cancer research institutions in the United Kingdom. CPRIT’s Oversight Committee also approved seven First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member recruitment awards for promising young researchers from California, Massachusetts and Switzerland.

In addition to MD Anderson, the institutions receiving grants today include Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The grants awarded and their recipients follow:

Recruitment of Established Investigators Awards*—Two grants totaling $12 million

  • Bissan Al-Lazikani, Recruitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center from the Institute of Cancer Research – $6 million

  • Peter Van Loo, Recruitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center from The Francis Crick Institute – $6 million

Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards* – Seven grants totaling $14 million

  • Furqan Fazal, Recruitment to Baylor College of Medicine from Stanford University School of Medicine – $2 million

  • Guy Nir, Recruitment to The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston from Harvard Medical School – $2 million

  • Jihan Osborne, Recruitment to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center from Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School – $2 million

  • Xiaoli Sun, Recruitment to The University of Texas Health Science Center at  San Antonio from University of California San Diego – $2 million

  • Jeanine Van Nostrand, Recruitment to Baylor College of Medicine from The Salk Institute for Biological Studies – $2 million

  • Pavan Bachireddy, Recruitment to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute – $2 million

  • Mauro Di Pilato, Recruitment to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine – $2 million

CPRIT awards three types of recruitment grants: Established Investigators for senior research faculty with distinguished professional careers and established cancer research programs; Rising Stars for early-stage investigators who have demonstrated promising continued and enhanced contributions to the field; and First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty awards for emerging investigators pursuing their first faculty appointment, and who are expected to make outstanding contributions in cancer research. Recruits receive the “CPRIT Scholar” designation.


New AMA policy recognizes racism as a public health threat

New policy adopted by physicians at the American Medical Association’s Special Meeting of its House of Delegates recognizes racism as a public health threat and commits to actively work on dismantling racist policies and practices across all of health care.

In June 2020, the AMA Board of Trustees acknowledged the health consequences of violent police interactions and denounced racism as an urgent threat to public health, pledging action to confront systemic racism, racial injustice and police brutality.

The new policy approved by the AMA, representing physicians and medical students from every state and medical specialty, opposes all forms of racism as a threat to public health and calls on AMA to take prescribed steps to combat racism, including:

  1. acknowledging the harm caused by racism and unconscious bias within medical research and health care;

  2. identifying tactics to counter racism and mitigate its health effects;

  3. encouraging medical education curricula to promote a greater understanding of the topic;

  4. supporting external policy development and funding for researching racism’s health risks and damages; and

  5. working to prevent influences of racism and bias in health technology innovation.

“The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer,” AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards said in a statement. “As physicians and leaders in medicine, we are committed to optimal health for all, and are working to ensure all people and communities reach their full health potential. Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health, while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation.”

Though previous AMA policies and principles have emphasized the need to eliminate health disparities and called on physicians to prevent violence of all kinds, the new policy explicitly acknowledges racism’s role in perpetuating health inequities and inciting harm against historically marginalized communities and society as a whole.

Specifically, the new policy recognizes racism in its systemic, cultural, interpersonal, and other forms as a serious threat to public health, to the advancement of health equity, and a barrier to appropriate medical care. It makes clear that a proactive approach to prevent, or identify and eliminate, racism is crucial—particularly considering that studies show historically marginalized populations in the U.S. have shorter lifespans, greater physical and mental illness burden, earlier onset and aggressive progression of disease, higher maternal and infant mortality, and less access to health care.

The policy describes the various forms of racism as follows:

  • Systemic racism: structural and legalized system that results in differential access to goods and services, including health care services.

  • Cultural racism: negative and harmful racial stereotypes portrayed in culturally shared media and experiences.

  • Interpersonal racism: implicit and explicit racial prejudice, including explicitly expressed racist beliefs and implicitly held racist attitudes and actions based upon or resulting from these prejudices.

  • In addition, the new policy requests AMA to identify a set of best practices for health care institutions, physician practices, and academic medical centers to address and mitigate the effects of racism on patients, providers, international medical graduates, and populations. It also guides the AMA’s position on developing and implementing medical education programs that generate a deeper understanding of the causes, influences and effects of all forms of racism—and how to prevent and improve the health effects of racism.

The policy asks that AMA support the creation of external policy to combat racism and its effects and encourage federal agencies and other organizations to expand research funding into the epidemiology of risks and damages related to racism. Additionally, the policy asserts that the AMA will work to prevent, and protect against the influences of racism and bias in innovative health technologies.


ASTRO: Radiation oncologists urge Congress to advance bills that protect patient access to cancer care during the pandemic

Radiation oncologists across the country met virtually with members of Congress this week to urge lawmakers to pass legislation that will safeguard access to high-quality, value-based health care for people with cancer.

The doctors met with congressional leaders and staff as part of the American Society for Radiation Oncology virtual Advocacy Day Nov. 19-20.

Radiation oncologists emphasized four legislative priorities in their meetings with lawmakers:

  • Prevent pending cuts to Medicare reimbursement for radiation therapy and provide temporary relief for physicians who continue to provide care during a pandemic.

  • Engage with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to fix the recently released Radiation Oncology Model and protect patient access to cancer care.

  • Reform a broken prior authorization system that, according to new data, has grown worse during the pandemic and unnecessarily delays patient access to lifesaving cancer treatments.

  • Increase investments in cancer research at the NIH and NCI.

Under the 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, CMS plans to move forward with changes to evaluation and management codes that will result in an overall reimbursement cut of 6% for radiation therapy services covered by Medicare. Many key services, including weekly management of patients currently undergoing treatment, will be cut by 10% or more.

“The proposed Medicare payment policy, set to start on Jan. 1, 2021, would cause significant additional financial challenges for radiation oncology practices as they enter the new year. Despite many practices already experiencing revenue declines of 20-30% due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS is still pushing ahead with large additional cuts for radiation oncology and other specialties,” Thomas J. Eichler, chair of the ASTRO board of directors, said in a statement.

ASTRO and a broad coalition of health care provider organizations are urging both Congress and CMS to waive or suspend the budget neutrality requirement, which would trigger the cuts. More than 200 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives also co-signed a letter last month urging Congress to pursue changes to the 2021 MPFS to avoid the excessively steep cuts.

Radiation oncologists are asking lawmakers to join the bipartisan cosponsors of the Holding Providers Harmless from Medicare Cuts During COVID-19 Act of 2020 (H.R. 8702), which would stabilize Medicare payment levels for the next two years and provide temporary relief from the threat of additional cuts for radiation oncology and other medical specialties.

Since CMS introduced the Radiation Oncology Model (RO Model) as a proposed advanced alternative payment model, ASTRO has said it expressed concerns with the model’s mandatory and excessive reimbursement cuts for radiation therapy providers.

While these concerns were echoed by bipartisan senators and representatives in oversight letters to CMS that requested changes to the model, they were not addressed in the agency’s final rule, ASTRO said.. Radiation oncologists are now asking Congress to intervene and protect patient access to radiation therapy treatments.

The RO Model in its current form would be a significant burden for the 950 practices required to participate, particularly as most are already experiencing revenue declines due to COVID-19, ASTRO said. ASTRO surveys of practices from the spring and summer of 2020 indicated that patient volume dropped at nearly 9 in 10 radiation oncology practices due to the pandemic, with an average decline of 31%. Half of the practices also had to reduce staff due to declining patient volume.

“The cuts to providers in the Radiation Oncology Model substantially exceed those in other models and, astoundingly, became more severe between the proposed and the final iterations from CMS,” said Eichler. “We are concerned that these mandatory cuts will financially jeopardize practices’ ability to deliver optimal care during the five-year demonstration period, especially as we continue to face a public health emergency. Unfortunately, CMS’ failure to listen to our recommendations has turned a model with great potential to improve patient care into one that we’re seriously worried will undermine patient care.”

ASTRO said radiation oncologists are asking specifically for the RO Model’s discount factors to be more consistent with other specialty models and more in line with the intent of value-based health care reform as outlined by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

Additionally, while an ASTRO-led effort recently secured a delay in the model’s start date from January 1 to July 1, 2021, physicians say that without significant changes, the delay only represents a stay of execution from the massive cuts.  Reps. Brian Higgins (D-NY) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) are leading a joint letter to CMS asking for essential reforms to the RO Model before its implementation, ASTRO said.

While prior authorization was a major challenge for radiation oncology before the COVID-19 public health emergency, the burden has grown more difficult during the pandemic and physicians say they increasingly are constrained from exercising their clinical judgment in the best interest of their patients, according to ASTRO.

ASTRO is also asking lawmakers to join the bipartisan cosponsors of the Improving Seniors’ Timely Access to Care Act of 2019 (H.R. 3107), which would increase transparency in the prior authorization process and help curb delays for patients covered by Medicare Advantage plans.

ASTRO, in collaboration with cancer-focused organizations including ACS, is asking Congress to increase funding for cancer research at the NIH and NCI and provide emergency supplemental funding for projects that were stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.