ASCO Report Finds U.S. Cancer Care System Ill-Equipped to Deliver New Advances to Patients

“As the nation embarks on an ambitious ‘moonshot’ to accelerate progress against cancer, our system for delivering today’s cancer treatments must be better prepared to bring advances to all patients, warns a new report from ASCO.

The State of Cancer Care in America: 2016, published March 15 in the Journal of Oncology Practice and presented at a Congressional briefing in Washington, DC, is ASCO’s third annual assessment of national trends in cancer care delivery. The report highlights many promising cancer care developments, including new drugs and technologies, declining mortality rates, expanded access to healthcare generally, and a shift towards value-based care. But ASCO also highlights major challenges for patients and physicians, including uneven health insurance coverage, rapidly rising costs, and other barriers to accessing new treatments.”


ASCO Kicks off Ground-Breaking Clinical Trial to Learn from Use of Approved Targeted Cancer Therapies Matched to Tumor Genomics

“The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) today announced it has begun recruiting patients with advanced cancer for its first-ever clinical trial, the Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry (TAPUR) study.  The trial will evaluate molecularly-targeted cancer drugs and collect data on clinical outcomes to help learn additional uses of these drugs outside of indications already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Patients enrolled in the study will have access to these cancer drugs at no cost.

“The trial will initially enroll participants at 30 clinical sites located in Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Idaho and ASCO plans to expand to other areas of the country by the end of the year. Because of its unique design and purpose, TAPUR will include a broader patient population than in most clinical trials. Eligible participants include those who have an advanced solid tumor, multiple myeloma, or B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma who are no longer benefitting from standard anti-cancer treatments or for whom no acceptable standard treatment is available.”


When Gene Tests for Breast Cancer Reveal Grim Data but No Guidance

“At a time when genetic testing and genetically personalized treatments for cancer are proliferating, buoyed by new resources like President Obama’s $215 million personalized medicine initiative, women with breast cancer are facing a frustrating reality: The genetic data is there, but in many cases, doctors do not know what to do with it.

“That was the situation Angie Watts, 44, faced after she walked into a radiation oncologist’s office last June expecting to discuss the radiation therapy she was about to begin after a lumpectomy for breast cancer. Instead, Dr. Timothy M. Zagar of the University of North Carolina looked down at a sheet of test results and delivered some shocking news.

“A genetic test showed she had inherited an alteration in a gene needed to repair DNA. Radiation breaks DNA, so the treatment might actually spur the growth of her cancer, he said. He urged her not to take the risk and to have a double mastectomy instead.”


Genetic Test Firm to Put Customers’ Data in Public Domain

“In an unusual move, a leading genetic testing company is putting genetic information from the people it has tested into the public domain, a move the company says could make a large trove of data available to researchers looking for genes linked to various diseases.

“The company, Ambry Genetics, is expected to announce on Tuesday that it will put information from 10,000 of its customers into a publicly available database called AmbryShare.

“ ‘We’re going to discover a lot of new diagnostic targets and a lot of new drug targets,’ Aaron Elliott, interim chief scientific officer at Ambry, which is based in Southern California, said in an interview. ‘With our volume, we can pull out a significant number of genes just by the sheer number we are looking at.’ “


Immuno-oncology Driving More Precise Cancer Treatment

“A new tool that redefines combination therapy for cancer patients could soon be available to physicians.

“Epitope-based therapy — giving patients the part of an antigen that will activate and optimize their immune system against their specific tumor — looks so promising that it led to the launch of the Cancer MoonShot 2020 program.

“To boost the likelihood of treatment success, doctors would select one or more of these therapies, depending on the genomic characteristics of an individual’s cancer, to activate key elements of the patient’s immune system.”


The US Throws Away $3 Billion Worth of Cancer Drugs A Year

“You already know you pay too much for prescription medication. But a new study by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center reveals one simple factor that may be contributing to high costs: Waste.

“According to the new study, published Tuesday inBMJ, as much as $3 billion worth of cancer drugs is thrown away every year, unused. The reason why is drug manufacturers package single dose vials that contain more medicine than needed so that leftover medication is simply thrown away. As the authors, which includes Peter Bach, director of MSK’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes, note:

” ‘These drugs must be either administered or discarded once open, and because patients’ body sizes are unlikely to match the amount of drug included in the vial, there is nearly always some left over. The leftover drug still has to be paid for, even when discarded, making it possible for drug companies to artificially increase the amount of drug they sell per treated patient by increasing the amount in each single dose vial relative to the typically required dose.’ “


FDA Expands Approval of Nausea/Vomiting Agent

“The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first single-dose intravenous NK1 receptor antagonist, fosaprepitant dimeglumine (Emend), for the treatment of nausea and vomiting that can accompany the use of moderately and highly emetogenic chemotherapy. The drug is approved in combination with other antiemetics.

“ ‘Despite significant advances in supportive care, nausea and vomiting has remained a challenge for many cancer patients undergoing moderately emetogenic chemotherapy—and has historically required multi-day antiemetic therapy,’ said Stuart Green, vice president, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories, in a statement. ‘Today’s approval of an expanded indication for Emend for injection means that physicians now have a new single-dose intravenous option, combined with other anti-vomiting medicines, for the prevention of delayed nausea and vomiting in these patients.’ “


ASCO Names Advance of the Year: Cancer Immunotherapy

At a Capitol Hill briefing today, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) announced immunotherapy as the top cancer advance of the year. Recent breakthroughs in immunotherapy – along with almost 60 other important cancer research advances – are described in ASCO’s just-released report, Clinical Cancer Advances 2016: ASCO’s Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer. ASCO’s report also calls for sustained robust federal funding for cancer research, asserting its pivotal role in driving progress.

“ ‘No recent cancer advance has been more transformative than immunotherapy. These new therapies are not only transforming patient lives, they are also opening intriguing avenues for further research,’ said ASCO President Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO. ‘Advances like these require bold ideas, dedication and investment in research. If we are to conquer cancer, we need to invest more as a nation to support a strong biomedical research enterprise.’ “


Shoddy Biopsies Deny Cancer Patients a Shot at Personalized Treatment

“A huge federal trial of personalized cancer medicine has run into an unexpected roadblock: Many of the tumor samples aren’t robust enough to be put through genetic analysis.

“The samples, taken from patients with advanced cancer, were collected by doctors in hundreds of clinics nationwide. When researchers checked them, they found as many as 1 in 5 didn’t have enough malignant cells to analyze, in most cases because the biopsy had been poorly done.

“The glitch raises troubling questions about the new era of precision medicine.”