Drebin Appointed Chair of Surgery at MSKCC

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In Brief

Drebin Appointed Chair of Surgery at MSKCC

JEFFREY DREBIN was named chair of surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a position he will assume early next year. He is the chair of the Department of Surgery at Penn Medicine and the 14th John Rhea Barton Professor of Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine.

At MSKCC, Drebin will replace Peter Scardino, who is stepping down after ten years as chair of the Department of Surgery.

In an email to The Cancer Letter, Scardino said he plans to “continue to practice and conduct research in prostate cancer as a member of the Urology Service in the Department here at MSK for many years, and, I hope, continue to participate in the development of new diagnostic and treatment approaches for the disease and help explain why PSA is still an invaluable marker that, used correctly, will continue to help reduce the mortality rate from prostate cancer.”

In an email to the faculty, Penn officials wrote:

While we are extremely proud of Dr. Drebin being selected for this prestigious position at MSKCC, there is no question that his presence here will be sorely missed. Jeff has conveyed to each of us the difficulty he had in making this decision, but ultimately the opportunity to focus his career on cancer became the right choice for him.

Dr. Drebin has been an outstanding leader and mentor at Penn Medicine. He came to Penn in 2004 as Chief of the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery and was named Chair of the Department in 2009. Since that time, Jeff has built a nationally leading department with responsibility for a diverse range of programs and services spanning 11 divisions, including advanced patient care, basic and clinical research and the surgical education program. The Department is consistently recognized for its outstanding performance led by excellent faculty, and to Jeff’s personal credit – for its strong group of residents and junior faculty who will become tomorrow’s leaders in academic medicine.

Dr. Drebin’s research has put him in the vanguard of the latest therapies for cancer with innovative research projects investigating new ways to treat pancreatic cancer. Further, his research has contributed significantly to the understanding of the genetic origins of cancer. He is currently the co-Principal Investigator on a clinical and translational “dream team” award from the Stand Up to Cancer Foundation for innovative studies in pancreatic cancer which joins Penn faculty with investigators at MSKCC to advance knowledge and improve patient care.

We will, of course, begin a national search for a new chair of surgery shortly with the knowledge that Jeff has set a very high bar indeed for his successor. Jeff is an outstanding leader, clinician, scientist and a valued colleague, and we will plan appropriate celebrations of his many accomplishments at Penn Medicine. Please join us in offering him heartiest congratulations on his new position.

MILTON BROWN was named director of the new Inova Center for Drug Discovery and Development and as deputy director for drug discovery for the Inova Schar Cancer Institute.

Brown is one of a handful of physician scientists in the United States who hold a Ph.D. in synthetic chemistry and an M.D.

He will bring his team of more than 20 scientists including research instructors, post-docs, technicians, graduate students, and research assistant professors to Inova. The disciplines covered by these individuals include synthetic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, cancer biology, ADME toxicity specialization, animal pathology, and spectroscopy.

“Having Milt and his team at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute will further differentiate cancer care at Inova,” said Skip Trump, executive director and CEO, ISCI. “Cancer is not one disease and we are discovering, through genomics, proteomics and other sophisticated approaches, new and important targets in cancer cells that drive the growth and spread of cancer. Dr. Brown’s life’s work is about finding and developing new drugs to block those drivers – the right drug for the right patient at the right time. It’s about saving lives and improving the quality of life of our patients.”

Brown was on the faculty at the University of Virginia from 2000 through 2006, when he accepted the position as the founding Director of the Drug Discovery Program at the Georgetown Medical Center. He was appointed as the Edwin H. Richard and Elisabeth Richard von Matsch Endowed Chair in Experimental Therapeutics, tenured associate professor in the Department of Oncology, and associate director for the experimental therapeutics program at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Brown serves as a scientific counselor on the National Toxicology Program Board.

THE ROYAL NETHERLANDS Academy of Arts and Sciences named cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein as the very first recipient of the KNAW Bob Pinedo Cancer Care Award.

In the 1980s, Vogelstein demonstrated the genetic mechanism that leads to cancer. He is now working on cancer therapies that utilize the patient’s immune system. He is also developing genetic tests for early cancer detection.

Vogelstein is director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and Clayton Professor of Oncology and Pathology at Johns Hopkins University.

Vogelstein has co-authored more than five hundred academic publications and more than one hundred patents. He is one of the most cited researchers in the world and has received dozens of distinctions, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in 2013. Vogelstein is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the European Molecular Biology Organization, among others.

The KNAW Bob Pinedo Cancer Care Award is a new biennial award for internationally acclaimed researchers in cancer care. It is named after the renowned Dutch oncologist and researcher Bob Pinedo (born in Curaçao in 1943). The award is intended for researchers currently active in pioneering cancer research or compassionate cancer patient care. The award winner receives 100,000 euros to use for research. He or she also receives a bronze sculpture in the form of Professor Pinedo’s right hand, symbolising strength and hope of healing. The sculpture is designed by Floris Tilanus. Nominations may be submitted by research institutes and researchers around the world. A jury headed by an Academy member assesses the nominations.

The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy today released a new report, E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults.

“We applaud the Surgeon General for bringing attention to the serious public health problem of youth use of e-cigarettes and the resulting adverse health effects,” said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “The report issues a call to action for parents, teachers, scientists, the public health community, policymakers and the tobacco industry to take precautionary measures now to prevent e-cigarette use and future impact from these products among youth and young adults.”

The report was reviewed by 150 experts, highlights some of the risks associated with using electronic cigarettes, including nicotine addiction, behavior risks—including the use of other drugs and other tobacco products – as well as the potential harm from ingesting the aerosol from electronic cigarettes, which is not merely water vapor and contains potentially harmful chemicals.

“While alternative nicotine delivery devices may have a role in cessation, this role needs to be supported by science,” said Laurent Huber, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health. “In addition, there is a worrying trend that major tobacco companies such as Philip Morris (Altria), British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, RJ Reynolds and others are aggressively expanding into the electronic cigarette markets, in part due to the less strenuous regulatory environment.

Given that their aim is not to help smokers quit but rather to increase the demand for their nicotine products, the recommendations from the Surgeon General’s report, particularly the suggestions for regulating marketing and sales, will aid in ensuring that electronic cigarettes do not become a new public health threat in years to come.”

MICHAEL ZINNER was elected chair of the Board of Regents of the American College of Surgeons.

Zinner is a general surgeon with expertise in pancreatic-hepatobiliary diseases. Since 2016, he has been the founding chief executive officer and executive medical director of the Miami Cancer Institute–Baptist Health South Florida.

Prior to that time, he served as surgeon-in-chief and Moseley Professor of Surgery at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. During this time, Zinner also served as clinical director and chief of surgical services at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

A fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS) since 1983, Zinner has previously served as vice-chair of the ACS Board of Regents (2010-2015) and chair of the ACS Board of Governors (2008-2010).

JOHN JENKINS will retire from his job as director of the FDA Office of New Drugs on Jan. 6, 2017.

FDA will conduct a national search to fill his position. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research will serve as acting director of OND.

Announcing Jenkins’s retirement, Woodcock wrote:

For the past 15 years, [Jenkins] has led OND in its difficult tasks of setting the U.S. standards for new drugs’ safety and efficacy, overseeing the clinical testing of investigational drugs, and reviewing marketing applications under PDUFA timelines. He and his staff, which has grown to more than 1,000, have successfully navigated many high-profile controversies related to new drugs—while at the same time having thousands of interactions with industry and other stakeholders, and making timely decisions about INDs and NDAs.

John joined FDA in 1992 as a medical officer in CDER’s former Division of Oncology and Pulmonary Drug Products. He later served as pulmonary medical group leader and acting division director before being appointed director of the newly created Division of Pulmonary Drug Products in 1995. In 1999, John was named director of the Office of Drug Evaluation II and served in that position until he was appointed OND director in January 2002.

John is credited for his pivotal role in designing and overseeing our current managed new drug review process, an initiative known as 21st Century Review.

He has also successfully implemented multiple process changes mandated by legislation or initiated through user fee agreements. John has championed the new biosimilars review program, which has been set up within the Office of New Drugs. Additionally, he has created many processes to help ensure consistency of policies and procedures in new drug review, including labeling, pediatrics, and safety requirements. John has set guidance and policy guiding OND staff in meeting FDA’s public health mission in a complex and changing environment. He has been at the forefront of communications with regulated industry during drug development concerning a wide variety of clinical, scientific, and regulatory matters.

John has led OND in approving a notable number of novel drug therapies each year. These include drugs for rare diseases and drugs to treat life-threatening diseases, many of which were approved first in the United States. OND has also approved many new drugs that are additions to an existing class, or offer some symptomatic improvement to a non-serious illness.

Such drugs require careful scrutiny for safety. Other drugs have been successfully switched over-the-counter, improving people’s access to self-care. With John at the helm, OND has effectively used various regulatory and scientific tools to ensure safe and efficient development, review, and approval of new therapies—all while maintaining high standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality.

As a trusted colleague, John is known and respected for his contributions both inside and outside FDA. He is both brilliant (for example, read his prescient review of NSAID safety, done during the height of that controversy), and steady—a rare combination.

He is known for his fair-minded approach to differences, and he has served as a role model for a new generation of reviewers. I have benefitted from his insight and guidance over our many years of working together.

TEMPUS, a technology company focused on supporting physicians delivering customized cancer care, and the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center partnered to better determine which patients will have a positive response to immunotherapy treatment based on next generation genomic and transcriptomic sequencing.

As part of a research collaboration, Tempus will provide sequencing and analysis of de-identified pancreatic and melanoma cancer patient data to Penn. Utilizing next-generation sequencing, machine learning and bioinformatics, Tempus will help physicians analyze these data sets for relevant patterns that can help inform which immunotherapies are most likely to be effective in a given cohort of patients.

“Tempus is committed to bringing relevant information and technology to healthcare providers battling cancer,” said Eric Lefkofsky, co-founder and CEO of Tempus.

“Putting cutting-edge technology into the hands of our physicians enhances the resources they need to best serve their patients,” Chi Van Dang, professor & director, Abramson Cancer Center.

Tempus enables physicians to deliver personalized cancer care through its interactive analytical and machine learning platform.The company provides genomic sequencing services and analyzes molecular and therapeutic data to empower physicians to make real-time, data-driven decisions.

THE PARKER INSTITUTE for Cancer Immunotherapy and the Cancer Research Institute announced a Collaboration focused on neoantigens. The search for these unique cancer markers has become a robust area of research as scientists believe they may hold the key to developing a new generation of personalized, targeted cancer immunotherapies.

The collaboration, the Tumor neoantigEn SeLection Alliance (TESLA), includes 30 of the world’s leading cancer neoantigen research groups from both academia and industry. Because these tumor markers are both specific to each individual and unlikely to be present on normal healthy cells, neoantigens represent an optimal target for the immune system and make possible a new class of highly personalized vaccines with the potential for significant efficacy with reduced side effects.

Participating research groups will receive genetic sequences from both normal and cancerous tissues. Using each laboratory’s own algorithms, each group will output a set of predicted neoantigens that are anticipated to be present on the tumor cells and recognizable by the immune system. The predictions will then be validated through a series of tests to assess which predictions are most likely to be correct and recognizable by T-cells. Through this effort, each participant will be provided with data to inform and to further improve their algorithms and therefore the potential effectiveness of personalized neoantigen vaccines for cancer.

“Bringing together the world’s best neoantigen research organizations to accelerate the discovery of personalized cancer immunotherapies is exactly the type of bold research collaboration that I envisioned when launching the Parker Institute,” said Sean Parker, founder of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. “This alliance will not only leverage the immense talents of each of the researchers but will also harness the power of bioinformatics, which I believe will be critical to driving breakthroughs.”

The goal of the initiative is to help participating groups test and continually improve the mathematical algorithms they use to analyze tumor DNA and RNA sequences in order to predict the neoantigens that are likely to be present on each patient’s cancer and most visible to the immune system. In support of this, Parker Institute and CRI have partnered with the open science nonprofit, Sage Bionetworks, to manage the bioinformatics and data analysis.

Initially, the project is expected to focus on cancers such as advanced melanoma, colorectal cancer and non-small cell lung cancer that tend to have larger numbers of mutations and thus more neoantigens. Over time, the initiative will seek to broaden the relevance of neoantigen vaccines to a wide range of cancers.

Participants come from universities, biotech, the pharmaceutical industry and scientific nonprofits. The researchers represent a wide swath of scientific fields, including immunology, data science, genomics, molecular biology, and physics and engineering.

Neoantigens are markers present on the surface of cancer cells but absent on normal tissue, making them attractive drug target candidates. They commonly arise from mutations that occur as tumor cells rapidly divide and multiply. The immune system can recognize these markers as “foreign,” and as a result, target the cancer cell for destruction. In order to predict which neoantigens will be present on a patient’s tumor, researchers have developed software programs to analyze tumor DNA and output the unique set of markers that the immune system is most likely to recognize.

AbbVie signed separate five-year collaboration agreements with two cancer centers: the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The agreements are intended to advancing research and discovery in oncology.

AbbVie and Northwestern will work in several areas of oncology research, which could include, lung, colorectal, breast, prostate and hematological cancer.

“One of the best steps AbbVie can take to deliver new therapies in oncology is to combine our research and discovery expertise with the talents and insight of our colleagues in academic medicine,” said Gary Gordon, vice president, oncology clinical development, AbbVie. “The opportunity to work with leading researchers and clinicians from the Lurie Cancer Center enhances AbbVie’s ability to help oncology patients even more in the future.”

The collaboration provides Lurie Cancer Center scientists with the opportunity to access new therapies developed by AbbVie for preclinical research funded under the agreement. Lurie Cancer Center scientists will also work closely with AbbVie’s research teams to support scientific knowledge exchange. In addition, the agreement provides AbbVie with the option to obtain an exclusive license of certain Lurie Cancer Center discoveries made as a result of the five-year collaboration.

“The ability to investigate new therapeutic agents with AbbVie provides us with a great opportunity to expand our translational oncology efforts,” said Leonidas Platanias, director of the Lurie Cancer Center. “Our partnership with AbbVie will facilitate and accelerate the development of innovative new therapies against a wide variety of different cancers.”

The agreement with Johns Hopkins will focus on several areas of oncology research, which could include lung, colorectal, breast, prostate and hematological cancer.

“As an alumnus and a former faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, I know from my own experience that we will be able to combine AbbVie’s expertise in oncology with some of the most talented academic researchers in the field of medicine today,” Gordon said in a statement. “This collaboration will combine our resources and talent with Johns Hopkins Medicine to help further advance our ability to develop new therapies available for cancer patients in need.”

The agreement allows Johns Hopkins Medicine physicians and scientists access to explore new therapies developed by AbbVie for use in preclinical research funded by the collaboration. In addition, the relationship includes opportunities for research and development teams from both organizations to work closely to promote scientific knowledge exchange. AbbVie also gains an option for an exclusive license to certain Johns Hopkins Medicine discoveries made under the agreement.

“The importance of cancer research is critical to developing new therapies that could have life-changing implications,” said William Nelson, director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. “Opportunities to advance science and further research help move us in a direction to yield positive outcomes.”

In these collaborations, joint steering committees consisting of representatives from each organization will determine the research projects that the collaboration will undertake. Researchers will also participate in annual symposia to discuss their joint research and evaluate potential new projects.

GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY has formally launched the GW Cancer Center.

The GW Cancer Center is a collaboration between GW Hospital, The GW Medical Faculty Associates, the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW, to expand GW’s efforts in the fight against cancer.

The GW Cancer Center incorporates all existing cancer-related activities at GW, serving as a platform for future cancer services and research.

ST. JUDE MEMPHIS MARATHON WEEKEND Dec. 3 raised $10 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Over the past 15 years, participants running as St. Jude Heroes have joined the fight against childhood cancer and raised more than $60 million to support St. Jude.

About 23,000 people took part in the race that drew 40,000 spectators.

Unique to this event is the race route through the St. Jude campus where patient families cheer from the sidelines to remind walkers and runners they are running for a greater purpose—to help ensure families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food.

The marathon weekend is a collaborative effort between ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Memphis Runners Track Club.

JOSHUA COLEMAN was named vice president of medical affairs at GenomOncology.

He will oversee clinical content development and curation of scientific evidence, enhancing the company’s proprietary knowledge-enabled platform. The GenomOncology software suite empowers molecular pathologists with a seamless workflow for the interpretation of genetic sequencing data and clinical decision support, from quality control through reporting.

Prior to joining GenomOncology, Coleman held an appointment of assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and practiced molecular genetic pathology in the James Cancer Hospital Molecular Laboratory. He is board-certified in hematopathology and molecular genetic pathology.

NANCY HESSE was named president and CEO of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Eastern Regional Medical Center (Eastern) in Philadelphia.

Hesse has served as interim president and CEO since February 2016, and before that as chief nursing executive for CTCA and chief nursing officer at Eastern.

Hesse joined CTCA in 2014 after a long tenure at Abington Memorial Hospital. She began her career as a staff nurse in the Emergency Trauma Center and advanced to become the Director of Emergency Trauma and then Chief Nursing Officer for Abington – Lansdale Hospital.

CTCA is a national network of five cancer hospitals.

The American College of Radiology board of selected three innovators as 2017 Gold Medalists for their extraordinary service to the college or radiology. Honors will be presented bestowed during ACR 2017 – The Crossroads of Radiology meeting in Washington May 21-25, 2017.

The following individuals will receive the ACR Gold Medal:

  • Bruce Hillman, of Wake Forest, NC, professor of radiology and medical imaging and health evaluation sciences and former chair of radiology, University of Virginia, and founding and current editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Radiology,

  • John Patti, of Lynnfield, MA, senior lecturer in radiology at Harvard Medical School and thoracic radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and past chair of the board and president of ACR,

  • Jeffrey C. Weinreb, of New Haven, CT, professor of radiology and biomedical imaging and vice chair for strategic planning and innovation at Yale-New Haven Hospital/Yale School of Medicine, and past BOC member and vice-president of ACR

The following candidates were approved to receive Honorary Fellowships in recognition of their contributions to the science or practice of radiology:

Berend J. Slotman, of Amsterdam, professor and chair of radiation oncology, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam,

Jacob Sosna, of Jerusalem, chair, division of imaging, Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, and president of the Israel Radiological Association.

In addition, Pamela Wilcox, of Ridge, MD, will receive the Distinguished Achievement Award for notable service to the college and the profession. Wilcox served as ACR executive vice president of quality and safety, retiring in 2015 after 28 years of service.

UT Health Northeast in Tyler, TX, and MD Anderson Cancer Center announced a partnership to provide greater access to the most advanced cancer care available for adult patients in northeast Texas and the surrounding region.

Through the partnership, UT Health Northeast’s Cancer Treatment and Prevention Center joins MD Anderson Cancer Network, an international collaboration of hospitals and health systems that share and contribute to MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer. The center in Tyler will be known as UT Health Northeast MD Anderson Cancer Center when it officially launches in 2017.

UT Health Northeast’s cancer program will be clinically and operationally integrated with MD Anderson Cancer Center, joining only six other healthcare institutions across the U.S. and three facilities in Brazil, Spain and Turkey. Enhanced local access to MD Anderson’s multidisciplinary care, treatment innovations, standards of care and clinical trials will be hallmarks of the partnership.

The two organizations will join forces in the recruitment of all future program physicians and allied health staff. A national search to hire a medical director to lead the new program is planned.