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doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000741808.69609.f6
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Grant Awarded to Study Cause of Breast Cancer Disparities

A research team headed by Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center epidemiologist Zhihong Gong, PhD, has been awarded a 5-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Cancer Institute for an investigation into the role that certain genetic molecules play in the disparities seen between Black people and White people with breast cancer.

Zhihong Gong, PhD
Zhihong Gong, PhD:
Zhihong Gong, PhD

Women of African ancestry are more likely than those of European descent to develop aggressive and hard-to-treat breast cancer tumors, such as high-grade, estrogen-receptor-negative (ER-negative) and triple-negative types, and they have poorer prognosis. As the rate of breast cancer increases among Black women, approaching the rate seen in White women, this disproportional burden grows greater.

Gong's study will focus on a type of genetic molecule known as long noncoding RNAs—a newly appreciated class of gene regulators that play a role in cancer genesis and tumor progression.

“We understand that abnormal expression of certain long noncoding RNAs is associated with breast cancer metastasis and cancer cell survival,” explained Gong, Associate Professor of Oncology in Roswell Park's Department of Cancer Prevention and Control. “But studies to date have focused exclusively on White women, and few have used next-generation sequencing technology to provide unbiased and comprehensive profiling.”

Gong and colleagues will look closely at large existing databases of tissue samples and information about tumor characteristics, clinical outcomes, treatments received, and lifestyle factors. Using next-generation sequencing technology, the team aims to identify long noncoding RNAs that are associated with aggressive breast cancer types and poor prognosis, and to discover the underlying mechanisms of how these molecules contribute to cancer progression.

“Our study is novel and addresses an understudied area in breast cancer research among this underserved population with the worst prognosis,” Gong noted. “We're excited to learn more. It's our hope that our findings will shed light on new tumor markers and the development of targeted preventive and therapeutic strategies for people at high risk for breast cancer.”

Cancer Prevention Researcher Named President-Elect of ASPO

Anita Kinney, PhD, Director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity at Rutgers School of Public Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, has been elected as the 2021 President-Elect of the American Society of Preventive Oncology (ASPO), a multidisciplinary society committed to serving as an advocate for cancer prevention and control research. In this role, she will serve a 2-year term prior to serving as President of the society.

Anita Kinney, PhD
Anita Kinney, PhD:
Anita Kinney, PhD

“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to take on this leadership role and serve our members who are committed to preventing cancer and improving cancer outcomes,” Kinney stated. “I look forward to advancing the ASPO mission in this role, which is to foster the development of investigators and other professionals involved in cancer prevention and control, and the exchange and translation of scientific information to reduce the cancer burden. I look forward to supporting the ASPO mission in this role.”

Serving as Associate Director for Population Science and Community Outreach at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Director of ScreenNJ, a statewide cancer screening program; and Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health, Kinney has been an actively funded investigator in the area of cancer prevention and control for more than 25 years. Her research focuses on behavioral, ethical, social and care delivery genetics research, bringing a combination of behavioral science, clinical, and epidemiologic perspectives to address health inequities and unsolved cancer prevention and control problems in diverse populations and settings.

In her roles at Rutgers Cancer Institute and Rutgers School of Public Health, Kinney leads initiatives focused on reducing the cancer burden in New Jersey and beyond through community outreach and engagement activities, research and policy-related work, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations and reducing cancer health disparities.

“At Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Dr. Kinney's expertise has further enhanced our community engagement and outreach, population and disparities research, and prevention and screening efforts, taking care of the communities we serve,” stated Rutgers Cancer Institute Director Steven K. Libutti, MD, FACS, who is Senior Vice President of Oncology Services at RWJBarnabas Health. “Her knowledge and passion for helping reduce the cancer burden and health disparities make her a tremendous asset to the American Society of Preventive Oncology.”

“Dr. Kinney's skills as a researcher and community advocate situate her perfectly to lead this organization,” said Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, Dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. “Dr. Kinney uses a social justice and health equity lens to improve our understanding of cancer risk and outcomes.”

Kinney has substantial leadership experiences, including directing large randomized clinical trials focusing on cancer health equity that have developed and implemented effective interventions to promote cancer risk assessment and screening in average-risk and high-risk populations, translated genetic discoveries into clinical and public health practice, changed health policy, and improved outcomes in cancer survivors outcomes. She has published over 150 peer-reviewed publications, mentored over 50 students, postdocs and junior faculty, and built cancer population science research infrastructure at several NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

As an active member of ASPO since 1995, Kinney has served the organization in several leadership roles, initially serving on the Junior Members Organizing Committee and as an abstract reviewer. Additional ASPO leadership roles include Conference Chair (2010), Director at Large, Chair of the Nominating Committee, and Chair of the Survivorship SIG Committee. She is currently a senior editor of ASPO's scientific journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Dr. Edith Perez Named Vice Chair of SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) with its scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), announced Edith A. Perez, MD, cancer specialist, internationally known translational researcher and SU2C Health Equity Committee Chair, as the newest Vice Chair of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee.

Edith A. Perez, MD
Edith A. Perez, MD:
Edith A. Perez, MD

SU2C's Scientific Advisory Committee is composed of prestigious academic and industry leaders in cancer research. Its role is to provide insight and guidance to SU2C, setting the direction for its research initiatives, reviewing proposals for new grant awards, and conducting rigorous oversight of all active grants in the SU2C portfolio.

“Dr. Perez is an incredibly accomplished and respected voice in cancer research,” said SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee Chair Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Institute Professor in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Nobel laureate. “Her experience and insight, which she has demonstrated within Stand Up To Cancer as Chair of SU2C's Health Equity Committee, will be of great value to the Scientific Advisory Committee as we work to propel SU2C's research forward.”

In her previous SU2C committee role, Perez was instrumental in shepherding SU2C's Health Equity Initiative, which is aimed at increasing minority participation in cancer clinical trials. In addition to leading SU2C's Health Equity Committee, she maintains a clinical affiliation as Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic and Director of the Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer Translational Genomics Program, where she has practiced for 2 decades. She also served as Chief Medical Officer of Bolt Biotherapeutics since April 2020.

In addition, Perez serves on the editorial boards of multiple academic journals, and has authored more than 700 research articles in journals, books, and abstracts. Her areas of focus have included developing a wide range of clinical trials exploring targeted therapeutic agents for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

American Cancer Society Supports Diversity in Cancer Research Program

The American Cancer Society (ACS) announced the Diversity in Cancer Research program, a permanent umbrella that will support the society's effort to foster a more diverse scientific workforce community. This has been made possible through a generous endowment contribution from Elizabeth and Phill Gross and their family. The initial investment will be made to launch Diversity in Cancer Research internships, which will offer biomedical cancer research internships for undergraduate students from racial and ethnic backgrounds that are underrepresented in the scientific community.

“The American Cancer Society's goal is to decrease the U.S. cancer death rate by an additional 40 percent by 2035,” said Gary Reedy, Chief Executive Officer of the ACS. “To accomplish this ambitious plan, we must tackle the racial health disparities that exist in cancer. This includes addressing the critical need for diversity and inclusion in the scientific workforce by increasing the proportion of researchers and clinicians of color. We are so grateful to Elizabeth and Phill Gross for their generous funding of this game-changing initiative.”

According to data from the NIH, the number of grant applications from Black and Latino scientists are very low, just 2 percent and 4 percent, respectively. This inevitably translates to fewer people of color entering career stages in cancer research. The Diversity in Cancer Research program will build on the ACS's existing research career development grant programs by promoting the training of undergraduate students underrepresented in biomedical cancer research and encouraging the pursuit of careers that will increase diversity in cancer research. A more diverse scientific workforce is critical to invigorating problem-solving, driving innovation, and ultimately better equipping the scientific community to address inequities that exist in cancer prevention, treatment, and care.

“In the fight against cancer, advancements in research provide the best hope for saving millions more lives,” said Elizabeth Gross. “Phill and I believe that creating opportunities for a more diverse community of cancer researchers will not only spur innovation and ingenuity, but it will help eradicate health disparities, build trust across these various communities, and advance cancer care for everyone. It is our joy to assist in this important work alongside the American Cancer Society.”

To begin, 40 internships per year for 10 years will be granted under the “American Cancer Society/Gross Family Diversity in Research Internship” name. In addition, an advisory committee has been formed to focus on the implementation of the internship program and lead the development of new programs under the umbrella. New programs will include additional targeted initiatives for underrepresented students, faculty, and clinicians—all aimed at increasing the diversity of the workforce in cancer research and patient care.

Anticipated concepts that could qualify for funding under the Diversity in Cancer Research Program umbrella include specialized institutional research grants for HBCU's and other minority-serving institutions; physician scientist clinician grants made available to people whose racial or ethnic backgrounds are underrepresented in the scientific community; and career development assistance after completion of Diversity in Research internships.

Dr. Ute Dugan Joins Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI) announced the appointment of Ute Dugan, MD, PhD, as Senior Vice President of Clinical Research. In her new role, she oversees PICI's clinical development, regulatory affairs, and translational medicine efforts, with a focus on overcoming immunotherapy resistance and advancing novel breakthrough treatment combinations. Dugan comes to PICI from Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), where her work included extensive clinical partnerships with PICI.

Ute Dugan, MD, PhD
Ute Dugan, MD, PhD:
Ute Dugan, MD, PhD

“Dr. Dugan has been an incredible collaborator and champion of PICI's mission over the last several years, and we're excited to welcome her to our team,” said Sean Parker, PICI founder and Chairman. “In addition to her work as a world-class cancer researcher, she also brings a passionate focus on the patient perspective, making sure that we always remember who we're working for as we pioneer the next breakthroughs in immunotherapy.”

As a medical oncologist in Europe and the United States, Dugan's research focused on the development and integration of improved cancer medicines into the treatment standards of solid tumors and hematologic malignancies. As Head of Worldwide Oncology External Medical Affairs at BMS, she created impactful research collaboration models to advance immune-oncology (I-O) treatments together with partners in academia, professional societies, and non-profit organizations. She began her role in 2016, coinciding with the launch of PICI, and her catalytic approach has accelerated the pace and output of research and impacted BMS' global strategic collaboration business model. Dugan also led the implementation of these powerful new tools and applied them to global health equity initiatives, such as building cancer care capacity in low- and middle-income countries.

Dugan originally joined BMS as Executive Director of Global Clinical Research during the formation of the development teams for the pioneering I-O medicines ipilimumab and nivolumab. Before that, her career included stints at Roche/Genentech and Aventis.

“Throughout her career, Dr. Dugan has a proven track record for forging innovative partnerships among academics, practitioners, and industry leaders, and that focus and energy has quickened the pace of both research output and clinical impact for patients,” said John Connolly, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at PICI. “She's a perfect fit for the culture of collaboration that PICI exists to foster.”

“PICI is bringing together the brightest academic and scientific minds with the goal to create significant therapeutic advances for cancer patients,” Dugan said. “PICI is uniquely positioned to integrate and leverage the best experts in the field to help solve some of cancer's most intractable problems.”

Dr. Ruth Plummer Garners TAT 2021 Honorary Award

On the occasion of the ESMO Targeted Anticancer Therapies Virtual Congress 2021, Ruth Plummer, MD, PhD, Clinical Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at the Newcastle University and Honorary Consultant Medical Oncologist in Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, received the TAT 2021 Honorary Award in recognition of her relentless trial activity, which has taken many new cancer drugs into the clinic that have become standard treatments with proven patient benefit.

Ruth Plummer, MD, PhD; Credit: ESMO
Ruth Plummer, MD, PhD; Credit: ESMO:
Ruth Plummer, MD, PhD; Credit: ESMO

Plummer runs a Phase I all-comers practice, taking responsibility for one of the most active Phase I units in the U.K. Plummer also directs the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre and leads the Newcastle Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre and CRUK Newcastle Cancer Centre. Her clinical practice also involves leading on the systemic therapies for skin cancer, with a portfolio of trials across all phases of drug development in skin cancers.

Her research interests are in the field of DNA repair and early phase clinical trials of novel agents, taking the first-in-class PARP inhibitor into the clinic in 2003, ATR inhibitor in 2012, and MCT1 inhibitor in 2014. Her work also contributed to the development and validation of pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic assays in early clinical drug development, which are now embedded in early phase trial design.

“I was delighted to be recognized in this way. Having spent my working life over the last 20 years developing the early phase trials practice in our dedicated cancer research unit, it is wonderful to realize that the work of this team is being recognized by ESMO.

“The ESMO Targeted Anticancer Therapies Congress is the home of Phase I and being given their honorary award is recognition for the trials team that our work is being viewed as high quality,” said Plummer on accepting the award. “To be successful in any field having supportive mentors is key. I had the honor to have been mentored by outstanding and stimulating scientists and I hope to be a good mentor myself for the next generations of researchers that work with me,” she added.

On the future of the oncology drug development scenario, Plummer sees “a bright future with the better understanding of cancer biology and the availability of rapid testing for targetable changes. We are likely to see fewer large, randomized trials and the focus of clinical drug development will be within early phase rather than this being a stage to get through to reach Phase III.”

Dr. Cihangir Duy Joins Epigenetics Program at Fox Chase

Cihangir Duy, PhD, MS, joined the Cancer Signaling and Epigenetics Program as Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia.

Cihangir Duy, PhD, MS
Cihangir Duy, PhD, MS:
Cihangir Duy, PhD, MS

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Duy join our program. He has made critical discoveries that inform how we can leverage epigenetic therapies to tackle hematologic malignancies,” said Johnathan Whetstine, PhD, the epigenetics program's leader.

Before coming to Fox Chase, Duy was an instructor in cell and developmental biology at Weill Cornell Medicine Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York City. He completed his postdoctoral studies at Weill Cornell Medicine, where he studied the epigenome and organoids, and recently received a grant from the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation to further develop these organoid models.

Duy carried out his doctoral studies in cancer biology and immunology at the University of Southern California and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Düsseldorf in Germany, where he received his MS degree. Duy's thesis study focused on the Philadelphia chromosome, which was discovered at Fox Chase in 1959.

Duy was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The William Guy Forbeck Research Foundation recently selected him as a Forbeck Scholar. This prestigious appointment recognizes early-career cancer researchers for their achievements, research, and dedication to the field.

Cancer Physicians Recognized for Compassionate Patient Care & Innovative Leadership

Thanks to a nomination by a grateful patient, David Snyder, MD, hematologist-oncologist at City of Hope, has been given the “MPN Hero” award by Voices of MPN for his dedication to improving the lives of people with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), a blood cancer where a person's bone marrow does not function properly. Patients with this disease experience symptoms such as pain below the ribs, fatigue, and bruising or bleeding more easily. Snyder demonstrated “care, guidance, education or support above and beyond the standard of care” for this patient, whom he treated with sincere compassion.

David Snyder, MD
David Snyder, MD:
David Snyder, MD

Lorna Rodriguez-Rodriguez, MD, PhD, Vice Chair of faculty development at City of Hope, is one of 21 women leaders in the nation who were invited to join The Carol Emmott Fellowship Class of 2021, a prestigious 14-month program for “exceptional, innovative women leaders who are making lasting change in their communities and institutions.” For more than 30 years, Rodriguez-Rodriguez has stood out as a rising star and leader in gynecological oncology. She specializes in ovarian cancer and has served as a doctor, instructor and researcher at several of America's leading medical institutions. At City of Hope, her research contributes to the knowledge of the role of CD44 in cancer progression. She is part of a leadership team at City of Hope that looks to further enhance the institution's already diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.

Lorna Rodriguez-Rodriguez, MD, PhD
Lorna Rodriguez-Rodriguez, MD, PhD:
Lorna Rodriguez-Rodriguez, MD, PhD
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