NIH Awards $24 Million to UT Health San Antonio, and more

Remembering Michael C. Lill (1959-2018) 

Michael C. Lill, MD, passed away on June 19, 2018, after a long battle with cancer. Dr. Lill was born in Adelaide, South Australia, where he earned his medical degree and completed his residencies before joining the staff of the bone marrow transplant program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 1989.

For more than two decades, Dr. Lill acted as the director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was responsible for performing the first allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantations at the hospital. He performed more than 2,000 transplants during his career and also is recognized as one of the few physicians who performed bloodless hematopoietic cell transplantations for Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was also a member of the American Society of Hematology’s Committee on Government Affairs.

Dr. Lill is survived by his wife of 32 years, Gay M. Crooks, MD, a physician-scientist at UCLA whom he met while studying medicine in Perth, Western Australia, and their two children, Georgia and Alexander.

Source: Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2018; Center for International Blood & Marrow Transplant Research press release.

NIH Awards $24 Million to UT Health San Antonio 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) granted $24 million over five years to researchers at UT Health San Antonio. The grant was awarded through the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) Program, for which the university is a hub that collaborates with eight regional partners across southern Texas. The funding will support pilot research projects in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, among other areas.

“This is an enthusiastic vote of confidence in our institution’s ability to affect the future,” said William L. Henrich, MD, president of UT Health San Antonio, in a press release announcing the award. “We are proud of our track record of accomplishment in advancing community health.”

Source: UT Health San Antonio press release, May 31, 2018.

Stand Up To Cancer Awards $10 Million to Myeloma “Dream Team” 

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) awarded $10 million to a “dream team” of multiple myeloma researchers. The funding will support efforts to revolutionize the treatment of myeloma through early detection of precursor conditions before progression to malignant disease.

The SU2C Multiple Myeloma Dream Team will have two co-leaders: Irene Ghobrial, MD, associate professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and co-director of its Center for Prevention of Progression of Blood Cancers, and Ivan M. Borrello, MD, associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Cell Therapy and Good Manufacturing Practices Biologics Core at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.

They will be joined by:

  • Joseph R. Mikhael, MD, professor at City of Hope Cancer Center and chief medical officer, International Myeloma Foundation
  • Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, professor of epidemiology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Jeremiah A. Johnson, PhD, associate professor of chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Lorelei Ann Mucci, MPH, DSc, associate professor of epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Gad Getz, PhD, director of cancer genome computational analysis, Broad Institute
  • Viktor A. Adalsteinsson, PhD, group leader, Blood Biopsy Team, Broad Institute

The project will include a large-scale, U.S. population survey for myeloma-precursor conditions like monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance or smoldering multiple myeloma. The research team will monitor people who have precursor conditions to identify potential biomarkers for a high risk of progression to myeloma.

Source: Stand Up To Cancer press release, April 15, 2018.

American Scholars Receive 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science 

Three American scholars were awarded the 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science for their contributions to cancer research. All three winners were recognized for their discovery of protein tyrosine phosphorylation and tyrosine kinases as oncogenes, which has led to the development of successful targeted cancer therapies.

  • Tony Hunter, PhD, professor of biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, discovered tyrosine phosphorylation.
  • Brian J. Druker, MD, director of the Oregon Health Sciences University’s Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, led the successful clinical trial of the tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib in chronic myeloid leukemia.
  • John Mendelsohn, MD, president emeritus of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, conceived the idea that antibodies targeting epidermal growth factor receptor may be an effective strategy for cancer treatment.

The Tang Prizes are awarded biennially in recognition of original research and major contributions in biopharmaceutical science. The winners will share an approximately $1.5 million prize.

Source: Tang Prize Foundation press release, June 19, 2018; MD Anderson press release, June 18, 2018.

Jens Hillengass Named Chief of Myeloma at Roswell Park 

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center appointed Jens Hillengass, MD, as its new chief of myeloma. He also will serve as professor of oncology in the department of medicine.

At Roswell Park, Dr. Hillengass will conduct research on multiple myeloma and its precursor diseases like monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. A major focus of his work is investigating the effect of physical activity on patients’ pain and quality of life.

Prior to assuming this role, Dr. Hillengass served as deputy chief of the section of multiple myeloma at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, where he led the country’s largest stem-cell transplant program and was an attending physician and associate professor.

Source: Roswell Park press release, May 15, 2018.

NCCN Appoints New Chief Medical Officer 

Wui-Jin Koh, MD, was named chief medical officer (CMO) of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network – a newly created position for the alliance of U.S. cancer centers.

Responsibilities of the new CMO include overseeing the NCCN Oncology Research Program (which tackles improving and prolonging the lives of people with cancer by advancing collaborative research) and the flagship NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®). Dr. Koh also will be responsible for leading the Network’s continuing medical education program.

Dr. Koh is a radiation oncologist, professor, and medical director for radiation oncology at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He was a founding member of the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Uterine/Cervical Cancer in 1997 and now serves on the editorial board of JNCCN – Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

Source: NCCN press release, May 17, 2018.