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TGen’s Von Hoff inducted into Joshua Lederberg Society

Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff, Distinguished Professor and Physician-In-Chief of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), was inducted into the Joshua Lederberg Society for his work in developing the drug Abraxane for advanced pancreatic cancer patients.

The Lederberg Society is named for the late Dr. Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel Prize laureate and leader in bacterial genetics whose expertise and guidance played a key role in the birth of Celgene, a global biopharmaceutical company that produces Abraxane.

Dr. Von Hoff, who is considered among the nation’s leading authorities on pancreatic cancer, will present a talk during his induction ceremony at 1 p.m. ET today at Celgene headquarters in Summit, N.J. This is the 7th induction ceremony of the Lederberg Society, which annually honors no more than two new members whose work has changed the practice of medicine.

“Dr. Von Hoff’s life long achievements in pancreatic cancer treatment and research are truly remarkable, but even more remarkable is his commitment to the patients who benefit from his tireless efforts on their behalf,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director. “I can think of no one more deserving of this award than Dr. Von Hoff.”

Dr. Von Hoff was the principal investigator of MPACT (Metastatic Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Clinical Trial), a multi-year international study involving 861 patients, at 151 community and academic centers in 11 nations in North America, Europe and Australia.

The study, whose findings were published Oct. 31 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, found that Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel), when combined with the previous standard therapy, gemcitabine, significantly improved overall survival, progression-free survival, and drug response rates for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. As a result of the study, the FDA on Sept. 6 approved Abraxane as a front-line therapy for such patients. In December, the European Commission also granted its approval.

“This is a new standard for treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer that could become the backbone for other new treatment regimens,” said Dr. Von Hoff at the time of the FDA approval. “The fact that Abraxane plus gemcitabine demonstrated an overall survival benefit is a significant step forward in offering new hope for our patients.”

Abraxane wraps traditional chemotherapy, paclitaxel, in near-nano sized shells of albumin, a protein that the tumor could recognize as food. Once inside the tumor, the Abraxane may act like a “Trojan Horse” to release chemotherapy and kill the cancer cells.

Dr. Von Hoff also was the principal investigator for the first clinical trial of gemcitabine, the first therapy to show improvement in survival for patients with pancreatic cancer. The FDA approved gemcitabine in 1996.

The pancreas is a glandular organ behind the stomach that secretes enzymes to help digestion, and produces hormones, including insulin, which helps regulate blood-sugar metabolism.

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TGen, Scottsdale Healthcare study may help pancreatic cancer patients

A multi-center Phase III clinical trial demonstrates that Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel) plus gemcitabine is the first combination of cancer drugs to extend survival of late-stage pancreatic cancer patients compared to standard treatment.
The MPACT (Metastatic Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Clinical Trial) study was led by physicians from Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials, a partnership between Scottsdale Healthcare and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Their findings show that Abraxane plus gemcitabine was well tolerated and resulted in clinically meaningful outcomes compared to gemcitabine alone, the current standard of care. The study abstract was released today and the data will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2013 Gastrointestinal Cancers annual meeting Jan. 25 in San Francisco.

“We are ecstatic that this clinical trial of Abraxane plus gemcitabine improves survival for patients with advanced stage IV pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, international lead investigator for MPACT, chief scientific officer for Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, and TGen’s Physician-In-Chief. “It once again demonstrates that laboratory science based medicine can make a difference for patients.”

MPACT is the largest phase III clinical trial completed in advanced pancreatic cancer with more than 800 patients. Findings from the study showed a 59 percent increase in one-year median survival rates from less than a quarter of the patients (22 percent) to more than a third (35 percent). The two-year survival rate for this cancer is negligible, less than 4 percent, but that more than doubles (9 percent) with the nab-paclitaxel/gemcitabine combination.

One of those patients was Lynne Jacoby, 48, of Phoenix, who works as a director of compliance for a healthcare company. Jacoby was given only weeks to live when her Stage 4 pancreatic adenocarcinoma, a tumor the size of a golf ball, was first diagnosed in April 2012 — nine months ago.

“If you had to live your life in a year, and that is all the time you have, wouldn’t you do everything you could to experience this time,” said Jacoby, who for nearly a year before her diagnosis had experienced night sweats, indigestion, stomach pains, neck and back pain, and an elevated white-blood count.

She began the treatment of Abraxane plus gemcitabine in May 2012 and continues on the medications, saying now that she “feels awesome, wonderful.” She is scheduled to remain on the drug combination through May 2013.

“Life is priceless. No amount of money can be placed on life. I know I would be gone already if it was not for Dr. Von Hoff,” said Jacoby, who also refers to him as “Dr. Von Hope.”

The study showed significant improvement among some of the sickest patients including those with increased metastases. Significantly there was no increase in life-threatening toxicity. Other drug combinations that have demonstrated benefit have been limited by increased toxicities.

“This is a major improvement in a cancer with the lowest survival rates among all cancer types,” said Dr. Ramesh Ramanathan, medical director of Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare and principal investigator for the clinical trial in the United States. “Advanced pancreatic cancer is fourth most common cause of cancer death in the United States and throughout the world. It is difficult to diagnose with a majority of the cases diagnosed at a late stage after the disease has already advanced.”

Abraxane wraps traditional chemotherapy, paclitaxel, in near-nano sized shells of albumin, a protein that the tumor sees as food. The tumor uses various mechanisms to preferentially attract the albumin, which then acts like a “Trojan Horse” to release its package of chemotherapy inside the tumor. It is approved in the U.S. for metastatic breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.

The pancreas is a gland behind the stomach that secretes enzymes into the upper part of the small intestine to help digestion. It also produces hormones, including insulin, which helps regulate the metabolism of sugars.

The incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing worldwide with an estimated 279,000 cases per year, including nearly 44,000 in the U.S. in 2012, and resulting in more than 37,000 American deaths last year.

Individuals seeking information about eligibility to participate in clinical trials at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare may contact the cancer care coordinator at: 480-323-1339; toll free at 1-877-273-3713; or via email at clinicaltrials@shc.org.