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ISSUE 2 – JAN. 16, 2015PDF

Duke Scientist: I Hope NCI Doesn’t Get Original Data

In May 2008, the Blue Devils of genomic medicine were facing a mortal threat.

An NCI biostatistician was demanding the data Duke University scientists used to derive the predictors of response in ovarian cancer.

This inquiry had the potential to sink Duke’s technology that was purported to analyze tumors and use genomic insight to identify the optimal treatment for each patient. According to Duke’s projections, cancer treatment decisions are made 700,000 times a year in the U.S. alone.

Multiply that by $3,000—the going rate for advanced tests at that time—and you have $2.1 billion.

How the “Bad Luck” Cancer Paper Was Misread by the Press

How much of the potential to develop cancer is due to plain “bad luck”?

A paper published Jan. 1 in Science titled, “Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of cell divisions,” generated a mild controversy when the authors’ use of the term “bad luck” caught on in the press.

Conversation with The Cancer Letter
Kramer: Our Cancer Risk Is Not in the Stars

The stochastic process of stem cell divisions should not be equated with bad luck, said Barnett Kramer, director of the NCI Division of Cancer Prevention, focusing on misinterpretations of the “Bad Luck” paper by Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

AVEO Cuts Workforce by 66%, Ending Research Functions

AVEO Oncology announced plans to cut its workforce by two-thirds, end its internal research functions, and vacate up to 80 percent of its facilities, including laboratory and vivarium locations. The biotechnology company was co-founded by Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The restructuring would leave about 20 full-time positions.

 

FASEB Offers Recommendations To Improve Research Funding

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology called for a re-examination of the way research is funded in the U.S., in a report detailing the challenges facing researchers and the threats to continued progress in the field.

The report, Sustaining Discovery in Biological and Medical Science: A Framework for Discussion, presents a series of recommendations to alleviate them.

 

Obituary
Dorothy “Dottie” Thomas, 92, “Mother of Bone Marrow Transplantation”

Dorothy “Dottie” Thomas, wife and research partner to 1990 Nobel laureate E. Donnall Thomas, died Jan. 9, at her home near Seattle. She was 92. 

Don Thomas, pioneer of the bone marrow transplant and former director of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, preceded her in death on Oct. 20, 2012, also at age 92.

In Brief

  • MD Anderson’s Andrew Lee moves to Texas Center for Proton Therapy

  • A. Eugene Washington named chancellor for health affairs at Duke University

  • Julie Brahmer named director of thoracic oncology at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center

  • Naiyer Rizvi named director of thoracic oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center

  • Seton Hall University and Hackensack University Health Network to form four-year, private medical school

  • Roche acquires Bina Technologies Inc.

  • Karmanos Cancer Institute receives $5 million grant from the Dresner Foundation

  • ASCO and College of American Pathologists announce partnership

  • Mount Sinai Health System and Valley Health System announce collaboration

  • Pelotonia awards six grants to Ohio State

  • Genentech and Human Longevity Inc. announce multi-year agreement

  • MD Anderson, Intrexon, and Ziopharm announce sublicensing agreement with the University of Minnesota

  • Amgen and MD Anderson announce research agreement

20150116 - Jan. 16, 2015
ISSUE 1 – JAN. 9, 2015PDF

Internal Emails Raise New Questions
Duke Officials Silenced Med Student Who Reported Trouble in Anil Potti’s Lab

Duke University would have avoided embarrassment, a misconduct investigation and a lawsuit, had its top administrators paid closer attention to a thoughtful report by a medical student who saw problems in the lab of the disgraced scientist Anil Potti.

Documents obtained by The Cancer Letter show that Duke’s deans were warned about Potti’s misconduct in late March and early April 2008, at the time when clinical trials of the now discredited Duke genomic technology were getting started.

The three-page document was penned by Bradford Perez, then a third-year medical student and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute scholar.

Instead of rewarding the student’s brilliance with a plaque and a potted plant, Potti’s collaborator and protector, Joseph Nevins—aided by a phalanx of Duke deans—pressured the young man to refrain from making a final complaint and reporting the matter to HHMI.

The Med Student’s Memo

An Appreciation
Joseph McLaughlin, 66, Cancer Epidemiologist

Joseph McLaughlin, an internationally recognized epidemiologist who made numerous contributions towards increasing understanding of the causes of cancer, died unexpectedly Dec. 10, 2014.

He directed key research in the United States and abroad clarifying the roles of tobacco, obesity, diet, occupation and other factors in the etiology of several cancers, especially kidney cancer, for which he was considered among the world’s experts. He led some of the largest studies exploring the etiology of renal cell and renal pelvis cancers, quantifying levels of risk associated with multiple lifestyle and environmental factors.

Obituary
Anthony Murgo, of the FDA Office of Hematology and Oncology Products

Anthony (Tony) J. Murgo, died Dec. 17, 2014 after a courageous year-long battle with cancer. He was a passionate research physician with a kind bedside manner. 

Murgo was a dedicated federal employee for 25 years, serving in multiple capacities at FDA and NCI. As the associate director of regulatory science of the FDA’s Office of Hematology and Oncology Products, Murgo was the liaison between that office and NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program. Within OHOP, Murgo also served as a medical reviewer, a team leader and a division director for Division of Oncology Products 1.

Drugs and Targets

  • Accelerated Approval Granted to Opdivo in Metastatic Melanoma
  • FDA approved a supplemental biologics license application for Gazyva
  • FDA approved an updated version of MarginProbe
  • FDA granted Fast Track designation to SGX301
  • Polaris Group’s lead product candidate, ADI-PEG 20 receives US and EU orphan designations
  • Amgen and Kite Pharma entered into a strategic research collaboration
  • Taiho Oncology Inc. submits NDA for TAS-102
In Brief

  • Donald Trump named CEO of Inova Cancer Care and Research Institute

  • Dario Altieri named CEO of The Wistar Institute

  • Sharmila Makhija named chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

  • Nipun Merchant joins Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

  • St. Jude receives $2 million pledge from InfinityQS International Inc.

  • NCI Director Harold Varmus addresses NCI staff and grantees with an outlook on the new year

20150109 - Jan. 9, 2015
December 2014PDF

 Drugs and Targets

FDA Grants Approvals to Lynparza, Blincyto, Xgeva, Gardasil 9 and Cyramza

FDA approved Lynparza (olaparib) capsules as monotherapy for the treatment of patients with deleterious or suspected deleterious germline BRCA mutated advanced ovarian cancer who have been treated with three or more prior lines of chemotherapy. FDA also approved a molecular companion diagnostic.

The approval of Lynparza, sponsored by AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, is based on objective response rate from the international single-arm trial in patients with deleterious or suspected deleterious gBRCAm advanced cancers. The trial enrolled 137 patients with measurable, gBRCAm-associated ovarian cancer treated with three or more prior lines of chemotherapy.

 Leukemia

Tasigna Shows High Response, PFS Benefit Compared to Gleevec in Phase III CML Study

Six-year results from the randomized phase III ENESTnd study continued to show higher rates of early, deep and sustained molecular responses when using Tasigna (nilotinib) compared to Gleevec (imatinib mesylate) in newly-diagnosed Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia. 

The data also demonstrated a reduced risk of progression compared to Gleevec. The update was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Francisco.

The difference in the rates of MR4.5 showed continued improvement for both Tasigna 300 mg and 400 mg twice-daily arms compared to Gleevec (MR4.5: 6-10 percent difference by one year, 22-23 percent difference by six years). MR4.5 represents an extremely low level of detectable BCR-ABL protein, the cause of Ph+ CML (measured in the blood at 0.0032 percent or less on a standardized international scale). 

Also:

 Breast Cancer

Ovarian Suppression Treatment Plus Tamoxifen Can Lower Recurrence Risk

Premenopausal women who received ovarian suppression treatment along with tamoxifen had a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence, according to data from a clinical trial sponsored and supported by NCI.

The study showed that suppressing ovarian function reduced breast cancer recurrence in premenopausal women receiving the drug tamoxifen after surgery for early-stage breast cancer. 

The phase III trial, SOFT (Suppression of Ovarian Function Trial), used either monthly injections of the drug triptorelin, surgical removal of both ovaries, or radiation of the ovaries as methods of ovarian suppression in women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. 

 Lymphoma
Phase II Imbruvica Trial Shows 47% of MCL Patients Alive at 27-Month Follow-up
 Gastric Cancer
Amgen Cancels Phase III Trials of Rilotumumab
 NCI CTEP-Approved Trials for the Month of December
20150102 - Jan. 2, 2015