First Congressional Cancer Hearing in Six Years a Success

Congressional Cancer Research Hearing

by Jessica Barker, Director of Government Affairs, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation

Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on cancer research featuring Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and actress Valerie Harper, a survivor of Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis (LC), a rare complication of cancer in the brain. This was the first Congressional hearing with a dedicated focus on cancer in six years. The hearing, titled The Fight Against Cancer: Challenges, Progress, and Promise examined federal funding for cancer research and recent treatment improvements, and explored challenges facing survivors and scientists.

The hearing gave each of the five witnesses the opportunity to give testimony, which was followed by questions from the Members of the Committee. The witnesses included:

  • Harold E. Varmus, MD, Director, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health
  • Valerie Harper, Actress and Cancer Survivor
  • Thomas Sellers, PhD, MPH, Director, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
  • Mary Dempsey, Assistant Director and Co-Founder, The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing
  • Chip Kennett, Advocate and Cancer Survivor

Each witness gave a powerful opening statement. Valerie Harper urged Members of Congress to think of cancer research dollars as an investment rather than spending. Ms. Harper also voiced a hopeful message for cancer patients, as she is positive and living life to the fullest despite her prognosis, stating “I am not going to the funeral until the day of the funeral!”

While not mentioned in his testimony, Dr. Varmus was asked by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). The CDMRP has been a great source of funding for mesothelioma, funding $9.3 million to date. Asked if the DoD and the NCI collaborated, Dr. Varmus emphasized that all of the federal agencies that do medical research, as well as all researchers around the country share their research through scientific meetings (such as the Meso Foundation’s Symposium) and through journals. When specifically asked if he thought the program should be in the DoD or under the umbrella of the National Institutes of Health (which houses the NCI), he stated that he does not have a problem with the CDMRP being housed at the DoD and that he welcomes co-funding.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D- RI) asked Dr. Varmus about the Recalcitrant Cancer Act of 2012 and its progress. Dr. Varmus told the committee that he had completed the scientific framework for pancreatic cancer, and that he would be completing the scientific framework for small cell lung cancer by the statutory deadline of July 2014. This is good news for the mesothelioma community.

To view the hearing, please visit the Senate Special Committee on Aging website.

Dr. Ira Pastan of National Cancer Institute to Speak at Mesothelioma Symposium

Dr. Ira PastanThe Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation announced that Dr. Ira Pastan, the Head of the National Cancer Institute’s Molecular Biology Section, will be the keynote speaker during its 11th annual International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, taking place on March 5-7 in the Washington, DC metro area.

Alexandria, VA (PRWEB) February 28, 2014

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation announced that Dr. Ira Pastan, the Head of the National Cancer Institute’s Molecular Biology Section, will be the keynote speaker during its 11th annual International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, taking place on March 5-7 in the Washington, DC metro area.

Dr. Pastan is a world-renowned scientist known for his work in cancer research. Along with colleague Mark Willingham, he discovered mesothelin, a protein that is over-expressed in mesothelioma, as well as certain other cancers. This discovery has made it possible to develop an immunotoxin, SS1P, which targets the mesothelin antigen. SS1P has shown much promise in clinical trials by producing major tumor regressions lasting up to two years.

“It is an honor to have Dr. Pastan, one of those most imminent cancer researchers in this nation, joining us at our International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma,” said Mary Hesdorffer, NP, the executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.

“Hearing about his promising work directly from Dr. Pastan will be a very inspiring experience for the mesothelioma patients in attendance, as well as others interested in curing mesothelioma,” she added.

Dr. Pastan will speak to the Symposium audience on Thursday, March 6 at 9:15 AM. The program will also be broadcast live on the web at http://www.curemeso.org/symposium.

Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor of the lining of the lung, abdomen, or heart known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Medical experts consider it one of the most aggressive and deadly of all cancers. Approximately 3,500 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year and an estimated one-third were exposed while serving in the Navy or working in shipyards.

ABOUT THE MESOTHELIOMA APPLIED RESEARCH FOUNDATION
The Meso Foundation is the only 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating mesothelioma and easing the suffering caused by this cancer. The Meso Foundation actively seeks philanthropic support to fund peer-reviewed mesothelioma research; provide patient support services and education; and advocate Congress for increased federal funding for mesothelioma research. The Meso Foundation is the only non-government funder of peer reviewed scientific research to establish effective treatments for mesothelioma and, ultimately, a cure for this extremely aggressive cancer. To date, the Foundation has awarded over $8.7 million to research. More information is available at http://www.curemeso.org.

Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Chellie Pingree to Receive Bruce Vento Hope-Builder Award

Congressional Briefing on Malignant MesotheliomaThe Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation) announced that Congresswomen Betty McCollum and Chellie Pingree are the recipients of the Bruce Vento Hope-Builder Award, for sending a letter to Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of the National Cancer Institute, to urge the National Cancer Institute to further mesothelioma research.

Alexandria, VA (PRWEB) February 28, 2014

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation) announced that Congresswomen Betty McCollum and Chellie Pingree are the recipients of the Bruce Vento Hope-Builder Award, for sending a letter to Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of the National Cancer Institute, to urge the National Cancer Institute to further mesothelioma research. They will be presented with the award during the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, on March 6.

Last month, U.S. Congresswomen Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives asking them to join them in urging the National Cancer Institute to create a scientific framework for mesothelioma. The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation) has long advocated for the National Cancer Institute to increase their focus on mesothelioma, and congratulates Representative McCollum and Representative Pingree for their efforts on behalf of the mesothelioma community, including patients and families, physicians, advocates, and researchers dedicated to eradicating the life-ending and vicious effects of mesothelioma.

The idea for this letter began when Representative Pingree’s constituent, mesothelioma survivor Lisa Gonneville spoke at the Capitol Hill briefing onMesothelioma Awareness Day (September 26).

Mrs. Gonneville, a mother of four and Dayton, ME resident, pleaded that the staffers do something to address this deadly cancer. “I’ve endured all of the treatment options available for mesothelioma, which are very limited,” said Mrs. Gonneville, “my only hope at this point is clinical trials.” Congresswoman Pingree was so moved by Ms. Gonneville’s story that she, too, wanted to help the mesothelioma community in her honor.

“Congresswomen McCollum and Pingree are leading a very important effort for everyone affected by mesothelioma by encouraging the National Cancer Institute to create a scientific framework to progress mesothelioma research,” said Meso Foundation’s executive director and nurse practitioner, Mary Hesdorffer.

“This is an incredible way to help thousands of patients affected by mesothelioma, and also honor our distinguished former board member and Congresswoman McCollum’s predecessor, Bruce Vento.”

Bruce Vento was a prominent member of Congress who, after nearly 24 years of service, succumbed to mesothelioma only eight months after diagnosis.

The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Obama on January 2, 2013 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law No. 112-239), giving the Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) the ability to identify recalcitrant cancers for which to establish scientific frameworks that will guide research efforts.

For each recalcitrant cancer, NCI is to convene a working group of both Federal and non-Federal individuals to provide expertise and assistance in developing the scientific framework. The frameworks are to be completed within 18 months of enactment, then submitted to Congress and made publicly available on the HHS website within 30 days. The bill requires the progress of each scientific framework be reported in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Biennial Report, with an assessment of progress made in improving outcomes for recalcitrant cancers. The bill further states that the NCI Director “shall consider” each relevant scientific framework when making recommendations for exception funding for grant applications.

Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor of the lining of the lung, abdomen, or heart known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Medical experts consider it one of the most aggressive and deadly of all cancers. Approximately 3,500 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year and an estimated one-third were exposed while serving in the Navy or working in shipyards.

ABOUT THE MESOTHELIOMA APPLIED RESEARCH FOUNDATION
The Meso Foundation is the only 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating mesothelioma and easing the suffering caused by this cancer. The Meso Foundation actively seeks philanthropic support to fund peer-reviewed mesothelioma research; provide patient support services and education; and advocate Congress for increased federal funding for mesothelioma research. The Meso Foundation is the only non-government funder of peer reviewed scientific research to establish effective treatments for mesothelioma and, ultimately, a cure for this extremely aggressive cancer. To date, the Foundation has awarded over $8.7 million to research. More information is available at http://www.curemeso.org.

Congressional Letter Requests NCI to Place More Emphasis on Mesothelioma Research

The Meso Foundation commends nineteen Members of the House of Representatives, led by Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME), for sending a letter to the Director of the National Cancer Institute urging him to further progress in mesothelioma research.

Alexandria, VA (PRWEB) January 30, 2014 American flagsOn January 10, 2014, nineteen Members of the United States House of Representatives sent a letter to the Director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Harold Varmus, urging him to focus on mesothelioma research. The letter urges Dr. Varmus, to create a scientific framework for mesothelioma stating that “mesothelioma, a frequently terminal cancer for which there has been very little diagnostic or treatment progress, deserves immediate attention.”

The bipartisan letter was sent by Congresswomen Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and was signed by seventeen additional Representatives (full list is included at the bottom of this bulletin). The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Obama on January 2, 2013 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law No. 112-239), giving the Director of the National Cancer Institute the ability to identify deadly cancers for which to establish scientific frameworks that will guide research efforts.

Mesothelioma is one of the most deadly cancers, with only a five to ten percent five-year survival rate. With only one FDA-approved treatment for mesothelioma that extends life by only three months, many patients have to resort to off-label use of chemotherapies, drastic surgery, or participation in clinical trials. There is no test currently available for early detection of mesothelioma.

“Our community has advocated for an increased focus on mesothelioma research for many years,” said Meso Foundation’s executive director Mary Hesdorffer. “We are overjoyed to see so many of our elected officials recognizing the immediate need for mesothelioma research.”

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation has independently funded over $8.7 million in peer-reviewed mesothelioma research to date.

Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor of the lining of the lung, abdomen, or heart known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Medical experts consider it one of the most aggressive and deadly of all cancers. Approximately 3,500 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year and an estimated one-third were exposed while serving in the Navy or working in shipyards.

ABOUT THE MESOTHELIOMA APPLIED RESEARCH FOUNDATION

The Meso Foundation is the only 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating mesothelioma and easing the suffering caused by this cancer. The Meso Foundation actively seeks philanthropic support to fund peer-reviewed mesothelioma research; provide patient support services and education; and advocate Congress for increased federal funding for mesothelioma research. The Meso Foundation is the only non-government funder of peer reviewed scientific research to establish effective treatments for mesothelioma and, ultimately, a cure for this extremely aggressive cancer. To date, the Foundation has awarded over $8.7 million to research. More information is available at http://www.curemeso.org. Congressional Representatives Who Have Signed the Letter to the NCI: Betty McCollum D-MN, Chellie Pingree D-ME, Leonard Lance R-NJ, Jim Moran D-VA, Sam Farr D-CA, Don Young R-AK , Gwen Moore D-WI, Glenn Thompson R-PA, Mike Honda D-CA, Julia Brownley D-CA, Henry Johnson D-GA, Carol Shea-Porter D-NH, Nita Lowey D-NY, Frank LoBiondo D-NJ, Carolyn Maloney D-NY, Jason Chaffetz R- UT, Michael Michaud D-ME, Michael Turner R-OH, Karen Bass, D-CA.

FROM THE MESOTHELIOMA APPLIED RESEARCH FOUNDATION’S “MEET THE EXPERTS” SERIES: An Evening of Research Breakthroughs with Dr. Raffit Hassan

Tonight, as part of the “Meet the Experts” podcasts presented exclusively from the Meso Foundation, Dr. Raffit Hassan, Senior Investigator and Chief of the Solid Tumor Immunotherapy Section in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and former Chair of the Meso Foundation’s Science Advisory Board, sat down with Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner and Medical Liaison for the Meso Foundation, to discuss his research into mesothelin and development of  clinical trials  using mesothelin as a target for epithelial malignant mesothelioma, providing both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma patients with the potential of much-needed new treatment options.

In his talk “Mesothelin: A New Target for Immunotherapy” Dr. Hassan discussed the novel therapies for the treatment of mesothelioma. Laboratory investigation, carried out by Dr. Ira Pastan, Dr. Hassan, and colleagues at the NCI, has demonstrated that mesothelin, a tumor antigen which was discovered at the NCI, is a useful target for tumor-specific therapy of malignant mesothelioma. Morab 009, a chimeric anti mesothelin monoclonal antibody, has completed a multi center trial and we expect to hear the results at the Annual  ASCO Meeting taking place in early June. (American Society of Clinical Oncology).

This evening, in his talk, Dr. Hassan outlined the approval process by which patients can become part of this trial.

Good candidates for this trial are generally those patients who have already had some type of treatment. For example, patients who are not good candidates for surgery or those who have had surgery in the past and patients who have had at least Alimta-based therapy would be considered good candidates.

The first step is an initial screening, beginning with the patient’s doctor and then a face-to-face interview with Hassan, his team, and all data from the patient’s physician. If, following the initial tests, the patient is found a suitable candidate, NCI will help with travel expenses to enable the patient to participate in the trial. “At no time,” Dr. Hassan assured, “either in the initial screening or in the trail itself is the patient charged for treatments.”

Some side effects have included weight gain and leg swelling, mainly coming from fluid retention, and a decrease in albumin, a blood protein. However, Dr. Hassan commented, “These side effects usually disappeared by the time of the patient’s discharge from the hospital.”

More information about this trial is available at the Meso Foundation by emailing mary@curemeso.org or by calling (703) 879-3820.

Mesothelin, defined by MedicineNet.com, is a protein found on cell surfaces. Certain antibodies bind themselves to mesotheliomas and other tumors, so soluble mesothelin-related proteins (SMR) are used to identify mesothelioma patients and to monitor the cancer’s progression of their disease. SMR concentrations tend to run higher with mesothelioma patients than patients battling other cancerous or pleural diseases, and SMR concentrations often correlate with tumor size and progression.

A 2011 recipient of the Meso Foundation’s Pioneer Award for breakthroughs in mesothelioma research, Dr. Hassan has focused his own trials on targeting mesothelin as a potential treatment of patients with mesothelioma. Dr. Hassan’s research began in the NCI laboratory and continues to this day.

If you missed tonight’s “Meet the Experts” presentation, you can replay Dr. Hassan’s talk or download it as one of our podcasts at our website.