publication date: Jan. 8, 2021

In Brief

Welela Tereffe named chief medical executive at MD Anderson

Welela Tereffe was named chief medical executive of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Tereffe began the position and joined the institution’s Executive Leadership Team Jan. 1. Previously, Tereffe served as the institution’s chief medical officer, a position she held for two years.

In this role, Tereffe will engage physicians and advanced practice providers in the delivery of research-driven clinical care that includes the Texas Medical Center campus, community and academic settings in Texas and MD Anderson Cancer Network. She will work closely with leadership to recruit faculty, promote research excellence and enhance the wellness and development of providers.

“Welela is a servant leader with strong emotional intelligence and drive. She has intimate knowledge of medical practice, extensive understanding of academic health care, and is known for partnering and engaging others,” Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson, said in a statement. “Her commitment to MD Anderson, to our providers and—most importantly—to our patients is undeniable. She is passionate about improving equity in access to safe, quality care, and to reducing disparities in cancer care and outcomes. We welcome her to our Executive Leadership Team.”

Since joining MD Anderson in 2005, Tereffe has earned a Master of Public Health in 2009, and currently she is working toward a Master of Health Care Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.


Adam Marcus named interim executive director of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Adam Marcus was named interim executive director of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Marcus will assume the role from Walter J. Curran, Jr., while Emory University conducts a national search for Winship’s next executive director.

“We are very fortunate that Dr. Curran will support Dr. Marcus from now until his departure in late January,” Jonathan S. Lewin, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University and CEO and chair of the board for Emory Healthcare, said in a statement. “They will work together over the next five weeks to ensure a smooth transition in Winship leadership in its research, educational, and clinical missions.”

An advisory committee, with representation from across the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, including Winship leaders, will oversee the executive director search.

Curran, who is also the Lawrence W. Davis Professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology, announced in October that he would be stepping down from his Emory leadership roles to serve as the global chief medical officer of GenesisCare, an international health care provider. He was the first and only radiation oncologist to direct an NCI-designated cancer center.

Marcus, a member of Winship’s executive leadership team and a fellow of the Woodruff Leadership Academy, serves as the associate director for basic research and shared resources at Winship. He is a professor of hematology and medical oncology and holds the Winship 5K Professorship. Marcus is also the scientific director of the Emory Integrated Cellular Imaging Core, one of the Emory Integrated Core Facilities.

Marcus’ research focuses on cancer metastasis, drug development, and image-guided genomics, and he has been continuously funded by NIH since joining the Emory faculty in 2006. He is a principal investigator of five active NIH grants, including a multi-PI R25 Science Education Partnership Award that supports Citizen Science HD. Marcus co-leads Citizen Science HD, an outreach program that provides opportunities for underrepresented learners in STEM.


Angela L. Talton named first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at City of Hope

Angela L. Talton was named senior vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at City of Hope.

Talton will begin the role Jan. 11. Her expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion encompasses leadership development, recruitment and retention of talent, communication strategy, philanthropic giving, supplier diversity and analytics.

Most recently, Talton successfully advised national clients through her firm, ALTalton Consulting. Prior to that, she served in senior executive roles at Nielson for nearly 12 years, including chief diversity officer, senior vice president of global diversity and inclusion, and senior vice president of global call center operations.


Kashyap Patel elected president of COA

Kashyap Patel was elected president of the Community Oncology Alliance.

Patel, a long-time COA board member, is a full-time practicing medical oncologist and CEO of Carolina Blood and Cancer Care in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He began his one year term Jan. 1.

Patel is board certified in hematology, oncology, and internal medicine. In addition to his work with COA and its committees, he volunteers with other national cancer and quality organizations.

Patel has extensive expertise in value-based care, including having successfully led multiple oncology payment pilots. He has a special interest in health care policy, racial and ethnic disparities, and end of life care.

Miriam Atkins, a practicing medical oncologist at Augusta Oncology in Georgia, was named vice president of the COA board. Debra Patt, a practicing medical oncologist and executive vice president, policy and strategic initiatives at Texas Oncology in Austin, was named secretary of the board.

Emily Touloukian, a practicing medical oncologist and president-elect at Coastal Cancer Center, was also named to the board.

The nominations were completed during a regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. All board of director positions are three-year terms. These new elections became effective Jan. 1, and will end Dec. 31, 2023.


Steven Lemery named acting associate director of Tissue Agnostic Drug Development at FDA’s OCE

Steven Lemery was named acting associate director of Tissue Agnostic Drug Development within FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence.

Lemery will continue as division director for the Division of Oncology 3.

Lemery joined FDA in 2006 as a clinical reviewer in the Division of Biological Oncology Products, which ultimately re-organized into the Division of Oncology Products 2. He served as team lead on the Gastrointestinal Malignancies team in the Division of Oncology Products 2 where he supervised the review of multiple original and supplemental applications.

Subsequently, he assumed the role of the supervisory associate division director in DOP2, primarily leading activities for the melanoma/sarcoma and pediatrics/rare malignancies teams. 

More recently, he has assumed the role of acting director of DO3 and is a member of the Medical Policy and Program Review Council. In various roles, he has contributed to Office- and OCE-led regulatory or policy initiatives. These have included both biosimilar development and tissue agnostic development.

In his new role in the OCE, Lemery will focus on scientific and policy efforts related to tissue agnostic drug development and lead outreach and education in this topic.


Roy Herbst, Worta McCaskill-Stevens, and Lawrence Shulman receives 2020 ACCC awards

Roy S. Herbst, Worta McCaskill-Stevens, and Lawrence N. Shulman received awards from the Association of Community Cancer Centers.

Herbst received the 2020 Clinical Research Award. Herbst is Ensign Professor of Medicine, professor of pharmacology, chief of medical oncology and associate director for translational research at the Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital.   

Herbst’s work focuses on the identification of biomarkers and bringing novel targeted treatments and immunotherapies to patients. He has served as principal investigator for clinical trials testing these agents in advanced stage lung cancers. His work has led to the approval of several therapies.

Herbst’s work on “umbrella” trials prompted FDA approvals of targeted therapies and new cancer drugs. Nationally, he works closely with public-private partnerships to develop large master protocol clinical studies, such as Lung-MAP.

ACCC’s Clinical Research Award recognizes individuals whose research has significantly and positively impacted oncology patients, their families, caregivers and communities. Herbst was selected for his distinguished career in lung cancer research and track record of successfully integrating clinical, laboratory and research programs to bring new treatments to cancer therapy.

McCaskill-Stevens has received the 2020 David King Community Clinical Scientist Award.

McCaskill-Stevens is a medical oncologist and chief of the Community Oncology and Prevention Trials Research Group at NCI, Division of Cancer Prevention, NCI Community Oncology Research Program.

McCaskill-Stevens’s work focuses on cancer disparities, management of comorbidities within clinical trials, and molecular research to identify individuals who will benefit most from cancer prevention interventions.

The ACCC David King Community Clinical Scientist Award recognizes active community clinical research leaders who have demonstrated leadership in the development, participation and evaluation of clinical studies, and who are active in the development of new screening, risk assessment, treatment or supportive care programs for cancer patients.

Shulman received the 2020 Annual Achievement Award. Shulman is professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, deputy director for Clinical Services and director of the Center for Global Cancer Medicine at the Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania.

Shulman was recognized for not only his esteemed work as a breast oncologist and oncology-practice thought leader, teacher and mentor, but for his generous approach that drives others in the oncology profession from around the world to seek his counsel.

Shulman has a long history of work in low-resourced areas throughout the United States and internationally, including the promotion of early detection and establishment and maintenance of cancer treatment programs.

Since 1980, the ACCC Annual Achievement Award has recognized distinguished individuals or organizations that reflect the values of community cancer care through their outstanding contributions. 


Kristin Ferguson named senior director of ACCC

Kristin Ferguson was named senior director of cancer care delivery and health policy at the Association of Community Cancer Centers.

Ferguson will lead the organization’s initiatives to improve cancer care delivery across rural, urban, and under-resourced settings, and will also provide support and resources to members of the oncology workforce, working to reshape reimbursement to better meet the needs of patients and providers.

Ferguson most recently served as clinical operations manager for the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. There, Ferguson oversaw the daily operations of the clinic, ensured services met hospital and ONS standards, and monitored patient data collection, quality of care, and trends in clinical growth.

Ferguson has served as a voice for nursing and oncology in many policy-making forums, including the ONS Millennial Advisory Panel, the Oncology Nursing Society Congress Planning Team, AACN/ GNSA Policy Committee, Cancer Moonshot Summit and the Biden Cancer Summit town Hall. She has also advised and participated on research teams and is a member of an NINR Funded Research Team at Georgetown University on a grant to research symptom clusters in oncology patients.


Melissa Johnson named program director of lung cancer research at Sarah Cannon

Melissa Johnson was named program director of lung cancer research at Sarah Cannon.

In this role, Johnson will lead the lung cancer clinical trial portfolio across the Sarah Cannon network.

Since joining Sarah Cannon in 2014, Johnson has served as the associate director of lung cancer research at Sarah Cannon Research Institute, supporting the growth of early phase compounds in thoracic malignancies.

Johnson will continue to work in early phase drug development as well as lead the Solid Tumor Immune Effector Cellular Therapy Program at Sarah Cannon. She is also the chair of the Cancer Committee at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.

Johnson begins her position in January at Sarah Cannon headquarters in Nashville. She will continue to care for patients as a partner with Tennessee Oncology, PLLC.


John Ryan named senior vice president and general counsel at Dana-Farber

John Ryan was named senior vice president, general counsel and chief governance officer of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Ryan began these roles Dec.1, 2020. Ryan has expertise representing health care and life sciences organizations in public company and non-profit settings. He has managed a range of legal matters, including medical research and technology, clinical care, IP protection and international expansion.

Ryan joins Dana-Farber from The Jackson Laboratory, where he was general counsel and corporate secretary. He previously held similar roles at Unilife Corp. and Aramark Corp., and was a partner at the Philadelphia-based law firm Duane Morris LLP.


Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey receives $25 million for Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence

A $25 million anonymous philanthropic gift to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey will provide groundbreaking support for the Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence.

This donation will support faculty recruitment, shared resource development, and cancer research to help scientists better understand the human immune response to cancer and develop the foundation for new treatments, or make existing therapies more effective.

With the support of this gift, investigators will accelerate laboratory discoveries pertaining to these disciplines into clinical treatments through more effective and efficiently designed clinical trials. These trials would be offered in conjunction with other cancer centers and collaborators such as the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, and made accessible to patients at RWJBarnabas Health facilities across the state.

In collaboration with its research consortium partner Princeton University, Rutgers Cancer Institute is considered an authority in the study of metabolism.

The gift also supports the recruitment of a co-director to lead the center along with Eileen White, deputy director of Rutgers Cancer Institute and chief scientific officer. Following a nationwide search, Christian Hinrichs, an expert in cancer immunology and immunotherapy, was recruited from NCI. He will begin his new role in January.

Additional new faculty to the center also will be supported through this gift.

The gift is part of an overall $50 million fundraising campaign, for which the aim is to secure an additional $25 million to fuel the work of the Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence.


SU2C receives $10 million Exact Sciences grant for colorectal cancer screening and prevention initiative

Stand Up To Cancer received a $10 million grant from Exact Sciences to improve colorectal cancer screening, early detection and prevention.

The grant will fund a colorectal cancer Dream Team of researchers, as well as a comprehensive public awareness campaign to increase screenings.

The new Dream Team will be awarded in early 2021 and will identify communities near anchor institutions that serve minority and medically underserved communities, pinpoint the unique local needs of those areas and turn participating at-risk communities into Stand Up To Cancer Zones with high rates of colorectal cancer screening.

The Dream Team will provide free colorectal cancer testing in the identified zones and will study samples collected via approved tests for colorectal cancer, including colonoscopy, CT colonography, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and at-home stool tests that analyze fecal DNA and/or blood. The research will aim to develop better approaches to colorectal cancer interception.

Fellowships for early-career investigators committed to studying health equity and disparities in colorectal cancer will also be funded. Public awareness campaigns will focus on medically underserved communities to increase awareness of the importance of colorectal cancer screening and early detection, and the availability of multiple effective screening options, such as traditional colonoscopy as well as options used at home.

“This funding allows us to bring together institutions, clinicians and communities to address the challenges we face in colorectal cancer screening,” said Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, chair of Stand Up To Cancer’s Scientific Advisory Committee and an institute professor at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make sure people are informed about both the benefits of colorectal cancer screening and their options.”

Colorectal cancer is treatable in 90% of cases when detected early, yet one in three adults over age 50 are not up-to-date on recommended colorectal cancer screening. The COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded the problem with screening rates dropping significantly due to stay-at-home orders.

The number of colonoscopies and biopsies performed declined by nearly 90% by mid-April 2020 compared to April 2019. Concurrently, new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at a growing rate among young and middle-aged adults in the U.S., with the number of cases of colorectal cancer in people under 50 expected to almost double by 2030.

The disease disproportionately impacts people of color; Black people have the highest rates of colorectal cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the US. In October 2020, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a draft recommendation to lower the colorectal cancer screening age from 50 to 45, but educating the public about the benefits of screening, as well as screening options, remains vital.

Research has shown that colorectal cancer screening rates are the lowest in Hispanic communities, with 59% of Hispanics getting screened, compared to 66% of Black people and 69% of white people getting screened. 

Black and Hispanic people are typically diagnosed at a later stage in the disease when it is more difficult to treat. These disparities could be driven by financial barriers, lack of insurance, existing health inequities and insufficient information about colorectal cancer and colorectal cancer screening options.

SU2C, along with Exact Sciences, plans to engage with other collaborators to help reach the underserved communities, foster scientific research and guide public participation.


Northwell opens $6.2 million cancer center in Riverhead NY

Northwell Health has opened a $6.2 million, 11,300-square-foot cancer center in Riverhead, on the East End of Long Island.

The center will provide East End residents access to integrated cancer services in an outpatient facility.

The Northwell Health Cancer Institute at Riverhead offers medical oncology/hematology, an infusion/chemotherapy unit with eight individual bays, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, nutritional counseling and social work.

Cancer surgery consultations are offered in the following subspecialties: breast surgery, colorectal surgery, surgical oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery and thoracic surgery. The facility also houses a pharmacy and lab.

As part of Northwell’s 23-hospital network, the Cancer Institute at Riverhead is seamlessly connected to care in the community, including inpatient cancer care, emergency care, screening and diagnostic imaging, primary care, specialty care and support services through Peconic Bay Medical Center and other Suffolk County facilities.

“Joining other institutional members of the health system’s cancer institutes, the Riverhead facility will offer novel clinical trials to patients, some of which are in partnership with the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as well as cancer genetic testing. This is what makes Northwell’s cancer institutes unique in delivering cancer care,” Richard Barakat, physician-in-chief and director of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, said in a statement.

Patients treated at the Cancer Institute at Riverhead receive care from a team of cancer specialists with expertise in diagnosing and treating cancer. Each care team meets weekly by teleconference in tumor board meetings to discuss prospective diagnostic tests and treatment options for select cases—allowing for second opinions from a diverse team.

The Northwell Health Cancer Institute at Riverhead becomes the ninth cancer institute or cancer center established by the health system across Long Island, New York City and Westchester. Northwell treats approximately 16,000 new cancer patients annually.


Mark Foundation awards five grants to accelerate a new class of cancer drugs based on induced proximity

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research has awarded five grants to support research of induced proximity, which involves controlling the physical distance between proteins to regulate or perturb biological processes in the cancer cell.

The following ASPIRE awards were selected in a competitive request for proposals that followed the January MFCR meeting:

  • Amit Choudhary and his team from Harvard Medical School are exploring whether small molecules called phosphorylation-inducing chimeric small molecules, which bring kinases into close proximity with target proteins, can enhance phosphorylation in cancer targets. The ultimate goal is to use aberrant phosphorylation to evoke an immune response.

  • Arvin Dar and his lab at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have developed a compound dubbed trametiglue, a version of the FDA-approved MEK inhibitor trametinib, that has enhanced interfacial binding properties. These improved properties show promise in overcoming the resistance that’s commonly seen with trametinib. Trametiglue and its analogs are being used as research tools and studied as potential leads for new therapeutics.

  • H. Courtney Hodges of the Baylor College of Medicine, and Nate Hathaway, of the University of North Carolina, are collaborating to develop bifunctional small molecules that can activate SWI/SNF-dependent transcriptional enhancers. SWI/SNF is an important chromatin remodeling complex that can lead to cancer when inactivated.

  • Benjamin Stanton of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine, and his collaborator Jun Qi, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, are developing induced proximity-based precision therapeutics for rhabdomyosarcoma that result in the degradation of the drivers of oncogenic transcriptional programs in this rare pediatric solid tumor.

An additional induced proximity project was selected for MFCR’s new Drug Discovery Partnership program, which is designed to accelerate the trajectory of promising scientific discoveries towards becoming therapeutics that will benefit cancer patients.

  • Craig Crews is leading a team at Yale School of Medicine to continue developing a TPD approach for treating chordoma. The foundation for this work in the Crews lab originated in a successfully completed study funded by a Therapeutic Innovation Award jointly granted by MFCR and the Chordoma Foundation in 2018.


National Association for Proton Therapy establishes Physician Advisory Committee

To guide the National Association for Proton Therapy, the organization has created a Physician Advisory Committee.

The committee will advise NAPT on critical issues including advancing clinical research collaboration, patient education and equitable insurance reimbursement practices.

Chaired by J. Isabelle Choi, clinical director and research director of the New York Proton Center and Assistant Member at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the committee is comprised of national leaders in radiation oncology and proton therapy including:   

  • Gopal Bajaj, Inova Schar Cancer Institute Proton Therapy Center,

  • Brian Baumann, S. Lee Kling Center for Proton Therapy at the Siteman Cancer Center,

  • Jeff Bradley, Emory Proton Therapy Center,

  • Andrew Chang, California Protons Cancer Therapy Center,

  • Steve Frank, MD Anderson Cancer Center Proton Therapy Center,

  • James Gray, Provision CARES Proton Therapy Center,

  • Brandon Gunn, MD Anderson Cancer Center Proton Therapy Center,

  • Nancy Mendenhall, University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute,

  • Minesh Mehta, Miami Cancer Institute Proton Therapy Center at Baptist Health South Florida,

  • Charles Simone, New York Proton Center,

  • Christina Tsien, The Johns Hopkins National Proton Center,

  • Torunn Yock, Francis Burr Proton Therapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital,

  • Jing Zeng, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy Center.

Under Choi’s leadership, the NAPT Physician Advisory Committee will promote the benefits of proton therapy. The committee will attend advocacy meetings with federal and state government agencies and members of Congress, collaborate with other cancer-related stakeholders, and support proton therapy research.

Previously, Choi was an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and served as a clinical lead of the Maryland Proton Treatment Center.


U.S. government passes law honoring legacy of Henrietta Lacks by increasing access to clinical trials

Congress passed legislation aimed at improving access to clinical trials for communities of color and decreasing health disparities. The bill was signed by the president Jan. 5. 

The Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act works to increase access and remove barriers to participation in federally sponsored cancer clinical trials among communities that are traditionally underrepresented.

The bill is named after a Black woman who died from cervical cancer and whose cells, taken without her knowledge or consent during her treatment, have been used to develop some of modern medicine’s most important breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine and treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s disease.

“ACS CAN is pleased to see this important bill, which is aimed at doing just that, pass in the Senate. Henrietta Lacks’ cells have saved countless lives and with this bill, her legacy will continue to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities for countless more,” American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network President Lisa Lacasse said in a statement.

The law directs the federal government to study policies that impact diverse participation in federally sponsored cancer clinical trials nationwide and recommend potential policy changes that would reduce barriers and make it easier for patients from diverse backgrounds to enroll in clinical trials.


Massachusetts health care law expected to improve access to clinical trials

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a compromise healthcare bill that calls for reimbursing cancer patients for the out-of-pocket expenses associated with clinical trial participation and creating across the board reimbursement programs in the state.

The anticipated result is that thousands of cancer patients in Massachusetts will gain access to advanced treatments offered in clinical trials. The goal is to improve participation and retention in cancer clinical trials, especially among underserved populations.

The legislative action is the result of an effort by Lazarex Cancer Foundation and members of the state legislature, including Representative Hannah Kane, the author and lead on the cancer trial language, Leader Ronald Mariano, former Senator Richard Ross, and others, to bring attention to the issue. Co-authored by Lazarex, the legislation clarifies that reimbursing patients for the out-of-pocket expenses necessary to travel to a clinical trial site are not to be considered inducements or coercion.

Similar legislation is being considered in Florida, and New Mexico, and is already law in California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.