The Meso Foundation Congratulates Dr. Hassan for Prestigious Award

Hassan_WagnerAwardThe Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation congratulates Dr. Raffit Hassan of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on receiving the prestigious Wagner Award at this year’s International Mesothelioma Interest Group’s (iMig) meeting.

Raffit Hassan, MD, is an Investigator and Chief of the Solid Tumor Immnotherapy Section in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Hassan is a medical oncologist whose laboratory and clinical research is focused on developing novel therapies for the treatment of mesothelioma. His work and collaborations have shown that mesothelin, a tumor antigen that was discovered at the NCI, is a useful target for tumor-specific therapy of malignant mesothelioma. His group is presently conducting clinical trials of three different agents targeting mesothelin namely, SS1P, an anti-mesothelin immunotoxin, MORAb-009, a chimeric anti-mesothelin monoclonal antibody, and CRS-207, a mesothelin tumor vaccine.

Dr. Hassan served on the Meso Foundation’s Science Advisory Board for nearly a decade and for three years was the chair of the board. The Meso Foundation is grateful for all of his contributions to the field of mesothelioma.

The Wagner Award is named after J. Christopher Wagner, who was a leader in the field of mesothelioma making major contributions to the understanding of mesothelioma, its cause and the goals for prevention. Wagner was the first to establish the connection between mesothelioma and asbestos.The Wagner award is presented every two years to an individual who has made major original contributions to the understanding of mesothelioma, either in basic or applied research.

Previous recipients include Drs. Joseph Testa, Stephen Albelda, Brooke Mossman, Harvey Pass, Bruce Robinson, and Marie-Claude Jaurand.

This year’s award was presented to Dr. Hassan by Dr. Steven Mutsaers.

UPDATES FROM IMIG: Part 2, Thursday, September 13, 2012

  • In a talk concerning adjuvant radiation following EPP, it was stated that radiation oncologists who are inexperienced may not give as high a dose or may shy away from difficult areas.  It was felt to be important based upon lower local failure in centers with expertise in radiation oncology.  Concern was expressed about patients having radiation locally and perhaps this needs to be emphasized at the time of the initial surgical consult.  This is an important take home message and reason to explore accommodations where there is expertise early in the process.
  • Dr. Joseph Friedberg presented on his current approach using photodynamic therapy. Dr. Friedberg has been championing this procedure over the past few years and has discussed that he does a “radical pleurectomy” coupled with photodynamic therapy.  Photofrin, which is the agent used in this light-based therapy, has recently received orphan drug status. This procedure will not be offered to non epithelial patients.  Dr. Friedberg agreed with one of the earlier speaker that node 2 disease patients benefit from this procedure.  It has been noted that pleurectomy decortication is not a standardized procedure and there are variations among the surgeons. There has been discussion at this conference and others about the need to standardize these approaches so that we can compare series of patients with confidence that we are comparing results of the same procedure.  There are plans underway to do a randomized trial (eliminates investigator bias) to determine if PDT is superior to a radical pleurectomy without PDT.  Will keep you posted when this trial gets underway.
  • Polymeric films are under investigation as a new method to deliver drugs directly to the chest cavity.  The films facilitate increased drug penetration in comparison to Cisplatin solution for prolonged periods of time. Animal models of these polymeric films containing Cisplatin demonstrated ease of application, ability to cover the pleural space ability to reach highly concentrated drug in comparison to intravenous or intra-pleural Cisplatin.  This new approach also appears to be associated with less kidney toxicity.  Work is ongoing and anticipated that it have applicability in mesothelioma patients in the next few years.
  • Dr. Paul Sugarbaker was the first speaker in the session about peritoneal mesothelioma.  He stated that the median survival is now at 10 years, with about 1/3 of the patient requiring another surgery at some point during the course of the disease.  Dr. Sugarbaker currently has a new protocol which he spoke about using bidirectional treatment where surgery is performed and then for 6 months following surgery patients will receive 6 additional cycles of chemotherapy both IV and intraperitoneal via ports placed into the abdominal cavity.It was discussed that patients who recur in the chest have surgery and rarely recur again in the chest cavity.  He was congratulated by chest surgeons who are striving to replicate these results in pleural mesothelioma.
  • Dr. Steven Albelda, a member of our SAB, spoke about immunotherapy in mesothelioma and mentioned the large number of immunology trials taking place in mesothelioma.  Passive immunotherapy use of antibodies to treat cancer – antibodies can inhibit signaling pathways or can coat malignant cells making them targets for drugs or be immunotoxin for example SS1P at the NCI. Mesothelin is highly expressed in many cancers and has become a target in a number of mesothelioma clinical trials.  Soluble mesothelin can be used as a biomarker (Mesomark).Amatuximab (anti mesothelin antibody) given in combination with Pemetrexed and Cisplatin will be moving into a randomized trial at least that is the underlying buzz at this conference.Some trials were reported using immunotherapy in small number of patients which appeared to result in prolonged stability after initial response.Many of us of heard of Provenge being approved in prostate cancer we also have vaccines now being studied in the clinics. In the Netherlands they are investigating dendritic cell vaccines, at MSKCC we are looking at the WT1 vaccine both initially funded by the Mesothelioma Foundation.UPenn has a t cell vaccine which is being offered to patients who have failed prior therapy.

    The presentation ended with a  discussion with the use of gene therapy which is under investigation at UPenn. The gene therapy utilizes an adenovirus to stimulate the immune system.

UPDATES FROM IMIG: Part 1 – Thursday, September 13

  • Dr. David Sugarbaker spoke about the effectiveness of surgery and some of the adjuvant therapies that can be used to clean up the surgical site or to combat recurrent disease. We heard about biologics, photodynamic therapy, and there will be sessions later today on intracavitary heated chemotherapy during surgery, and then more on staging, imaging, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.  There will be a dedicated session for peritoneal mesothelioma.
  • In the early afternoon, the Meso Foundation will be hosting a lunch where Meso Foundation funded grantees will present their work. All of our grantees’ posters were selected to discuss their work in sessions throughout this meeting, thus highlighting the ability of our Scientific Advisory Board to identify promising new research.  This is only possible due to the generous donations of our mesothelioma community.
  • There has been some heated debate during this meeting about the differing surgical options of EPP vs. PD or even if surgery should remain an option.  Those attending the meeting have a focused dedication to irradiating mesothelioma and this debate moves the field forward.
  • Question under discussion during the surgical session: Is it better to treat neo-adjuvant (chemo before surgery) or post- surgery.  Seems there might be a light advantage using neo-adjuvant but the evidence is not strong so it remains surgical choice.
  • Yesterday we learned that histology can change in approximately 20% of the cases – larger samples allow for more accurate diagnosis of histologic subtype.  Another reason why we describe mesothelioma as a disease best staged and described through surgery.
  • What factors are relevant for treatment decision?  Role of mediastinoscopy – perhaps we need to rethink nodal status as some with lymph nodes (N2) still did well following surgery though the numbers were small. Discussion ensued that with larger numbers there would be a demonstrable difference. It was suggested that this group (those with nodal involvement) may benefit from neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Tumor volume has prognostic value. We can measure this on scans and the evidence is solid. It has been suggested that we factor this in.
  • Waiting for the discussion of the IASLC Mesothelioma Staging Project which will take place this afternoon.

Intro to iMig: iMig and the Meso Foundation

What is iMig?

In the next week and a half, you will be hearing a lot about the iMig meeting. This may leave you with a few questions, first one of which probably being “what is iMig?”

The International Mesothelioma Interest Group (iMig) is an independent international group of scientists and clinicians working to understand, cure and prevent mesothelioma. The group was started in 1991 and has since then been the organizer of bi-annual meetings meant to facilitate the sharing and collaboration of researchers and doctors interested in the study of mesothelioma and its potential treatments.

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation and iMig share a productive history. In fact, many Meso Foundation grant recipients and Foundation’s Science Advisory Board members are also members of iMig. For example, the current chair of iMig, Dr. Steven Mutsaers is also an esteemed member of the Meso Foundation’s Science Advisory Board. In 2006, the two organizations hosted a joint meeting in Chicago, IL, and if you’ve ever attended a Meso Foundation Symposium, you may have noticed that many of our speakers are also collaborators of iMig.

iMig 2012 Meeting in Boston, MA

This year, iMig is hosting its bi-annual meeting in Boston, MA, and the Meso Foundation will, once again, be represented. Our own nurse practitioner and executive director, Mary Hesdorffer, MS, APRN, will co-chair a session, while another session will be dedicated entirely to our grant recipients who will present the findings of their Meso Foundation-funded research.

While most iMig members are well-aware of the Foundation’s prestigious peer-reviewed research program and many of them have applied for funding, the Meso Foundation will also take this opportunity to further promote its research program in our effort to obtain the most promising project applications available to speed up treatment development and to ultimately find a cure for mesothelioma.

As the meeting begins on September 11, we will keep you posted on current developments and updates from Boston.

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