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SPECIAL REPORT – MARCH 4, 2015 

NCI Director Harold Varmus Steps Down

NCI Director Harold Varmus has announced that he will be stepping down at the end of March 2015.

Douglas Lowy, the current deputy director, will serve as acting director for NCI, beginning April 1. Lowy, a long-time NCI intramural researcher, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2014 for his research that led to the development of the human papillomavirus vaccine.

In a letter to colleagues March 4, Varmus, 75, reflected on his five years at the institute, saying that he is leaving with a “mixture of regret and anticipation.”

20150304 - Mar. 4, 2015
ISSUE 8 – FEB. 27, 2015PDF

Former MD Anderson Faculty Chairs: “We are Disheartened and Dismayed At the Precipitous Decline in Faculty Morale”

A group of eight past chairs of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Faculty Senate have weighed into the controversy over leadership and morale at the Houston-based hospital.

“As former chairs, we are disheartened and dismayed at the precipitous decline in faculty morale that has occurred at MDACC under the current executive leadership,” the past chairs wrote in an email distributed to the faculty on Feb. 26. “We are further troubled by the continuing loss of outstanding long-term senior faculty from MDACC, an exodus that many have attributed to current administrative policies.”

The group’s letter suggests that discussion of morale at the cancer center is becoming more open at a time when its current president, Ronald DePinho, is on notice to improve his relationship with the faculty. 

With this latest salvo from the eight past chairs, peace between DePinho and the faculty is slipping further from the embattled president’s grasp. No commander wants open conflict with his troops. Yet, open conflict appears to be exactly what DePinho has on his hands.

Guest Editorial

NCCS CEO Shelley Fuld Nasso Applauds CMS Oncology Care Model

The recent announcement by the Innovation Center at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regarding the launch of an Oncology Care Model is an important step toward patient-centered cancer care. 

In 2013, the Institute of Medicine released its report, “Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis.” According to the IOM, the American cancer care system is in crisis due to three failings: it is often not patient-centered, does not provide well-coordinated care, and does not always encourage evidence-based treatment decisions. One of the IOM’s recommendations is that CMS and other payers should design and evaluate innovative payment models to improve care delivery.

 

ORIEN Big Data Collaboration Adds Four Cancer Centers

The Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, a precision cancer research collaboration founded by Moffitt Cancer Center and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, announced the addition of four cancer centers Feb. 23, bringing its membership to six.

The new members of ORIEN include City of Hope, University of Virginia Cancer Center, University of Colorado Cancer Center, and the University of New Mexico Cancer Center.

PCORI Approves $64 Million for Five 2015 Grant Awards

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute approved awards totaling more than $64 million to fund five large patient-centered comparative effectiveness research studies concentrating on cancer, back pain and stroke.

These are the first awards made through the institute’s Pragmatic Clinical Studies Initiative, an effort to produce results that can be more quickly taken up in routine clinical practice. The grants range from $7.75 million to $14.5 million each. 

Obituary

Meir Wetzler, 60, Roswell Park Hematologic Oncologist

Meir Wetzler, 60, chief of the Leukemia Section at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, died Feb. 23, nearly two weeks after a skiing accident in Denver, Colo.

Remembered as a brilliant and compassionate physician, he worked with cooperative groups and pharmaceutical companies to make clinical trials available to leukemia patients at Roswell Park. At the time of his death, he was principal investigator at the institute for clinical trials for CML, acute myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma and myelofibrosis.

His research focused on autocrine and paracrine growth factor regulatory loops in the pathogenesis of leukemia, and signal transducer and activator of transcription proteins in leukemogenesis.

In Brief

  • Patrick Hwu named division head of Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • William Nelson named editor-in-chief of Cancer Today

  • Beaumont Hospital Cancer Institute in Royal Oak breaks ground on proton beam center

Drugs and Targets

  • FDA grants accelerated approval to Farydak in multiple myeloma

  • FDA grants breakthrough therapy designation to Rintega in glioblastoma

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb and Rigel Pharmaceuticals enter collaboration

  • FDA approves marketing of 23andMe’s Bloom Syndrome carrier test

  • FDA issues safety alert regarding disinfection of duodenoscopes

20150227 - Feb. 27, 2015
February 2015PDF

 Lymphoma

Gazyva Increases PFS in Phase III Trial Of Indolent Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Patients

Patients with indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma lived significantly longer without disease worsening or death when treated with Gazyva (obinutuzumab) plus bendamustine and followed by Gazyva alone, compared to bendamustine alone. 

The phase III trial was stopped by an independent data monitoring committee following a pre-planned interim analysis due to the level of benefit seen in the Gazyva arm compared to the bendamustine arm. The study’s primary endpoint was progression-free survival. There were no unexpected adverse events with Gazyva.

 Leukemia

Imbruvica Demonstrates 88% Response Rate In Studies of Relapsed/Refractory CLL Patients

Two independent phase III clinical trials, LUX-Lung 3 and LUX-Lung 6, in epidermal growth factor receptor mutation-positive metastatic non-small cell lung cancer demonstrated positive results in overall survival.

In each trial, patients whose tumors have the most common EGFR mutation—deletion in exon 19—lived more than one year longer when treated with first-line afatinib (Gilotrif) compared to standard chemotherapy. The data was published in The Lancet Oncology.

 Drugs and Targets

FDA Grants Accelerated Approval to Ibrance In HER2-Negative Metastatic Breast Cancer

FDA granted accelerated approval to Ibrance (palbociclib) to treat metastatic breast cancer.

Ibrance inhibits cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6, which are involved in promoting the growth of cancer cells. Ibrance is intended for postmenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-negative metastatic breast cancer who have not yet received an endocrine-based therapy. It is to be used in combination with letrozole.

Also: FDA approves Lenvima, expands label for Revlimid, and more

 Prostate Cancer
Researchers: Cabazitaxel Functions Differently Than Other Taxanes
 Childhood Cancer
Cranial Irradiation Can Increase Risk of Pituitary Hormone Deficiencies Later in Life, Study Says
 Imaging
Study: Lymphoseek Patients Had Fewer Sentinel Lymph Nodes Removed Per Procedure
 Head and Neck Cancers
TCGA Researchers Discover Genomic Differences in Cancers Caused by Infection
 NCI CTEP-Approved Trials for the Month of February
20150226 - Feb. 26, 2015