Meet the Mesothelioma Experts: Drs. Alley and Simone of Penn Medicine

Penn MedicineOn Thursday, May 14 at 8PM ET, the Meso Foundation will interview Drs. Evan Alley and Charles Simone of Penn Medicine during a new installment of the Meet the Mesothelioma Experts live teleconference series. The interview will be led by the Meso Foundation’s executive director and expert mesothelioma nurse practitioner Mary Hesdorffer.

This session, titled Focus on Mesothelioma Centers of Excellence: Penn Medicine, is the second installment in a series of interviews highlighting mesothelioma centers of excellence.

The session will be available live on Thursday, May 14 at 8PM ET by dialing into the conference call. The session is available at no charge, but those interested in participating must RSVP ahead of time in order to receive the call-in number. Please RSVP at curemeso.org/experts.

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Drs. Alley and Simone are the co-directors of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program. Dr. Alley is a medical oncologist and is the leading investigator in the PD-1 inhibitor trial that has recently made big news in mesothelioma. Read more about the trial here.

Dr. Simone treats patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma with photon and proton radiation therapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT). He is a National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense funded investigator who performs clinical and translational research investigating the novel use of proton therapy and PDT as definitive therapy and as part of multi-modality therapy for mesothelioma.

To RSVP to this session and learn more about the Meet the Mesothelioma Experts series, visit curemeso.org/experts.

Examining Current Clinical Trials and Mesothelioma Treatment Trends

Watch Mary Hesdorffer, the Meso Foundation’s executive director and mesothelioma expert, in this opening presentation at the 2015 International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma. In this video, she discusses the state of mesothelioma research and treatment options. Her discussion begins with a focus on clinical trials. With 92 open clinical trials for mesothelioma, of which 55 include some form of pharmacologic or radiotherapy intervention, mesothelioma research has never looked more hopeful.

Currently, research is focusing beyond chemotherapy, taking a look at how manipulation of the immune system can advance treatment options. SS1P, an immunotoxin, illustrates this new area of research. Other trials are looking at modulating the immune system with t-cells in hopes of starting immune system surveillance that will destroy the bad cells.

Available clinical trials now include vaccine treatments, chemotherapy, and, sometimes, a combination of both. For example, the CRS-207 trial combines a mesothelin-targeting vaccine with traditional chemotherapy.

Various new trials are also in the works. Verastem, a pharmaceutical company, is beginning a trial that uses an agent to target cancer stem cells to delay the time to progression after having a response or stabilization with first-line therapy.

Another focus in mesothelioma research is targeting angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the ability for cancer cells to find new blood supplies so they can continue growing. This type of research is working on ways to cut off this blood supply.

Mary notes that the face of cancer treatment is changing, and it is important that patients are healthy enough to receive new treatments. When considering a new clinical trial or treatment, a patient must consider the impact it can have on their health, how it will impact their cancer, and whether or not the new drugs will prevent them from being able to try other treatments in the future.

To watch Mary Hesdorffer’s full presentation, click here.

Mesothelioma Researcher Receives Prestigious Grant from Department of Defense

Marjorie ZaudererMarjorie Zauderer, MD, is a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center specializing in the care of lung cancer and mesothelioma patients, and serves as a member of the Meso Foundation’s Science Advisory Board. Recently, Dr. Zauderer was granted the Career Development Award to fund her mesothelioma research project.

Dr. Zauderer received the Career Development Award for her current research project involving the role of the BAP 1 gene (BRCA associated protein-1) in mesothelioma. Inherited mutations in the BAP1 gene have been shown to predispose patients to malignant pleural mesothelioma. “A better understanding of this gene could mean a better understanding of mesothelioma and how it develops in patients,” Zauderer states.

Dr. Zauderer began working on this project three years ago and has been gathering specimens and samples throughout this time. She predicts that enough samples will be collected within the next year or two to begin analysis that could yield significant insights and statistics. Her goal in 3 to 5 years is to have a plausible drug that has already completed phase 1 testing or is ready to begin phase 1 testing in clinical trials.

In an interview, Dr. Zauderer expressed her passion for her work, citing her many college application essays that she recently came across. “All my applications were about how I wanted to use genetics to help medicine. 20 years later, that’s actually what I do,” Zauderer states.

The Career Development Award provides funding from the Department of Defense to support a specific research project. Funding is provided to the selected project over a three year period, during which certain research components must be met and specific goals achieved. Mesothelioma is a disease of interest to the Department of Defense, as an estimated one third of mesothelioma patients either served in the Navy or worked in shipyards.

Learn more about Marjorie Zauderer at curemeso.org.

2015 Symposium to be Co-Hosted with the NCI and Held at the NIH

International Symposium on Malignant MesotheliomaThis year, the Meso Foundation has partnered with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to co-host the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma. As a result, the conference will be hosted on the grounds of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. The NIH is one of the world’s foremost medical research centers.

This conference is geared to attendees from all walks of life, including patients and their families, advocates, medical professionals, those who have lost loved ones to mesothelioma, and scientists. The Symposium provides a unique setting for everyone in the meso community to come together, learn about mesothelioma and its treatments from renowned experts, build friendships and socialize.

The Symposium will be held from March 2nd through 4th at the NIH and the Hyatt Regency Bethesda. Daytime Symposium sessions will be held on the NIH campus, while evening dinners will be held at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda. The NIH campus is located only a few minutes away from the hotel, and we will provide shuttles between the two locations in the morning and afternoon of March 2nd and 3rd. Symposium attendees can also travel between the locations via Metro (stops are convenient to both the hotel and the NIH) or by taxi.

Register

Sessions will cover a range of topics about pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, treatments, clinical trials, surgery, prevention, as well as support groups, well-being and community sessions. A mesothelioma Advocacy Day will be held on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 4th. View the full Symposium agenda here.

In addition to our science and treatment sessions for the general public, this year’s Symposium includes a two-day special session for scientists and medical professionals. Nearly 100 mesothelioma experts will come together to share their work, and find collaborative opportunities, in an effort to speed up mesothelioma advances. The scientists and medical professionals in attendance will be available during sessions common to both groups, such as lunches and dinners, to answer any questions and to socialize. A recap and “translation” of the sessions for scientists and medical professionals will be presents on Tuesday evening in the main Symposium session for the general public.

It is a privilege and an honor to host our Symposium on the campus of the National Institutes of Health, and we hope to see you all at the event. Learn more about the Symposium at curemeso.org/symposium or register here.

A Look at the Advancing Breakthrough Therapies for Patients Act

Dr. Mary Hesdorffer, NP, Executive Director, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation takes a look at the Advancing Breakthrough Therapies for Patients Act.by Mary Hesdorffer, NP, Executive Director, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation

The Advancing Breakthrough Therapies for Patients Act was first introduced in the Senate by Senators Bennet ( D-CO), Hatch (R-UT) and Burr (R-NC). Two months later, Congresswoman DeGette (D-CO) and Congressman Bilbray (R-CA) introduced the act in the House of Representatives. The bills, which received bipartisan support, were included as an amendment to the Food and Drug Administration’s Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA), the latest iteration of the Prescription Drug User Fee bill, and in July of 2012, the breakthrough therapy designation was signed into law.

As a result of this law, a new drug may be designated as a breakthrough therapy if it is intended to treat a serious or life-threatening disease, and if preliminary clinical evidence suggests it provides a substantial improvement over existing therapies. Once a breakthrough therapy designation is granted, the FDA and drug sponsor work together to determine the most efficient path forward. In just two years, 178 requests for breakthrough designation have been submitted, 44 designations have been granted, and 6 drugs have been approved within the program.

On May 6 of this year, Mary Hesdorffer, the executive director of the Meso Foundation, and Melinda Kotzian, its chief executive officer, attended the congressional briefing titled Friends of Cancer Research, which focused on evaluating the progress of this program.

The panel agreed that the next task will be to streamline the process. This will eliminate applications that absolutely do not meet the criteria for breakthrough designation.

Janet Woodcock, MD, director, of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research within Food and Drug Administration, stated that they “are not planning on moving drugs through this process that offer only incremental progress, but those that demonstrate a substantial benefit.”

Two representatives of the pharmaceutical industry shared their companies’ experience in gaining the first designation under this act. They noted that the time and commitment of all parties involved made this process work.

Dr. Woodcock cautioned that sequestration had an impact on the financing of this program. It will take more funding to continue operating the Breakthrough Therapies program at the present level, but she hopes that streamlining the process will allow for a more drugs to reach the patients in need.