Update from the ED: My time at UPenn and the Fox Chase Cancer Center

by Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner
Executive Director, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation

Mary HesdorfferI received an invitation to attend the first ever community lung cancer day at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though the focus was on lung cancer, I was given the opportunity to have a table where I could promote the work of the Foundation as well as mingle with the community. I did not meet any mesothelioma patients, but I did speak with two individuals who lost parents to mesothelioma, and they thanked me for our work.

I was also able to meet the lung team, one of whom trained with Dr. David Sugarbaker (small world indeed). The thoracic nurse navigators were very interested in our work and agreed to provide their patients with our brochures, as did the respiratory therapists. We have awarded a number of grants to the researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Dr. Joe Testa, a past recipient, was given our pioneer award last year.

This event followed a very successful one day mesothelioma conference at UPenn.  Melissa Culligan took on the main responsibility of organizing the conference and did a superb job. Don’t be fooled by the sweet and quiet disposition of Melissa, as underneath is a stern taskmaster keeping the docs on their toes. She is the heart of the UPenn program. Dr. Joe Friedberg assigned the topics for our presentations and kept the momentum going with his usual god humored quips. I was given the presentation title “the unmet needs of the mesothelioma patient.” As promised, I brought your voices to the presentation, and attendees were moved by your stories and our pleas for new drug therapies, better opportunities to participate in clinical trials, as well as more supportive care services.

Dr. Lee Krug, who will be accepting the role of BOD chair in January also presented, and I was so pleased knowing that this well-respected medical oncologist will be leading us to fulfill our mission. Dr. Raffit Hassan, former SAB chair caused quite a stir with his report on the progress he is making with his trial of SS1P. I received some exciting news from Dr. Steve Albelda, a member of our SAB; He will be taking a sabbatical in Hawaii for 3 months to collaborate with Dr. Michele Carbone. It is very nice to see these relationships building and the sharing of resources and data.

As is usual at UPenn, their energy and enthusiasm for treating mesothelioma is heartwarming, and I left knowing that they will continue to build and expand upon the terrific services that they already offer to mesothelioma patients. Dr. Friedberg trained a young surgeon from Taiwan, and he flew in to be part of the conference as did Dr. Paul Bass from the Netherlands. I was proud to be among those who presented, and I will be updating you on the science sessions at both this conference and the conference in Sydney. It is obvious to me that we are seeing the fruits of our labors with more trials having a targeted approach based upon much of the science that we have funded.

FROM THE MESOTHELIOMA APPLIED RESEARCH FOUNDATION’S “MEET THE EXPERTS” SERIES: Introducing a New Clinical Trial with Dr. Julie Brahmer

Tonight, as part of the “Meet the Experts” podcasts presented exclusively by the Meso Foundation, Dr. Julie Brahmer, Associate Professor of Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, sat down with Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner and Medical Liaison for the Meso Foundation, to discuss her new trial targeting pleural mesothelioma. In her talk “NGR-hTTNF: A New Multi-Center Drug Trial for Pleural Mesothelioma”, Dr. Brahmer discussed a new chemotherapy treatment, designed specifically for pleural mesothelioma patients.

To participate in the trial, one prior treatment regimen is required (for example Alimta and Cisplatin) which usually consists of 4 to 6 treatments. The NGR-hTTNF trial can then be offered in the second line setting. Patients will receive an active chemotherapy agent, and plus or minus the experimental drug NGR-hTTNF. This trial is available worldwide. In the United States, it can be obtained at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as a few others sites in Texas, California, and New York. According to Dr. Brahmer, it consists of a weekly treatment, with the most common side effects resulting in fatigue, nausea, headaches, and generalized weakness. The enrollment process into the NGR-hTTNF trial begins with an appointment with an investigator in trial.

The investigator reviews whether or not the patient is eligible based on treatments already received, the patient’s stage of mesothelioma, and his or her general physical well-being. Following this appointment, the patient must sign the consent form, after which eligibility is finalized through a few additional tests. If patients have responded positively or remain stable, chemotherapy will be discontinued after six cycles and patients will be extended an opportunity to receive NGR-hTTNF as a maintenance therapy. The primary end point of this trial will be to extend survival rates with secondary endpoints of improving quality of life and diminished symptoms of mesothelioma.

Having just returned from the annual Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in Chicago, IL, where another expert from our “Meet the Experts” series — Dr. Lee M. Krug — gave his own summary of the event, Dr. Brahmer feels optimistic and excited about possibilities ahead. “I think a lot of the things we’re learning in lung cancer research may affect patients with mesothelioma,” she states. “There are some therapies being developed that stimulate the immune system, and I hope those types of drugs will have some type of role in combatting mesothelioma, as well.”

Dr. Brahmer’s research and clinical practice focuses on the development of new therapies for the treatment and prevention of lung cancer and mesothelioma. Dr. Brahmer has published several papers in this area of research and is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) Thoracic Committee and Cancer Prevention Steering Committee. She is one of the founding Board members for the National Lung Cancer Partnership (formerly Women Against Lung Cancer). Within the National Lung Cancer Partnership she currently serves as a member and the Chairman of the Scientific Executive Committee. She serves on the medical advisory board of the Lung Cancer Research Fund and is a former member of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s Science Advisory Board.

More information about this trial is available at the Meso Foundation by emailing mary@curemeso.org or by calling (703) 879-3820. If you missed tonight’s “Meet the Experts” presentation, you can replay Dr. Brahmer’s talk and find out more about our other mesothelioma research resources at curemeso.org.