Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. will announce this afternoon a partnership with leading Boston-area hospitals, medical schools, and universities -- in a novel attempt to address a major hurdle in medicine: the years-long gap between basic science advances and the testing of drugs in patients.
Under the unusual arrangement, the company will invest $100 million over five years and establish a research space in the heart of the Longwood Medical Area where Pfizer scientists will work in close proximity and team up with academic scientists. The new Center for Therapeutic Innovation, which will create about 50 new jobs, is part of a global Pfizer initiative to foster new kinds of collaboration with academia to accelerate drug development, a program that will be headquartered in Boston.FULL ENTRY
A former employee and cancer researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says she was fired in 2005 because she is a woman, a charge the institute denies.
Lynn Hlatky was told that she was let go because her research in radiation oncology did not align with the goals of a new department director hired to focus on DNA repair and research that could be applied to patient care. She has alleged gender discrimination and a breach of contract, saying in court filings that male colleagues who had less publishing experience and grant funding than she did were not asked to give up research that was outside the department's stated goals.
Attorneys for Dana-Farber said in court documents that Hlatky's termination was not discriminatory and that the change in the department's focus also prompted the firing of a male researcher.
Opening arguments in the case are scheduled to begin this morning in Suffolk County Superior Court, and the trial could last more than two weeks.FULL ENTRY
Dr. Ronald A. DePinho of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has been selected to become the next president of the renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston.
DePinho is now director of the Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science at Dana-Farber and a professor of medicine and genetics at Harvard Medical School. He studies the molecular and biological processes behind the development of cancer, aging, and degenerative diseases.
DePinho would replace longtime director Dr. John Mendelsohn, who announced in December his plan to step down and return to a research role at the prestigious cancer center. Under Texas law, DePinho will be listed as "sole finalist" for 21 days before a formal appointment may be made.
DePinho declined to talk with me this evening after the University of Texas board announced his selection.
I'm not sure if DePinho listed his recent appearance on the Colbert Report on his CV, but it couldn't have hurt. He is better known for work looking at how genes control cancer and for reversing aging in mice. (Read his take on why we age and how you can avoid it here.)FULL ENTRY
Facing a tough budget environment, the National Cancer Institute will still manage to fund almost the same number of grants this fiscal year as last year despite a 1 percent budget cut, agency director Dr. Harold Varmus said today during a visit to the Globe. In order to do that, however, the Institute will make cuts to a number of programs, including 5 percent cuts to grants that support designated cancer centers, including MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.
The NCI budget for fiscal year 2011 is $5.06 billion. Varmus said that advocating for continued federal funding of research has been increasingly difficult because many key legislators who were ardent champions of funding for biomedical research are no longer in the Senate. In particular, he said, the loss of Senator Ted Kennedy, whom Varmus called a mentor and "one of my most important allies," has been felt acutely.
"Everything is on the table for the new Republicans ... We have no champions," he said. "Nobody is coming to our defense."
Three Boston scientists are among 13 nationally receiving grants for innovative cancer research that are designed to get new treatments to patients faster, a private fund-raising group announced today.
The researchers will each receive up to $750,000 over three years for their work, according to Stand Up to Cancer, a consortium of film and media industry leaders who have staged two global television fund-raisers to support cancer research.
The Boston recipients include scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital.FULL ENTRY
A new research center aimed at understanding and reducing cancer disparities in diverse, minority populations received a $2 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, adding to $18 million in federal funding for the project.
The Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy is a joint venture between the University of Massachusetts Boston and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center -- a cross-institutional cancer research effort that includes 1,000 researchers from across Harvard and its affiliated hospitals.
It has become increasingly clear that each type of cancer, such as breast cancer or lung cancer, includes many different subtypes that influence how or if the disease responds to treatment. That has led cancer researchers to focus on developing drugs tailored to a particular patient's tumor and to create tests that could determine who is likely to respond.
The goal of the center, which will partner with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, is to develop tests to identify different types of cancer that are inexpensive enough to be used in community hospital settings.
"We are pleased to support an initiative that will address the longstanding racial, ethnic, and economic disparities that exist in cancer care as well as improve the quality of care for all cancer patients," Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Mass. Life Sciences Center, said in a statement.
The center will launch soon, and will eventually be housed in UMass Boston's Integrated Sciences Complex, which will begin construction this spring and is expected to open in 2013.
"If there is one thing that we've learned about cancer during the past quarter century, it is that cancer is not one disease but instead hundreds, and each cancer is often unique to each patient," Dr. Edward J. Benz Jr., president of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said in a statement. "This grant will further our efforts to develop more effective treatments that are tailored to the characteristics of a person's cancer."
The $345 million building includes 275,000 square feet of clinical space organized around patient convenience. Instead of going to a doctor on one floor getting blood drawn on another and then heading back to the medical floor for chemotherapy, all those functions will now take place on one floor, officials said.FULL ENTRY
Harvard scientists have taken prematurely aged mice and reversed the toll of time – increasing the size of their shrunken brains, restoring their diminished sense of smell, and turning their graying fur to a healthy sheen.
The work is among a growing spate of efforts to understand the basic biology that underlies aging. Ultimately, scientists hope to find ways to tap into the body’s natural regenerative capacities to make people healthier and more productive in later life.
"These were animals that were really at the brink of kicking the bucket," said Dr. Ronald DePinho, director of the Belfer Institute at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and senior author of the paper published in the journal Nature. "We were expecting to slow or perhaps stabilize the aging process. Instead, we saw a dramatic reversal in the symptoms of aging."
DePinho and colleagues genetically manipulated mice so that an enzyme called telomerase that rebuilds the caps of chromosomes, called telomeres, could be toggled on or off.
The mice aged very quickly without telomerase. Just mid-way through the normal lifespan of a mouse, their organs had atrophied, their brains had shrunk, and they had lost the ability to detect noxious odors. But when scientists used a drug to switch the gene back on for a month, many hallmarks of aging seemed to reverse. The fertility of the mice increased, their sense of smell was restored, and their organs were rejuvenated.
DePinho was careful to point out that normal aging is the product of many biological mechanisms, and telomeres are only one factor. The researchers have not tested yet whether this type of intervention will slow aging in ordinary mice, and are far from doing comparable tests in people. Next, the researchers will try to better understand precisely what causes the youthful bloom to return to the mice when the telomerase switch is flipped on, and also follow mice for a longer time to assess whether there may be a risk of cancer.
But there is great interest in the role that telomeres, the caps of the chromosomes, play in aging. Research has found that shorter telomere length is correlated with fewer years of healthy living after age 60, DePinho said. The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three researchers, including Jack Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital for the discovery of telomeres and the enzyme that builds them back up.
The research was supported by funding from the National Cancer Institute and the Belfer Foundation.
"We need to intensify efforts to support basic research into aging and age-related diseases -- to understand their molecular underpinnings so we can find ways to improve years of healthy living," DePinho said.
More prevention, more access to care, and more research breakthroughs are needed to
continue progress against cancer, the nation's top health official will say at a Boston dinner tonight.
Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary of Health and Human Services, will focus on the Obama administration's agenda at a symposium hosted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
According to remarks prepared for delivery, she will talk about increasing efforts to stop young people from starting to smoke, making cancer screening tests such as mammograms and colonoscopies more available, and keeping insurance coverage intact for cancer patients.
She will also discuss a renewed commitment to cancer research, citing the Cancer Genome Atlas, which was funded through a $1.3 billion boost to the National Institutes of Health.
"To gain the upper hand on cancer going forward, we will have to continue to pursue all three parts of this agenda: more prevention, more access to care, more research breakthroughs. And there are signs that we are making progress: In 2007, the
number of cancer deaths in the US went down for the first time ever," she will say. "But the history of the fight against cancer has taught us that when we see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, we need to accelerate, not ease up."
Screening heavy smokers with sophisticated medical scanners modestly reduced their chance of dying from lung cancer, according to a federal study released today that provides the first convincing evidence testing could reduce the toll from the leading cause of cancer deaths.
The preliminary findings from the National Cancer Institute were based on a gold-standard study that randomly assigned 53,000 current or former smokers without symptoms to be screened with a CT scanner or standard chest X-ray. Deaths from lung cancer were 20 percent lower in the CT-scan group, providing hope the tests can identify tumors early among those at greatest risk, when treatments have a higher likelihood of success and cause fewer side effects. Computed tomography scans can detect tumors as small as a pea.
"For me, it says here's one category of people who are at high risk for lung cancer for whom we now seem to have a way of screening them," said Constantine Gatsonis, a Brown University professor who led the statistical design and evaluation of the study. CT scanning "definitely ought to be something they ought to consider, their doctors ought to consider," he said.FULL ENTRY
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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