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The Cancer Letter Inc.
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publication date: Apr 29, 2016

Pietenpol Named Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University


JENNIFER PIETENPOL was named executive vice president for research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, effective May 1.

Pietenpol will continue to serve as director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. She is also the B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and a professor of biochemistry, cancer biology and otolaryngology.

According to Vanderbilt, Pietenpol will assume a portion of the responsibilities held by Lawrence Marnett, associate vice chancellor for research and senior associate dean for biomedical sciences. Marnett was named dean of basic sciences in the School of Medicine for Vanderbilt University.

In this role, Marnett will oversee the basic science departments, centers and institutes that are remaining with the university after the legal separation of the university and the medical center.

As executive vice president for research, Pietenpol will support the basic science programs in clinical departments, centers and institutes that will be housed in new VUMC. She will be responsible for leading the infrastructure that will advance much of the medical center’s basic research enterprise.

As director of VICC, Pietenpol has successfully renewed Vanderbilt-Ingram’s NCI designation as a comprehensive cancer center twice with exceptional merit ratings.

She has served on the Institute of Medicine’s National Cancer Policy Forum. In 2008, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Cancer Advisory Board.

She was a member of the board of directors of the American Association for Cancer Research, and serves on numerous other cancer-related scientific advisory boards including the Blue Ribbon Panel to advise the vice president’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

In 2012, she was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has received numerous honors for her research, most recently the Medical Research Advancement Award from the T.J. Martell Foundation.


MARGARET FOTI was honored at the 41st Annual Congress of the Oncology Nursing Society with the Honorary Member Award. Foti is chief executive officer of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The Honorary Member Award is awarded by the ONS to thank and honor an individual who is not otherwise eligible for ONS membership for his or her contributions to oncology nursing, support of the ONS, and conduct consistent with the ONS mission and core values.

Foti’s formal recognitions include honorary degrees in medicine and surgery from the University of Rome La Sapienza and the University of Catania in Sicily, and an honorary degree in medicine from the University CEU of San Pablo in Madrid. Most recently, she was honored by the Society of Surgical Oncology with the 2016 James Ewing Layperson’s Award.

During Foti’s tenure as CEO, the organization’s membership has grown from about 3,000 to more than 35,000 in 104 countries around the world.


JOHN WESTON was named chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Most recently Weston served as public affairs department chair and chief marketing officer for the Mayo Clinic. He began his career at Mars Inc., held senior leadership positions at FedEx and was the chief marketing and corporate development officer for a valuation firm in Los Angeles.

Weston served on Mayo Clinic’s Board of Governors and was executive director of the clinic’s Office of Brand Management. He also served on the board of the Paralysis Project of America and was on the advisory boards of the Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University and the University of Arkansas Walton School of Business.


AL BENSON III was elected president of the National Patient Advocate Foundation’s executive board.

Benson is associate director for cooperative groups at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. He has served on the foundation’s board for three years and also served on the scientific advisory committee since 2009.

“I am honored to serve as the National Patient Advocate Foundation’s Board President. NPAF is a leader in fighting for improvements in the healthcare system at the state and federal level,” Benson said. “We will continue our 20 year history of helping those living with serious illness by promoting bills like the Medical Debt Relief Act, 21st Century Cures, Innovation for Healthier Americans and other initiatives designed to address access and affordability issues for patients.”


AVINASH DESAI was named vice president of Americas Oncology Medical Affairs for the Oncology Business Group of Eisai Inc., the U.S. pharmaceutical subsidiary of Eisai Co. Ltd.

Desai will lead Eisai’s Oncology Medical Affairs team by creating and overseeing the medical strategy for the Oncology Commercial and Market Access businesses in the Americas. Desai, who has over 20 years of experience in the oncology field, will work closely with the company’s clinical, commercial and OBG strategy organizations to develop, implement and deliver oncology life cycle plans. He will provide strategic leadership to the Medical Affairs team to ensure the delivery of key objectives.

Desai has designed and implemented clinical development and life cycle management plans for a variety of pharmaceutical products, including anti-angiogenic agents, taxanes, proteasome inhibitors, monoclonal antibodies, and targeted therapies. He has served as the global lead of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs teams, and has experience in strategic planning for product development, long-range project and life cycle management strategies, and the development of contingency plans.

Desai joins Eisai from Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., where he was Global Medical Affairs Leader, Oncology responsible for leading the life cycle management of the company’s oncology/hematology products. Prior to Janssen, he was director of International Clinical Development Oncology at Sanofi-Aventis, where he was responsible for the international development of oncology products in solid tumors and hematological malignancies and leading the NDA submission activities for several products. Desai also led the oncology clinical research/medical affairs department at Genaera Corporation.


MD ANDERSON CANCER CENTER named eight young researchers Andrew Sabin Family Fellows at an event honoring their benefactor, Andrew Sabin, and representatives of the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation. Eight cancer research fellowships providing $100,000 over two years are to be awarded annually in four categories: basic science, clinical, physician-scientist and population and quantitative science.

The inaugural recipients are:

Ken Chen, assistant professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology: Chen is involved in analyzing The Cancer Genome Atlas and the 1000 Genomes project data and has helped develop novel methods for precise characterization of heterogeneous cancer genomes and precision oncology.

David Hui, assistant professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine and General Oncology: Hui focuses on cancer-related dyspnea and is involved in clinical trials examining interventions such as rapid onset opioids, corticosteroids and oxygen delivery modalities.

Nicholas Navin, assistant professor of Genetics and Bioinformatics: Navin aims to use single cell sequencing technologies to investigate tumor evolution in breast cancer patients and understand how they evolve resistance to chemotherapy.

Katharina Schlacher, assistant professor of Cancer Biology: Schlacher studies DNA replication fork protection at in-depth molecular and biological levels to provide biological insights and the framework to develop disease understanding, enabling prevention and treatment strategies.

Ferdinandos Skoulidis, assistant professor of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology: Skoulidis’ research is building on his discovery of co-mutation-defined subsets of KRAS-mutant lung cancer, with a focus on identifying predictive biomarkers of response or resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Benjamin Smith, associate professor of Radiation Oncology and Health Services Research: Smith’s research includes population-based survey studies of a statewide cohort of older breast cancer survivors and population-based research using registry and claims data.

Cullen Taniguchi, assistant professor of Radiation Oncology: Taniguchi studies hypoxia to find therapies that protect normal tissue from chemotherapy and radiation damage without compromising tumor kill.

Shannon Westin, assistant professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine: Westin’s research focuses on the use of novel agents to treat gynecologic malignancies and the use of biomarkers to predict response and resistance to these therapies. She is the director of phase I trials in the Gynecologic Center.

Sabin has served on the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors since 2005 and is president of Sabin Metal Corporation, the largest privately owned precious metals refiner and recycler in the country.


NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CANCER NETWORK published patient education materials for diffuse large b-cell, follicular, mantle cell, and peripheral t-cell lymphomas.

The NCCN Guidelines for Patients and NCCN Quick Guide series for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are available free of charge, and are sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

NCCN Guidelines for Patients, translations of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, are designed to provide people with cancer and their caregivers with state-of-the-art treatment information in easy-to-understand language, featuring patient-friendly elements, such as medical illustrations of anatomy, tests, and treatments.


KIDS V CANCER launched the Compassionate Use Navigator for the pediatric oncology community that provides up-to-date information on the compassionate use application process.

The Compassionate Use Navigator provides: an option for physicians to request help from Compassionate Use Navigator staff in completing a compassionate use application; step-by-step instructions on how to apply for compassionate use, including forms and templates; assistance in identifying points of contact at drug companies; and information on FDA and IRB rules for obtaining compassionate use medications.

In addition, the navigator aims to fill knowledge gaps about compassionate use by collecting data on the numbers and outcomes of applications. This data will lay the groundwork for developing next steps to improve access to drugs for those in dire need.


ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINE entered into a research agreement with Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co. Ltd. to develop innovative cancer therapies. The collaboration is the first between Einstein and a pharmaceutical company based in China.

Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, established in 1970, is a fully integrated pharmaceutical company with annual net sales of over $1.2 billion. Hengrui’s products and research span therapeutic areas including oncology and hematology, anesthesiology and pain management, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, contrast media and inflammation.


THE WISTAR INSTITUTE and Cormorant Pharmaceuticals AB, a Swedish biopharmaceutical company specializing in cancer drug development, formed a partnership involving Cormorant’s novel drug HuMax-IL8, which is undergoing a phase I trial at NCI.

“Wistar’s biomarker analysis of the tumor samples will be instrumental in determining the effects of HuMax-IL8 on tumor immunosuppression,” said Maarten de Château, CEO of Cormorant.

The lab of Dmitry Gabrilovich, the Christopher M. Davis Professor and program leader in Wistar’s Tumor Immunology Program, has focused research efforts on abnormalities in the function of various myeloid suppressor cells. Gabrilovich and his colleagues have developed and validated a biomarker that will show if a tumor is inhibiting the immune system’s response to the tumor by targeting the migration of myeloid cells to tumor tissues.

“This partnership provides us with the opportunity to assess the clinical utility of our new detection method of myeloid-derived suppressor cells in tumors,” said Gabrilovich. “The evaluation of these cells directly in tumors is critically important for understanding the effect of the novel therapy developed by Cormorant.”


MD ANDERSON CANCER CENTER and Summit Medical Group in New Jersey announced the launch of their partnership to create the Summit Medical Group MD Anderson Cancer Center.

An extension of MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper in Camden, N.J., Summit Medical Group will now be clinically and operationally integrated with MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper joined MD Anderson Cancer Network, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center, in 2013.

With a special emphasis on continuity of care, the new center will provide integrated, multidisciplinary cancer care for patients in northern New Jersey. The program, which provides medical oncology, infusion and diagnostic imaging, is already in place at Summit Medical Group’s campus in Berkeley Heights.

Plans are underway to build a state-of-the-art, 130,000-square-foot building adjacent to Summit Medical Group’s new facility in Florham Park, with future services to include radiation oncology. Groundbreaking is expected at the new site this summer.


GEISINGER HEALTH SYSTEM announced that 100,000 recruits have signed up for the health system’s major biobank and DNA sequencing study known as the MyCode Community Health Initiative.

Launched in January 2014 in collaboration with the Regeneron Genetics Center, the MyCode Community Health Initiative originally set out to recruit 100,000 study participants. That target, however, was reached in only two years. Geisinger researchers have set a new goal of at least 250,000 participants.

Geisinger’s study is also the largest in the United States that combines electronic health records linked to large-scale DNA sequencing data, according to the company.


ABBVIE will acquire Stemcentrx and its lead late-stage asset rovalpituzumab tesirine (Rova-T) currently in registrational trials for small cell lung cancer. The transaction is expected to close in second-quarter of this year.

Rova-T is a novel biomarker-specific therapy that is derived from cancer stem cells and targets delta-like protein 3 that is expressed in more than 80 percent of SCLC patient tumors and is not present in healthy tissue. Registrational trials for third-line small cell lung cancer are expected to complete enrollment by the end of 2016.

Rova-T is under investigation as a third-line treatment in SCLC, where there is no currently approved therapy. Rova-T has also been submitted to FDA for Breakthrough Therapy designation. Additional data on Rova-T, including overall survival data, will be presented at the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting in June.

AbbVie will acquire Stemcentrx for approximately $5.8 billion in cash and stock. AbbVie will pay approximately $2.0 billion of the transaction value in cash and fund the remaining portion with stock. In addition, Stemcentrx investors are eligible to receive up to $4 billion in cash for additional, success-based milestone payments for the achievement of certain regulatory and clinical developments.


ABBVIE and argenx, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, will collaborate to develop and commercialize ARGX-115, Argenx’s preclinical-stage human antibody program targeting the immuno-oncology target GARP, a protein believed to contribute to immuno-suppressive effects of T-cells.

“ARGX-115 has been developed in collaboration with an outstanding team of academics at the de Duve Institute / Université Catholique de Louvain through our Innovative Access Program, which gives argenx rights to novel, exciting targets in our areas of therapeutic focus. We believe ARGX-115 has the potential to advance immuno-oncology by selectively targeting tumor immune escape pathways,” said Tim van Hauwermeiren, chief executive officer of argenx.

“We are proud to develop and commercialize ARGX-115 through collaboration with AbbVie, a global leader in oncology. In addition to the attractive financial elements of this transaction, our shared interest in the commercial potential of ARGX-115, including the right to co-promote the drug in Europe, makes this a highly strategic collaboration for argenx.”

Under the terms of the agreement, argenx will conduct research and development through IND-enabling studies. Upon successful completion of these studies, AbbVie may exercise an exclusive option to license the ARGX-115 program and assume responsibility for further clinical development and commercialization. Argenx will receive an upfront payment of $40 million from AbbVie for the exclusive option to license ARGX-115 and near-term preclinical milestones of $20 million. Argenx is also eligible to receive additional development, regulatory and commercial payments up to $625 million upon achievement of pre-determined milestones as well as tiered, up to double-digit royalties on net sales upon commercialization.

Argenx has the right to co-promote ARGX-115-based products in the European Union and Swiss Economic Area and combine the product with its own future immuno-oncology programs. Should AbbVie not exercise its option to license ARGX-115, argenx retains the right to pursue development of ARGX-115 alone.


THE INDIANA UNIVERSITY Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center raised nearly $1.2 million for cancer research at its fourth annual Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala.

Hosted by the Indianapolis Colts and head coach Chuck Pagano at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the gala raised the funds through corporate sponsorships, live and silent auctions, and the annual Chuckstrong Giving Challenge. The total includes $250,000 given by the Jim Irsay family, and $50,000 from the coach and his wife, Tina.

The record-setting amount also included $30,000 raised from 25 people who paid $1,200 each for the chance to catch a touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Luck. In all, the Chuckstrong initiative has raised $3.7 million for cancer research at IU.

Top-level “touchdown” sponsors for the event were Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, DairyChem, the Efroymson Family Fund, Huntington Bank, Lilly Oncology, Sol and Kay Raso, the Throgmartin family, the IU Simon Cancer Center, the IU School of Medicine, and Indiana Knitwear.

Copyright (c) 2016 The Cancer Letter Inc.