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Fred Hutch recruits world-renowned oncologist for key leadership role

Dr. Nancy Davidson

Dr. Nancy Davidson will begin her role as director of Fred Hutch's Clinical Research Division and president and executive director of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on Dec. 1.

Photo courtesy of Emily Cousins

A GIANT IN THE CANCER RESEARCH and treatment world is bringing her talents to Seattle.

Dr. Nancy E. Davidson, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, will become the director of Fred Hutch's Clinical Research Division and the president and executive director of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), Fred Hutch's clinical care partner. Her appointment is effective Dec. 1.

Davidson will serve as a bridge builder across the cancer treatment, clinical, translational, basic sciences and public health research programs of consortium members Fred Hutch, UW School of Medicine, UW School of Public Health, Seattle Children's and SCCA.

Davidson is a world-renowned physician-scientist in cancer biology and treatment, especially in the field of breast cancer. Prior to joining the Pitt faculty, she served as the Breast Cancer Research Professor of Oncology and the founding director of the Breast Cancer Program at Johns Hopkins. She is a member of the scientific advisory boards for many foundations and cancer centers. A member of the National Academy of Medicine, she is a past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and current president of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Davidson "is ideally suited to further enrich the already outstanding interactions between the SCCA, UW Medicine and Fred Hutch. I am eagerly looking forward to working with her," said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch and director of the NCI-designated Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium.


Remissions after experimental immunotherapy

MANY PATIENTS WITH NON-HODGKIN LYMPHOMA participating in an early-phase immunotherapy trial had their advanced tumors disappear completely after their immune cells were genetically engineered into cancer fighters, a new study led by Fred Hutch scientists found.

These short-term results are the latest from this closely watched study of these modified cells, called CAR T cells.

Graphical illustration showing genetically engineered immune cells attacking a  cancer cell

Graphical illustration showing genetically engineered immune cells attacking a cancer cell.

In the trial, 32 participants received an infusion of CAR T cells following chemotherapy, called lymphodepletion, which was given to make space in the body for the infused engineered cells. The team found that the CAR T cells most effectively knocked out the cancer in a group of 11 patients who received a two-drug combination chemo followed by an intermediate dose of the engineered T cells.

Seven of these participants, or 64 percent, went into complete remission — "which is very high" given the advanced stage of these patients' cancers, said Dr. Cameron Turtle, one of the study leaders.

These data demonstrate how dialing in the treatment parameters can make these cells more effective cancer fighters in patients with this particular type of cancer,
Turtle said.


‘Incredibly ambitious’ trial in a deadly cancer

Dr. Sunil Hingorani is a pancreatic cancer researcher at Fred Hutch.

Dr. Sunil Hingorani is a pancreatic cancer researcher at Fred Hutch.

Photo by Stefanie Felix

A RADICAL NEW RESEARCH EFFORT was launched this fall for one of the deadliest cancers. Called Precision Promise, the flexible, precision-medicine trial of experimental pancreatic cancer treatments aims to turn the concept of clinical trials on its head.

"This is driven by doing what is best for the individual patient, and that is the most important thing," said Dr. Sunil Hingorani, a Fred Hutch pancreatic cancer expert and principal investigator for one of the effort's initial research sites.

Precision Promise creates a fluid structure through which participants can transition in and out of numerous substudies of various experimental treatment approaches, depending on their cancer's unique and shifting biology. This design prevents patients from having to seek out and enroll in a new trial if one particular option does not seem to be working.

"We believe that you can both learn, in a deep way, about the strategy you're applying and actually maximally benefit that patient at the same time," Hingorani said. This approach is exactly what this deadly malignancy needs, he said.

"On one hand, it's incredibly ambitious," he said, "and on the other hand it's exactly where we need to be to treat this cancer."


Seattle Mariners GM, broadcaster visit Fred Hutch

Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto, looking through the microscope, and broadcaster Dave Sims behind him, visit the lab of Fred Hutch's Dr. Pete Nelson, in blue, September 2016.

Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto, looking through the microscope, and broadcaster Dave Sims behind him, visit the lab of Fred Hutch's Dr. Pete Nelson, in blue, September 2016.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

BASEBALL BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER. Cancer brought them closer.

Seattle Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto and play-by-play broadcaster Dave Sims never knew the similarities linking their stories: two baseball guys with the same team, both knowing the chill of a cancer diagnosis and loss of an organ — and both leaning on the game to survive.

In September, Dipoto, a thyroid cancer survivor, and Sims, a prostate cancer survivor, visited Fred Hutch to learn about the science driving promising cancer therapies.

The men viewed the Cincinnati Reds jersey and baseball mitt once used by Fred Hutchinson himself. They marveled at the wall of baseball cards celebrating past Hutch Award winners. They read personal accounts of people cured by Hutch science at the Visitor Center. And they spent an hour in the lab of Dr. Pete Nelson, a Fred Hutch prostate cancer researcher.

"It has dawned on me that when I share my experiences now with other people [about cancer treatment], maybe it's more about the emotional than the physical," Dipoto said. "Because the physical has changed so much over the years thanks to what people do at places like Fred Hutch."