Answering the Call for Collaboration to Expand Discoveries and Address Disparities

Stanton L. Gerson, MD

AACI President Stanton L. Gerson, MD

Public interest in cancer discovery has incredible traction; many people and institutions across the country are helping to expand the impact of our discoveries and to instill a sense of urgency that every household be included in the benefits of cancer research. I recently learned about some creative, exciting efforts to expand cancer discovery as a panelist at the Biden Cancer Initiative Colloquium, held in April at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2018, in Chicago.

The Biden Cancer Initiative is a nonprofit established by former Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden, PhD in June 2017, to accelerate progress in cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and care.

During the panel discussion, I highlighted the ways that Case Comprehensive Cancer Center is addressing disparities in cancer, including a tobacco cessation intervention led by Monica Webb Hooper, PhD. Dr. Hooper became director of Case Comprehensive Cancer Center‘s Office of Cancer Disparities Research in 2016 and was closely involved with the vice president’s visit to Cleveland to learn about the city’s contributions to his “Cancer Moonshot” goals.

Read more from Dr. Gerson, director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland, in AACI’s June 2018 Commentary

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Bench to Bedside Recap: The Academic and NCI Difference

Dr. George WeinerThe University of Kansas Cancer Center’s weekly Bench to Bedside Facebook Live video series pairs Roy Jensen, MD, director of the center, with experts on topics ranging from research to the latest developments in cancer treatment.

On Wednesday, June 6, AACI co-hosted a Bench to Bedside conversation between Dr. Jensen and George Weiner, MD, director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa and immediate past president of AACI. In the video, Drs. Jensen and Weiner discussed the unique ways academic and NCI-designated cancer centers—including HCCC and KU Cancer Center—play a lead role in influencing and improving cancer research and care.

The topic was the centerpiece of Dr. Weiner’s presidential initiative—“The Academic Difference”—during his time as AACI president from 2014 to 2016.

“Academic cancer centers are unique,” said Dr. Weiner, “in that they perform a number of roles that are vital for us in our efforts to reduce pain and suffering from cancer.”

Those roles include performing what he described as “basic cancer research to understand the fundamental nature of cancer, and, more importantly, taking that information to develop new approaches to cancer prevention, early detection, and therapy.”

Academic cancer centers are the training hubs for the vast majority of cancer clinicians, where they learn about state-of-the-art medicine. Clinicians also have more opportunities to specialize—and interact with other specialists and sub-specialists—in academic cancer centers than in stand-alone centers.

According to Dr. Weiner, this is becoming increasingly important as we learn how complex cancer is – and the unique ways each patient responds to the disease.

Roy Jensen, MD

Roy Jensen, MD

“We’re coming to realize no two cancer cases are exactly alike,” said Dr. Jensen, who is also president-elect of AACI.

In the past, Dr. Weiner acknowledged, cancers were diagnosed based on their appearance under the microscope, resulting in identical treatments for patients whose cancers may have been the same in appearance, but different in other ways. This often resulted in significant side effects.

“We now can look deeper,” Dr. Weiner added. “We can dig in to the very genetics and the genes that go haywire to cause that cancer to grow out of control, and we’ve learned that two cancers that look identical under the microscope actually can have very different genetic causes and will respond to very different, individualized treatments.”

Bench to Bedside follows news from researchers focused on the study of cancer and clinical trials, physicians, and care team members focused on patient care. Visit KU Cancer Center’s Facebook page to watch live at 10:00 a.m. Central (11:00 a.m. EST) each Wednesday and follow #BenchtoBedside on the center’s social media.

Webinar Tackles Clinical Trial Management at Satellite Sites

AACI CRI logo

On Wednesday, June 6, AACI’s Clinical Research Initiative (CRI) hosted “Satellite Locations,” a webinar presented by Andrea Kruse, clinical trials network manager at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School, and Cathy Hugney, RN, CCRP, regional oncology program manager at the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center. The discussion was moderated by Laurin Priddy, clinical research manager at Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The webinar followed from a lively discussion of the topic on the CRI Listserv, where staff from our 98 member centers crowd-source information from their peers on best practices. In fact, Priddy says she developed the “Satellite Locations” webinar as she solicited help from colleagues to deal with her own “growing pains” related to efforts to institute efficient satellite site communication and clinical trial portfolio expansion at her cancer center. Clearly a hot topic, the webinar attracted 190 registrants from 59 AACI cancer centers – more than half of our member centers.

In addition to Priddy’s wealth of experience, Kruse and Hugney brought their own specialized knowledge. Kruse oversees the research operations of Dana-Farber’s New England network, which consists of four satellite locations, three physician practices, and multiple community hospital partners. The goal of the network, Kruse says, is to increase patient access to high-quality oncology care in integrated community settings while offering access to cutting-edge therapies that are centralized at Dana-Farber’s main campus in Boston. For the past 40 years, Hugney has worked in various capacities at several Cleveland Clinic facilities. Since 2011, she has managed research at eight of its regional sites, including hospitals, family health centers, stand-alone cancer centers and, most recently, community outreach programs.

Kruse and Hugney covered a range of topics, from the structure of their main campus and satellite sites, to how studies are opened at regional sites, how budgets and monitoring visits are managed, and the ways drugs and live tissue samples are transported between locations for storage at the main campus.

A common theme linking the presentations was the role of technology in maintaining connections among primary sites and satellite locations. For instance, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center uses Skype to loop satellite staff into disease group meetings and other important discussions at the main campus and submits institutional review board applications electronically for trials. The center also uses shared computer drives and SharePoint, a web-based collaborative platform. Both cancer centers manage medical records electronically via Epic.

Other shared practices between the two systems include granting primary investigators the authority to determine which trials are open at satellite locations, making all Phase 1 clinical trials available to satellite patients, and counting trial participant accrual at satellite sites towards the main campus totals.

Slides and video of the webinar will soon be available through the AACI website. The discussion will continue at the 10th Annual CRI Meeting“Leveraging Change to Advance Cures for Cancer Patients”— slated for July 11-12 in Chicago.

 

White House Budget Blueprint Would Devastate Cancer Research and Patient Care

The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) strongly rejects President Trump’s budget blueprint which aims to slash nearly one-quarter of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget in Fiscal Year 2018.

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Plans to cut nearly $7.2 billion from the NIH would decimate cancer research and patient care, with the National Cancer Institute (NCI)—an arm of the NIH—facing a $1 billion reduction from the $5.389 billion allocation included in the Fiscal Year 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

Maintaining federal funding for cancer research at current levels “is not negotiable”, said AACI Executive Director Barbara Duffy Stewart, MPH. “We cannot afford to make deals on public health and people’s lives. The country’s future is at stake.”

Earlier this month, Congress passed and the president signed a $1 trillion budget deal that provided the NIH with $34.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2017. The White House’s FY 2018 budget blueprint, released today, reduces NIH spending to $26.9 billion.

“Publicly funded cancer research has accelerated the pace at which progress against cancer is being made at academic cancer centers,” AACI’s Stewart said. “A gutted federal biomedical research budget would undermine their ability to develop breakthrough therapies and treatments for patients, and potentially sidetrack research projects that are under review for funding.”

AACI institutions house more than 20,000 scientific, clinical and public health investigators who collaborate in order to translate research findings into new approaches to preventing and treating cancer, but there is more to be done to make continued progress. These institutions are bulwarks of discovery and are largely funded by the NIH and NCI, which rely on stable and predictable federal funding to invest in groundbreaking cancer research.

On May 4, AACI cancer center directors, administrators, researchers, patient advocates, and cancer survivors met with legislators on Capitol Hill, requesting that Congress provide at least $36 billion for the NIH in Fiscal Year 2018.  AACI joins its colleagues in the biomedical research community in urging members of Congress to reject President Trump’s proposed cuts and provide a robust federal investment to the NIH and NCI for FY 2018 and beyond.

AACI Thanks House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for Supporting Federally Funded Cancer Research

This morning, Mary Beckerle, PhD, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Huntsman Cancer Institute University of Utah, Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, Deputy Director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, Tyler Jacks, PhD, Director, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Mrs. Tammi Carr, the mother of Chad Carr, a child who suffered from Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, testified before the Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to discuss federally funded cancer research.

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Dr. Mary Beckerle testifies on Capitol Hill about the federal government’s irreplaceable role in supporting cancer research.

AACI thanks Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and members of the Committee for welcoming the witnesses and learning about the importance of federally funded cancer research.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Chaffetz noted his own family’s experience with cancer as his mother succumbed to breast cancer after a ten-year fight.  He said he objected to the president’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Ranking Member Cummings said there are few investments more significant than those made in biomedical research; that the work of the NIH is transformational and has the power to turn ideas into cures.  He noted research generates economic activity in every state across the country and allows the U.S. to grow the science and technology workforce to the benefit of individuals across the world.

During her testimony, Dr. Beckerle noted the federal government has an unmatched and irreplaceable role in supporting cancer research, saying “no other public, corporate, or charitable entity is able to provide the broad and sustained investment in research necessary to enable successes.”

For her part, Dr. Jaffee noted the state of science and medicine are at a crossroads.  She said the cancer community is in the middle of a revolution, turning decades of government investment into real treatments that are saving lives, yet the instability of government funding for research without significant increases in the past decade has created a crisis as young scientists are turning elsewhere for positions outside academia or outside the U.S. altogether. Dr. Jaffee said the U.S. stands to lose the brightest minds.

Dr. Jacks acknowledged the investments in the NIH and NCI have been the foundation of progress against cancer and have allowed the U.S. to enter a new era.  He said the research is an effective use of taxpayer dollars and the bulk of the support in universities and other laboratories comes from the NIH.

Mrs. Carr suggested rather than decreasing the NIH budget, Congress should provide increases in order to help patients like her son, Chad.  Many members of the Committee agreed with Mrs. Carr and expressed their disapproval of the president’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

At a time when funding for biomedical research is under threat, AACI expresses its gratitude to Chairman Chaffetz, Ranking Member Cummings, and other members of the Committee for showing their support for federally funded cancer research.  Stable, predictable funds for the NIH and NCI are vital to making progress in cancer prevention and advancing cancer research and treatment to benefit all patients.

AACI continues to urge members of Congress to reject the president’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 and asks that they complete a spending package for the NIH for Fiscal Year 2017 in the amount approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last year, bringing the recommended funding level for the NIH in Fiscal Year 2017 to $34.1 billion and to provide at least $2 billion above that for Fiscal Year 2018.

Watch the entire hearing here.

Jennifer W. Pegher, Director, Government Relations

AACI Strongly Opposes President’s Cuts to NIH in Fiscal Year 2018 “Skinny Budget”

The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) expresses opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposed “skinny budget” for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. The President’s recommendation would cut funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $6 billion, or approximately 19 percent, which translates to a cut of nearly $1 billion in funding to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). These drastic cuts to the NIH and NCI would significantly reduce each budget to the equivalent of FY 2002 funding levels.white-house

While cancer centers were encouraged by the funding stream included in the 21st Century Cures Act, this fund is not a sufficient alternative to appropriations for the NIH and NCI and would not cover the extreme budget reductions proposed in the “skinny budget.” Additionally, the federal government has yet to fund the NIH and NCI for FY 2017, as it continues to operate at FY 2016 levels.

AACI Executive Director Barbara Duffy Stewart, MPH, said in response to the President’s proposal, “Federal investments in cancer research have led to advancements in our understanding of cancer and groundbreaking research that has the potential to accelerate progress faster than ever before. A severely reduced biomedical research budget would diminish academic cancer centers’ ability to develop and discover breakthrough therapies and treatments for patients, and potentially sideline promising research projects that are still under review for funding.”

AACI institutions house more than 20,000 scientific, clinical and public health investigators who collaborate in order to translate research findings into new approaches to preventing and treating cancer, but there is more to be done to make continued progress. These institutions are beacons of discovery and are largely funded by the NIH and NCI, which rely on stable and predictable federal funding to invest in groundbreaking cancer research.

Stewart added, “AACI cancer centers are at the forefront of developing new methods for the prevention and detection of cancers and the delivery of high quality cancer care. The proposed cuts to the NIH and NCI budget for FY 2018 are unacceptable. We join our colleagues in the biomedical research community in urging members of Congress to reject President Trump’s proposed cuts to NIH and provide a robust federal investment to the NIH and NCI for not only the current Fiscal Year, but for FY 2018 and beyond.”

AACI Supports NCI Clinical Trials Awareness Campaign

In keeping with Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot goal to expand patient access to new cancer therapies via clinical trials, the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) looks forward to working with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to increase awareness of NCI-supported clinical trials. We encourage AACI centers to explore novel tools, such as the new application programming interface available from the NCI, to help physicians and patients find information about NCI-supported clinical trials, moving us closer to our shared goal of maximizing patient opportunities to participate in clinical trials.

Read more here:

FACT SHEET: Vice President Biden Announces New Steps to Improve Clinical Trials Essential to Advancing the Cancer Moonshot (The White House)

We Are All Part of the Cancer Moonshot: Vice President Biden on Why Everyone’s Participation in Clinical Trials Matters  (The official Medium account of the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot)

Meeting Patients Where They Are: Liberating Clinical Trials Data Under the Cancer Moonshot  (NCI Cancer Currents blog)