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Galloway receives NCI Outstanding Investigator Award

Leader in HPV research will work to improve detection, prevention and treatment of virally caused cancers

Sept. 21, 2017 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Denise Galloway

Dr. Denise Galloway

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Denise Galloway has received one of the National Cancer Institute’s 2017 Outstanding Investigators Awards. The award recognizes established scientific leaders who are making significant strides not only in understanding cancer but in creating techniques that could lead to research breakthroughs in the future. Galloway is the first Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist to receive an Outstanding Investigator Award, which was introduced by the NCI two years ago. 

The new award provides a little more than $7 million over seven years. Galloway, who directs the Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center and holds a Fred Hutch 40th Anniversary Endowed Chair, will use the support to pursue deeper insights into two viruses that cause cancer: human papillomaviruses (HPV), certain strains of which can cause cervical, anogenital and head-and-neck cancers; and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV), which can lead to Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare but aggressive form of skin cancer.

Galloway’s work on both viruses has already influenced public health and patient care. She helped lay the groundwork for the cancer-preventive HPV vaccine and, in collaboration with Hutch colleague Dr. Paul Nghiem, developed a clinical test for MCPyV that could help detect very early relapse of Merkel cell cancer.

The new award will allow her to extend those accomplishments by taking a high-risk, high-reward approach to research that other grants often limit.

“I feel very lucky,” said Galloway of receiving the award, which, unlike many grants that require yearly renewal, provides a guaranteed funding source for seven years. “[The Outstanding Investigator Award] gives you freedom.”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Sept. 21, 2017

Dr. Mohamed Sorror

Dr. Mohamed Sorror

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Hutch investigators develop, validate novel risk-assessment model for acute myeloid leukemia          

A recently published study led by Drs. Mohamed Sorror and Elihu Estey of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, involving five collaborating institutions, provides a novel model to predict one-year survival rates after beginning treatment for acute myeloid leukemia.  

The researchers hope the new study, which included 1,100 patients treated for AML and was published online Sept. 7 in JAMA Oncology, will provide physicians and patients with novel, patient-centered risk-assessment means that could both improve survival and reduce treatment-related health costs by more closely matching patients with therapies most likely to benefit them.

“The AML composite model combines the effects of age and AML aggressiveness together with, for the first time, patients’ objective measure of overall health or comorbidities,” said lead author Sorror, an associate member in the Clinical Research Division.

Physicians can use the online assessment tool to refine decision-making about the modality and intensity of therapy used in treating patients with AML. 

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Sept. 14, 2017

Dr. Brian Till

"It is very exciting to be able to bring this promising treatment to patients with relapsed lymphomas," said Dr. Brian Till of Fred Hutch's licensing agreement with Mustang Bio Inc.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Mustang Bio licenses Fred Hutch CD20 CAR-T immunotherapy for lymphoma trial 

An immunotherapy technology developed by Dr. Brian Till with Dr. Oliver Press at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has been licensed by Mustang Bio Inc., a subsidiary of the biopharmaceutical company Fortress Biotech Inc.

The exclusive, worldwide license, announced today by Mustang Bio, will allow a new type of CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy to be tested in a clinical trial as a treatment for B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. The novel immunotherapy targets CD20, a protein marker on cancer cells in lymphoma.

“After developing the CD20 CAR for several years in the laboratory and seeing the modified T cells successfully treat tumors in mice, it is very exciting to be able to bring this promising treatment to patients with relapsed lymphomas,” said Till, a faculty member in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch.

“The agreement will also provide critical support to be able to conduct the clinical trial testing our CD20 CAR-T cells,” he said.

A Phase 1/2 clinical trial partially supported by Mustang Bio is expected to begin at the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutch’s clinical care partner, within the next few months. It will be led by Dr. Mazyar Shadman, a faculty member in Fred Hutch’s Clinical Research Division. The trial will involve about 30 patients with relapsed or refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Eligible patients will first get a biopsy to make sure they have the CD20 marker on their tumor.

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Big study finds no rise in death risk among women who took hormone therapy

A new twist to menopausal hormone replacement dilemma

Sept. 12, 2017 | Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

photo of doctor and female patient with pill bottle

The latest study from the Women's Health Initiative examined the risk of death associated with women's use of menopausal hormone replacement therapy.

Photo by Andy Dean Photography

More than a decade after a massive study of hormone replacement therapy was halted due to higher rates of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke among women assigned to the drugs to treat menopausal symptoms, a new follow-up study has found those women had no higher risk of death as of 2014 than participants who took a placebo.

The latest findings are published today in JAMA by investigators in the Women’s Health Initiative, the same multi-institutional research program that conducted the original trial begun in 1993 and stopped in 2002 because of those adverse effects. The new study focuses on “all-cause mortality,” or deaths from any cause, up to 18 years after the start of therapy and 10 to 12 years after the therapy was stopped. It offers reassurance to postmenopausal women who took hormone replacement therapy during the trial that they have not increased their risk of dying.

“Mortality rates,” said lead author Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, “are the ultimate ‘bottom line’ when assessing the net effect of a medication on serious and life-threatening health outcomes.”

Overall, the researchers found that the risk of dying from any cause through the end of the follow-up period in 2014 was the same for women who had taken hormone therapy as for women who had taken a placebo. To Manson, the study results give women and their doctors useful information when considering a complex treatment decision. They also offer comfort to younger women now contemplating hormone therapy to bring relief from hot flashes, night sweats and higher rates of bone loss or fractures due to menopause.

“We think the findings of no increase in mortality provide reassurance for women who are seeking hormone therapy for management of symptoms in early menopause,” she said.

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Teacher, mom — and living proof of principle

Three years ago she was out of options to treat her advanced cancer. Then, she enrolled in an immunotherapy clinical trial.

Sept. 8, 2017 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Photo of Tiffany O'Keefe and her family

Tiffany O'Keefe, photographed recently with her three children, participated in a clinical trial of an experimental immunotherapy to treat her advanced synovial sarcoma. While her cancer is still present, it has shrunk significantly since the trial, and her life has gone back to normal.

Photo by Deez Photography, courtesy of Tiffany O'Keefe

Tiffany O’Keefe will tell you that her life is pretty normal — at least as normal as it can be with three teenagers at home. For this Washington elementary-school teacher, normalcy is a huge accomplishment.

In 2004, O’Keefe, then 32, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her lung after she showed up at the ER with shortness of breath. In the course of the next decade, she lost that lung, endured miserable side effects from chemotherapy, and ran through treatment after treatment as her cancer recurred four times.

More than three years ago, O’Keefe enrolled on a clinical trial and became the first person ever to receive a new type of experimental cancer vaccine, which uses a modified virus to teach patients’ immune systems to kill their tumors. Her cancer shrunk to a fraction of its former size and, though it’s still present, has stayed quiet since then, allowing that precious normalcy to return.

“I used to tell the doctors, ‘I just want to see my kids graduate from high school, and that’s good — I just want to get them raised,’” O’Keefe said. Now, her oldest is 18, and she’s looking ahead to new milestones — like grandkids someday. “I used to think that might never happen for me,” she said.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Sept. 7, 2017

Dr. Michael Boeckh

Dr. Michael Boeckh

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Common virus can be deadly in the ICU

A common, normally dormant virus can make matters worse for patients with critical illness — and a new study hints that preventing the virus from reawakening in these critical moments could stem some of its harm.

More than half of people in the U.S. harbor cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which usually lies dormant, showing no signs or symptoms and doing no harm. In those with suppressed immune systems, however, such as organ-transplant recipients or cancer patients receiving a bone-marrow transplant, the virus can reactivate and cause severe infections — or even death.

Research has shown that CMV also may play a role in the fate of critically ill patients with “normal” immune systems. In these patients, if the virus reactivates from its latent state, it is associated with worse outcomes — but it was unclear whether the virus makes matters worse for these patients or is an innocent bystander, just along for the ride.

New findings from a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington suggest that preventing the virus from reactivating in critically ill, CMV-positive patients with normal immune systems could prevent severe CMV-associated complications. 

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