Archive for June, 2017


Jun 26 2017

An “Eventful” Week

by at 10:29 am

We are enjoying the end of a wonderful weekend with our oldest grandson Isaac, who spent Saturday night with us. Peering inside the mind of a clever 6 year-old is very refreshing. Last night, we walked down to our favorite Chinese restaurant. While eating lo mein noodles, he simultaneously 1) described in enormous detail the intricacies of every new Pokémon character, 2) effortlessly performed multiplication, division and the use of negative numbers, 3) traced through a complex maze puzzle and 4) tried to find the longest noodle, hung it from his mouth and tried to have it reach the ground. I can do none of those things, with the exception of mathematical operations I learned when I was quite a bit older. Plus, I don’t have the delightful lack of self-consciousness of youth that would allow me to try the noodle trick in a restaurant, let alone think of it!

The weekend started with a Friday evening visit to the Kennedy Center to see a production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. This show has played to great critical acclaim both in New York and now in DC. Technically it is a Broadway musical, and it is very thought-provoking, albeit in a deeply non-traditional way. Rodgers and Hammerstein would not recognize it as a musical but likely would find it very interesting!

I did get some work done this week too, but want to highlight two events I attended. The first was Monday evening’s Men’s Event at Morton’s Steakhouse on Connecticut Avenue. This annual event is always fun in a steak/wine manner filled with bonhomie and not a small amount of raucous laughter. The evening started with a cancer briefing I led, assisted by John Marshall, Sean Collins and an incoming radiation therapy faculty member, Jonathan Lischalk. This year’s edition set a record by raising more than $200,000, fueled by a remarkably fun and chaotic live auction led by the wonderfully rambling but utterly charming Paul Barry. I am deeply grateful to the event’s driving forces, Paul Schweitzer, the event co-chairs and committee, the sponsors and to Daphne Baker, who brought this wonderful event to us 18 years ago.

The fundraising week was bookended by the Lombardi Toss for the Cure event outside of Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon. This is a cornhole tournament sponsored by the Friends of Lombardi, our next generation of fundraisers. They have raised over $70,000 since the inception of this yearly event, and I am grateful to Mark Decker Jr, Michael Lopes and Kelly Decker Shires for their leadership of this year’s event. Thanks too to Lombardi’s Development team members, who ably staffed both of these events!

The coming week contains less fundraising but lots of work, including the Georgetown University Executive Committee retreat.

Have a great week.

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Jun 19 2017

Amtrak Edition

by at 10:27 am

I am writing this blog, heading back to DC from Trenton, NJ after a brief weekend trip to be with my dad on Fathers Day. While he continues to do very well on therapy with ruxolitinib for his myelofibrosis, he is not immune to the sands of time. Once a big bull of a man, he is increasingly frail at the age of 90, and actually fell 10 days ago, injuring his back to the point that he needed ER evaluation and pain medicines. Seeing him navigate around his house fort the first time with the aid of a walker was reassuring, but sad. We treasure every opportunity to be with him.

The week started on Monday with a busy day, highlighted by my presentation that evening at the Dupont Circle Village’s Celeb Salon, held in a lovely townhouse on S Street. It is a fundraiser for the Village, which works to help local residents age in place with community support. We mingled for a bit, then had a lovely home cooked meal followed by about 90 minutes devoted to my remarks and lots of questions by the attendees. It’s good to get the word out about Lombardi, and to further embed us in our home communities.

On Tuesday I trained up to Manhattan to meet with some Lombardi donors that evening and again on Wednesday. Wednesday evening was highlighted by a joint fundraiser at the Waterfall Mansion and Museum (an art gallery) on East 80th Street, with Andrew Pecora and Andre Goy from Hackensack University Medical Center. It was great to meet some new supporters and to hang out on the Upper East Side – I lived there many years ago when I went to medical school, but I had forgotten that there is no place quite like it. This trip was a most pleasant reminder that our fundraising enterprise has really been taken to a new level of professionalism under Donald Dunn’s leadership. My work in New York was ably orchestrated by one of our newest development staff, Justine Weissenborn, and it was a pleasure to work with her.

I caught a very early train back to DC on Thursday, and hustled up to North Bethesda to help chair a SPORE review panel on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. This was extremely interesting and most timely, since we have a breast cancer SPORE in discussion, a developing pancreatic cancer SPORE that I hope to organize and other multi-investigator grants in the pipeline. There is nothing like being a part of the review process for other grants to prepare for one’s own submissions, getting a sense of what works and what does not. The ability to look at one’s own work from the outside-in, as it were, is incredibly valuable.

I got back into the office at around noon on Friday for a series of meetings and calls, including a call to coordinate presentations for a briefing of the House of Representatives on progress in cancer research. I have the privilege of chairing that panel, and look forward to discussing how the federal investment in cancer research has been and must remain the essential fuel for innovation and progress that saves the lives of countless Americans.

All in all, a busy week! I hope Amtrak doesn’t miss me this week.

And, I hope you have a great week as we formally head into summer.

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Jun 12 2017

Spinning Head Edition

by at 10:06 am

I hardly know where to begin this week’s blog, so I’ll start at the beginning. That would be Chicago, where the ASCO meeting was highlighted by additional advances in cancer immunotherapy. I walked through an immunotherapy poster session and saw row after row of clinical trials that would have been oral presentations or even plenary session candidates only a few years ago. Even in the area of colon cancer, a new bispecific antibody targeting CEA and CD3 is showing serious promise. Having designed novel bispecifics (including the first trimeric, bispecific molecule) and conducted some of the earliest bispecific antibody clinical trials, I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see this concept realize its potential to help people.

Speaking of immunotherapy, the Lombardi immunotherapy interest group met on Thursday afternoon, with presentations by Esther Chang (describing her immunoliposome treatment platform) and by a guest, Luca Rastelli, whose company has resuscitated the drug talabostat, which inhibits fibroblast activation protein and dipeptidyl peptidases 8 and 9. Talabostat, which was originally developed as a treatment for myelosuppression, turns out to have potent immunomodulatory properties and promotes the anti-tumor effects of anti-PD1 therapy. Since fibroblast activation protein (FAP) is densely expressed in pancreatic cancer, we are actively exploring ways to include it in our developing SPORE application. For me, this is deja vu all over again; I began studying FAP in the early 2000s, helping to define the importance of its catalytic domain, and then demonstrating its presence in pancreatic cancer fibroblastic stroma and even participating in a clinical trial of the drug in colon cancer. So, it is exciting to see where this reincarnation of interest might take us.

I flew out of Dulles on a 10:30 pm plane headed to Pittsburgh, to chair the Friday EAB meeting of the Pitt head and neck cancer SPORE, which of course focuses in large part on immunotherapy. I woke up early on Saturday morning for Lombardi’s disease group leader retreat, emphasizing our collaborations with Hackensack University Medical Center. It was a really vibrant meeting, filled with exciting new ideas for investigator-initiated clinical trials. At that meeting, we also discussed the appointment of a new NCI director, Norman (Ned) Sharpless, from the University of North Carolina. Ned has done a wonderful job as director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center (the “other” LCCC!) and I look forward to supporting him in my role as a cancer center director and as chair of the NCI’s Board of Scientific Counselors for Clinical Sciences and Epidemiology. I also want to give a shout-out to Dr. Doug Lowy, who did a simply wonderful job as acting director with enormous grace. The field of cancer research owes him enormous respect and gratitude.

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Jun 05 2017

ASCO Weekend

by at 12:06 pm

ASCO weekend means a short blog. It is a busy time, that’s for sure. Finally, we have a bit of good news for patients with colon cancer. A very large non-inferiority study shows that most people with relatively low-risk stage III colon cancer can be treated equally effectively with three months of oxaliplatin containing chemotherapy as opposed to six months . This reduces toxicity and improves quality of life for this large group of patients. Plus the treatments prevent metastasis in many patients. Just imagine – only 30 years ago, the standard was 12 months of far less effective therapy.

Sometimes it pays to broaden one’s horizons to accurately assess progress. While we still have a long way to go in this race, it’s getting harder to look back and find the starting line. That’s a good thing.

Have a great week.

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