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10 years to cancer cures 'actually plausible,' Fred Hutch president says

'We are on the threshold of amazing advances,' Dr. D. Gary Gilliland tells industry, research leaders

June 30, 2015 | By Andrea Detter / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. D. Gary Gilliland

“Our mantra is Cures Start Here. We’re not looking simply to treat cancer — we’re looking to cure cancer,” Dr. D. Gary Gilliland told hundreds of industry and research leaders at the 2015 Life Science Innovation Northwest conference on Tuesday.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

The future of cancer therapy looks “incredibly promising,” Dr. D. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said Tuesday.

“It’s actually plausible that in 10 years we’ll have curative therapies for most if not all human cancers,” Gilliland told hundreds of industry and research leaders from around the world who were gathered in Seattle at the 2015 Life Science Innovation Northwest conference, an event hosted by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.

“We are on the threshold of amazing advances in the treatment of cancer,” he said.

Gilliland’s keynote address, and the question-and-answer session that followed, centered on immuno-oncology — or cancer immunotherapy — a family of cancer treatments that harnesses the disease-fighting power of a patient’s own immune system.

“Immuno-oncology is especially exciting for us. This looks to me like a tsunami on the horizon. Cancer can see that tsunami coming … and cancer’s running scared.

“Our mantra is Cures Start Here. We’re not looking simply to treat cancer — we’re looking to cure cancer.”

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'We look for that spark'

Summer high school internship program inspires students from backgrounds often underrepresented in science

June 30, 2015 | By Megan Herndon / Fred Hutch News Service

23 high school science interns pose for a group photo on the spiral staircase in the atrium of the Arnold Building on Fred Hutch's campus

More than 20 rising high school seniors are participating in Fred Hutch's summer science internship program, now in its fourth year.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Olivia Martins knows she loves biology but doesn’t know yet exactly where it might take her.

This rising high school senior hopes that spending a summer at Fred Hutch will help her explore the possibilities. Martins is one of 23 seniors who joined Fred Hutch’s summer high school internship program, which kicked off Monday.  

“Biology was always my favorite subject. I wanted to see a real-life application of the things we do in school,” she said.

The program, now in its fourth year, is geared toward, but not limited to, students from racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds often underrepresented in science. The goal is to provide them with education and opportunities and to have them eventually contribute to diversifying the biomedical workforce.

“Diverse people bring diverse perspectives,” said Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb, transplant biologist at Fred Hutch and the intern program’s director. “This moves things in directions you might not have expected or, at the very least, faster in the direction that you want to go because a diverse group will bring different components to the puzzle.”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Dr. Cyrus Ghajar receives $4.1M grant to study metastatic breast cancer; Dr. Chris Peterson wins HIV cure prize; Dr. Stephen Schwartz appointed to NCI board

June 26, 2015 | By Fred Hutch staff

Dr. Cyrus Ghajar

Dr. Cyrus Ghajar is investigating two different paths for dealing with dormant metastatic tumor cells: keeping them asleep and inactive, or destroying them altogether.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch file

Dr. Cyrus Ghajar receives $4.1M grant to study ways to prevent metastatic breast cancer

Metastatic breast cancer researcher Dr. Cyrus Ghajar has received a $4.1 million Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) “Era of Hope” Scholar Award.

The Department of Defense’s BCRP is the second biggest funder of breast cancer research in the U.S. Its Era of Hope award encourages high-impact, collaborative research, particularly among innovative young researchers. For this work, Ghajar has teamed with Fred Hutch researchers Drs. Julie Gralow, Jason Bielas, Eric Holland and Cecilia Moens, as well as investigators at Harvard Medical School and at the University of Colorado, Denver. Ghajar also has involved two local breast cancer patient advocates on this project.

Ghajar is the director of the Laboratory for the Study of Metastatic Microenvironments (LSM2), which is housed within the Translational Research Program in Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division. The LSM2 studies how microenvironments within distant tissues influence dormancy, drug resistance and the re-emergence of disseminated tumor cells. He will use the funds to research ways to prevent breast cancer metastasis by treating dormant disseminated tumor cells.

Metastatic breast cancer claims 40,000 lives a year; it’s estimated that 30 percent of all breast cancer cases will become metastatic. Interestingly, 20 percent of these cases will not emerge until a decade following therapy.

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Cancer treatment quackery fuels concern among doctors, FDA

Be wary of possible side effects, drug interactions when using alternative health supplements, physicians caution

June 25, 2015 | By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Dictionary definition of Quackery

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

One potentially fake cancer drug sold online can actually cause malignancies. One enema machine, purported to treat ovarian cancer under the FDA banner, was never cleared for sale in the U.S., federal health officials assert.

Those products and more were targeted last week in a global crackdown on more than 1,000 websites that sell possibly dangerous and bogus medicines and medical devices. The bust, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Interpol, coincides with the surge of unproven cancer “cures” hawked by Internet sellers, the FDA warns.

Cancer-treatment fraud is “particularly heartless,” FDA officials say, because it preys on the desperation of patients who are tempted “to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.” At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, some doctors are equally leery when patients ask to add claimed “natural” remedies to their treatment regimens.

“We’re quite clear: No over-the-counter herbal treatments – the things people get that are supposed to help their immune system, [or] whatever scams that people come across,” said Dr. George Georges, a hematopoietic cell transplant doctor at Fred Hutch.

“We have a very nice way of doing it. And it can sometimes take a long time to have a nice long conversation, to hear them out and talk about things,” Georges said. “But we’re very clear.”

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New guide helps patients, doctors make decisions on cancer drugs

ASCO ‘Value Framework’ offers a way to weigh health outcomes, side effects and costs of various treatments

June 24, 2015 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Boxes containing the breast cancer drug Herceptin

ASCO's new "Value Framework" decision guide aims to help cancer patients and their doctors determine the cost-benefit ratio of cancer drugs, such as the breast cancer drug Herceptin, so together they can make more-informed treatment decisions.

Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell / Getty Images

Would you choose to live a few weeks longer if it cost your family upwards of $10,000? What about a longer lifespan with a price tag that came in the form of difficult side effects?

A new decision guide, published Monday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, seeks to help patients facing these types of devastating decisions by providing more clarity on the impact of new cancer drugs on health outcomes, side effects and finances.

The proposed methodology aims to make it easier for patients and providers to make more-informed decisions about care.

“This project is responding to patient concerns, as well as society’s concerns, about the rising costs of medical care, specifically cancer care, that make optimal care challenging at best and prohibitive in other cases,” said Dr. Gary Lyman, co-director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research at Fred Hutch and member of the ASCO Value in Cancer Care Task Force that created the framework.

The ASCO Value Framework assigns a score, called a “Net Health Benefit,” to new drugs based on how they’ve stacked up against the current standard of care in randomized controlled trials. A new drug gets points for helping patients survive longer than the old therapy and for having less-severe side effects.

The framework provides the drug costs along with the Net Health Benefit so patients and their doctors can consider medical benefits side by side with the financial impact when choosing a course of therapy.

The framework’s authors demonstrated its use in metastatic lung cancer, advanced multiple myeloma, metastatic prostate cancer and HER2-positive breast cancer. As currently published, it is geared more toward physicians than for use by patients (with published results from a clinical trial in hand, users fill out a worksheet to derive a drug’s Net Health Benefit). But eventually, ASCO said in a statement, the goal is for the framework to serve as the basis for user-friendly tools that physicians and patients could use together to choose treatments based on the patient’s individual values and preferences for care. In fact, Lyman said, the task force envisions an electronic tool that integrates up-to-date information on benefits, harms and costs seamlessly into electronic health records.

“When all three elements are considered” — clinical outcomes, toxicity and cost — “distinct differences in the available options often emerge,” Lyman said. “It’s not telling people to take one agent or another, but rather to enhance the discussion between patient and provider.”

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'Can't sit and wait': Gene therapy trial aims to cure rare Fanconi anemia

Blood disorder in patients like 10-year-old Behzad can lead to leukemia, other cancers in adulthood

June 22, 2015 | By Bill Briggs and Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Mahazareen Hathiram discusses the decision to enroll her son Behzad, 10, in a clinical trial to correct Fanconi anemia. Behzad focuses on his handheld game near his father, Marzban Hathiram.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

The mother and father have heard so many tough questions about their choice, like: “Why this? Why now?” They’ve asked themselves the same things.

They know some friends doubt their decision to enroll their child in a study at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, one continent and one ocean away from their home in Mumbai, India. And they accept that it may be December before they see if the gamble paid off.

But the couple firmly believes they’ve given 10-year-old Behzad, their small and quiet son, a chance to beat his rare blood disorder. He has Fanconi anemia (FA), an inherited disease that often leads to bone marrow failure, leukemia and other cancers in adulthood. Among the roughly 5,000 patients worldwide with the malady, the average lifespan is 33, according to FA experts.

"The known universe of people who have it is so small, it was a very long road to discovery as to what options you have,” said Behzad’s father, Marzban Hathiram. “We can’t just sit and wait.”

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