Director's Message: 2020 External Advisory Committee Meeting

Showcasing our unique and unified approach to cancer research

The Cancer Center’s 2020 External Advisory Committee meeting took place on Wednesday, September 30, just after the presidential debate the night before. While we were all safely isolated in our campus or home offices, the engagement and thoughtfulness of both our presenters and reviewers was rather incredible to watch.

Our Cancer Center remains strong and is maintaining its strong support for new investigator initiatives and multi-investigator projects leading to multiple P and U grant submissions. I appreciate the hard work that it takes to put these efforts together, representing the year’s accomplishments across the center and our 400 faculty members across five institutions that make up the center.

This year, an evident theme was the balanced contributions of science, therapeutics and investment from Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic. With our likewise balanced oversight by our deputy directors, Brian Bolwell, Ted Teknos and Alan Diehl, we remain unique among the nation’s NCI designated cancer centers, and take advantage of the remarkable expertise and breadth of accomplishments across our organizations to wield a unified approach to innovation in cancer prevention, mechanism discovery, genomic etiology, targeted therapeutics and population analysis.

Our center was very well represented by our program leaders, presenting top science from their programs. Research highlights included:

  • Identifying immune-mediated differences in glioma response in males and females that led to the successful P01 award to Justin Lathia and Jill Barnholtz-Sloan.
  • Initiation of a multi-center phase 2 study with the glutaminase inhibitor CB839 by David Bajor based on Zhenghe John Wang’s discovery that it upregulated uridine phosphorylase to block TS and synergize with 5-FU in colon cancer.
  • The continued development of home-grown therapeutic agents including six licensed, two supported by NCI SBIR’s and start-up companies, and one to be licensed. 
  • Expanded use of NEOCASE to help identify our excess cancer burden and risks in our catchment area, led by Johnie Rose and Siran Koroukian – noted by all of our research program presentations.
  • Expanded genomic assessments of hematological malignancies, uncovering predisposition genes for AML, gene expression predicting response in myeloma and the role of NF-kappaB/c-rel in both immune response and in leukemia dependency, led by the teams of Jarek Maciejewski, Parameswaran Ramakrishnan and Jim Driscoll.
  • Uncovering the instigator of hypertension due to cortisol induction by androgen receptor blockade by agents in men with prostate cancer by Nima Sharifi.
  • Identifying unique digitized morphogenic signatures of prostate cancer in Black men with prostate cancer that may provide a clue for the higher incidence and worse outcomes and signify an opportunity to consider unique approaches to diagnosis and treatment, led by Anant Madabhushi.

The introduction of Data Sciences as a new discovery pillar of our center by Jill Barnholtz-Sloan was well received.

On the clinical trials front, despite COVID-19 and leadership transitions, our ongoing efforts, continued accrual and remarkable impact of shortening times to protocol activation helped to showcase our ongoing attention to patients in need of new treatments, while we struggle to be as inclusive as possible and to re-expand our non-therapeutic interventional portfolio.

Mark Jackson provided a summary of our comprehensive education, training and career development programs that continue to dazzle reviewers.

Finally, I am very grateful of the efforts of Jennifer Cullen, Associate Director for Cancer Population Sciences, and Erika Trapl, Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement, for absorbing the breadth of activities across our center and presenting these in such a coherent way. We will all be hearing more from them in the near future, as we continue to bring the important perspective of our community into our approach to research and discovery. Increasing our focus on benefits to our community will help us to address the fundamental disparities that we collectively face across our country. This effort reflects the incredible quality and impact of all of our activities to pursue our mission: To apply scientific discoveries in human cancers to improve lives across our communities through cancer prevention, detection, treatment, cure and survivorship.

Stan Gerson, MD
Director, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center