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January 7, 2015


2015. Write it down: It will be a big year for the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, your program, and our collective contributions to advances in cancer research and cancer care. 

Let me start my New Year's note with a reflection on the passing away of two individuals last week.  Marc Krantz, spouse of Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Senior Counsel Michele Krantz, died suddenly a week ago. I suspect many of you did not know Marc. He was a pillar in the community in many ways, including his role as managing partner of his law firm, past president of the Mt. Sinai Medical Foundation, and strong supporter of the School of Medicine. His memorial service was a tribute to his vision and community impact -a high bar for any of us to meet.  

The second individual is ESPN anchor, Stuart Scott, who died of appendiceal cancer this past week. After his passing, many people spoke highly of Scott and his public battle of the disease. There is one quote in particular from Dan Patrick, sports radio host and former ESPN anchor, that should inspire us all:  "He [Scott] didn't just push the envelope. He bulldozed the envelope."  

If you need any additional inspiration for what you do, perhaps references to these individuals will help.  Both would have liked to be with us as we excel in our efforts to "bulldoze the envelope" in cancer research.  As we are learning, taking a conceptual leap is a prerequisite to national funding. 

I am in the process of completing the annual progress report to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) about the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.  Let me remind you of our goals and accomplishments. 

Our mission is to promote a coordinated, translational research-oriented culture of scientific discovery applied to human cancers, with dissemination to patients and populations.  We focus on developing better preventive interventions, screening methods, and improving treatments for patients with cancer, with the goal of reducing the likelihood that individuals throughout our catchment area will develop cancer and suffer from its consequences. 

I have recounted accomplishments in our weekly newsletter over the past year. Just to briefly recap some highlights from 2014:

  • More high impact publications than in any single year over the past 23 years
  • More national awards than in any single prior year
  • 40 new members bringing the total to 370 members
  • Active recruitment efforts across departments and institutions
  • Participation by more than 20 of us in a workshop on the NCI Provocative Questions initiative

I am most excited about a number of new initiatives begun in 2014 that will blossom in 2015: 

Program-led multi-investigator research projects
As you all are aware, we issued a Request for Applications for program-driven projects in the fall of 2014. These were selected by the Program Leaders, and will undergo final review by the Cancer Center Executive Committee this month.  Announcements will be made on the selected projects by the end of January.  We anticipate great things from these awards and project teams.  We want to foster multi-investigator projects that are recognized and supported by the Program Leaders; this is an essential aspect of the value our Center can bring to your research. 

In addition, the Executive Committee will review all of the applications sent to the Program Leaders that were not selected for the final round of funding decisions. All of these represent important multi-investigator efforts. We will work with the Program Leaders to develop strategies to support these projects, and help refine each project's goals and focus to increase the likelihood they will receive competitive national funding.  

Brain tumor SPORE initiative
Led by Jill Barnholtz-Sloan and Steve Rosenfeld, a multi-investigator and multi-institutional group has been formed to pursue a Specialized Program Of Research Excellence (SPORE) application. The focus of this effort is to identify fundamental causes of glioma initiation and spread to develop new therapeutic approaches tested in new protocols. A unique aspect of the proposal is the incorporation of childhood brain tumors and partnership with Cincinnati Children's Hospital. 

Adolescent and Young Adult cancer research
Our clinical programs have developed outstanding facilities and coordinated efforts in cancer care for Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer patients. Led by John Letterio, we have initiated a transdisciplinary effort across institutions to promote cancer research targeting the diseases of this age group (15-30). With generous support of the Angie Fowler Family Foundation, we received a gift of $6.7M over four years, to both recruit investigators and support pilot and transdisciplinary multi-investigator efforts. Planned projects include development of a comprehensive database and biorepository for genomic testing and Patient-derived Xenograft (PDX) model development. The first awards will be announced later this month. They cover areas of research that include cellular cancer natural killer (NK) immunotherapy, osteogenic sarcoma metastasis, early phase clinical trials, and brain tumor imaging.  

Genomics-based therapeutic decision-making
It has now been over a year since clinical efforts were initiated to use genomic testing of cancer samples for directing therapy decisions. This year, we should hear the early results from Davendra Sohal, Chris Hoimes and Yan Feng. Clinical investigators will want to develop and refine guidelines for testing, link to national efforts to coordinate decision-making, and develop more comprehensive approaches to genomic tumor boards. Meanwhile Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals (Joseph Willis) lab medicine groups are developing in-house Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) capabilities to ease access and testing of actionable mutations in cancer genes.  

High risk genomics initiative
Under the direction of Charis Eng, Lyndsay Harris, Tony Wynshaw-Boris (CWRU Chair of Genetics) and Stan Gerson, we have formed a new focus group within the Cancer Prevention and Control Program. Dr. Eng leads this multidisciplinary group of investigators that includes representatives of all major cancer disease types. We are implementing a comprehensive family history analysis, identifying those that should have increased screening, genomic analysis, and consented for research studies. We are considering initiating a whole genome analysis for the top 1% of cancer families seen across our region.  Our desire is to identify both private and applicable novel genes associated with families with a high prevalence of cancer. 

Expansion of early phase clinical trials
Clinical investigators based at both Seidman Cancer Center and Taussig Cancer Institute are aware of the value of further developing early phase therapeutic options for our patients. Mikkael Sekeres, Afshin Dowlati, Michael Gibson, and Dale Shepard lead these efforts. With improved efficiencies of protocol review, approval and implementation, and with a deeper bench of clinical investigators, we should be able to build on our 2014 "record year" of accruals. 

Cancer immunotherapeutics
Under the leadership of Alex Huang, Qing Yi, Jim Finke, and Marcos de Lima, we will further develop our effort in cancer immunotherapeutics, linking to the stem cell therapeutics focus area in our Hematopoietic Disorders Program. The potential for this effort to flourish in 2015 with both basic and therapeutic efforts is outstanding.  

Other priorities for 2015
Recruitment of a director for the Office of Cancer Disparities Research.  This individual will work across programs and institutions to facilitate and promote basic, therapeutic and population research with a community focus, and to help us address issues of our catchment area and the unacceptably high rates of cancer deaths in our region. 

Recruitment of the Parker-Hannifin/Helen Moss Cancer Research Foundation Professorship in Integrative Oncology. This individual will develop research, education and clinical programs in integrative oncology. 

Recruitment to our institutions of additional clinical and basic science cancer investigators.  

As you can see, 2015 will be an exciting inflection period for the Cancer Center. Our joint accomplishments will provide the basis for our NCI Cancer Center Support Grant renewal efforts that will begin in 2016 (submission in 2017), and will guide our investments as we plan our next five years.  I look forward to working with all of you.

Happy New Year!