Clinical Trials, Vaccines and Hope

My hope factor increased today and I hope yours will as well! I got an update today that improved my world! Researchers are working on bringing a whole lot of good our way, and I can’t wait to tell you about it!

Over a year ago I participated in the American Association for Cancer Research Scientist <–> Survivor Program. Today through Wednesday, the AACR is putting on a Virtual Meeting on COVID-19 and Cancer. I really want to tell you about two virtual sessions I attended today: one about clinical trials, and the other about vaccine development.

I was very excited to hear the clinical trials forum speakers talk about how their clinical trial communities have reacted to world changes brought on by COVID-19. I’ve heard some people express fear that clinical trials might take a back seat to COVID-19, but there’s a lot more good reason for hope and optimism! Speakers in today’s forum described how they had worked creatively to overcome challenges, leverage tools and technologies, while focusing on patient safety and accuracy of data.

This pandemic has shifted the focus of many clinical trials to be more patient-centric. Researchers and doctors are finding that telehealth can work really well, and many tests are being done closer to home, sometimes even at home, thanks to the quick pivoting of regulators and investigators which makes clinical trials work effectively in these different times.

Decentralizing clinical trials improves and expands access. Clinical trials accrual is increasing, as is diversity. Underserved populations are being recruited, getting improved access to clinical trials. This is important good news!

[It’s something we have been working on in Canada, too. 3CTN recently announced two new initiatives to increase access to cancer clinical trials, with nearly $1 million in funding from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Great news! #AccessMatters]

Leaders in clinical trial research are not just reacting quickly to unusual times, they are also taking advantage of what they are learning to reimagine and work for a future with better, faster, simpler and cheaper ways of making innovative new life-extending therapies available to people affected by cancer.

The vaccine development symposium was fascinating, exciting and inspiring! Researchers are working at breakneck speed, crushing previous vaccine development records and producing hopeful results. Researchers made it clear that they are building on earlier work of MERS, SARS and other researchers who laid the framework upon which current work is built. Pandemic preparedness matters. #ResearchMatters

So grateful for front line workers, researchers and all who work to make research happen. Thank you.

www.aacr.org #AACRCOVID #hope

More details about the events below these pictures from the awesome AACR Annual Meeting 2019 #AACR19 …

FORUM 1: REGULATORY AND OPERATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF CANCER CLINICAL TRIAL CHANGES DURING COVID-19
1:05-2:05 P.M.
MODERATOR: KEITH T. FLAHERTY, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

José Baselga, AstraZeneca, Gaithersburg, Maryland
James Doroshow, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland
Kristen M. Hege, Bristol-Myers Squibb, San Francisco, California
Paul G. Kluetz, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland
Patricia M. LoRusso, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
Caroline Robert, INSERM U981 (Gustave Roussy), Villejuif, France

SYMPOSIUM 3: COVID-19 VACCINE DEVELOPMENT
2:20-4:20 P.M.

Introduction
E. John Wherry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Rapid SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine development enabled by prototype pathogen preparedness
Kizzmekia S. Corbett, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Bethesda Maryland

Pan-HLA prediction of SARS-CoV-2 epitopes*
Katie M. Campbell, University of California, Los Angeles, California

Sequence-based prediction of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine targets using a mass spectrometry-based bioinformatics predictor identifies immunogenic T cell epitopes*
Asaf Poran, BioNTech US, Cambridge, Massachusetts

A computational approach to identify a possible SARS-CoV-2 vaccine from receptor binding domain peptide sequence on spike glycoproteins*
Majid Al-Zahrani, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Synthetic DNA for EID outbreaks including SARS-CoV2
David Weiner, The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Closing Remarks / Discussion

E. John Wherry

*Short talks from proffered papers

How did it go?

“How did it go?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question the past few days!

I travelled to Toronto last week to meet with MPPs at Queen’s Park, to share my story with the hope that …

Four of us are lung cancer patients/survivors

… and that’s the real issue. What was I hoping for? Well, you know how I feel about funding lung cancer research. Lung cancer causes 27% of cancer deaths in Canada but research only gets 7 cents for each cancer dollar. That’s not fair! I hope for lung cancer research to be fair!

Last week, though, we weren’t asking for research dollars.

On Wednesday morning, Canadian Cancer Survivors Network and Lung Cancer Canada hosted a #Right2Survive Breakfast, with quite a good turnout. Thank you to all of you who contacted your Ontario MPP. Many good conversations were had, and several people spoke from the podium. I took pictures whenever I remembered to, and a professional photographer was present. One of the MPPs told me her people were always telling her to take more pictures and tweet more. I finally had time to tweet during the train trip home! (I’m @JillHW – please follow me if you’re not already!)

I think my cards were an effective way to get across the main point from my story – that lung cancer research makes a real difference for families like ours (and is worth funding) – very powerfully and quickly. Access to innovative new treatments has extended my life! Everyone I gave my card to looked at it, and I think the message hit home.

MPP Robin Martin

I listened as MPPs shared personal stories of losing loved ones to lung cancer. Some of the people in the room were clearly already committed to the cause. Others seemed very interested and open to further conversations and deeper commitments. I was grateful for everyone’s presence there and spoke with as many as I was able. Many good conversations were happening around the room!

One speaker noted that lung cancer kills over 20,000 Canadians every year, the size of a small city every year!

Our three main messages for the day were: screening programs (save lives, time and money), lung cancer patients deserve timely and affordable access to innovative treatments, and patient voices must be heard!

After breakfast, several of us observed Question Period in the Legislature. What an interesting experience! (My first time.) For those who may not know, our provincial government has recently introduced a new plan for families with an autistic child or children. They claim it will help more families, but it works out to less funding per family. Families have been protesting, and that day quite a large number were in the gallery. One after another, members of the opposition introduced families and described their situation and how the funding changes would negatively affect them. It was very sad, very hard to listen to, but it reinforced to me the importance of telling our stories. Clearly the Opposition together had determined this was the best strategy to sway the Government, and I can tell you that it was powerful.

Fellow advocates and CCSN

After Question Period, quite a few meetings were scheduled with MPPs. I wasn’t very nervous about meeting with MPP John Fraser, because I had sat beside him at the pre-election town hall meeting at which I spoke last Spring, and he was very encouraging. This time he expressed interest in our messages and appreciation that I had traveled all the way to meet him there in his Toronto office rather than in Ottawa. He honoured me by listening intently and saying how important my story is. My fellow advocates had many similar experiences in their meetings.

MPP John Fraser and LCC’s Christina Sit

So, how did it go? To be honest, I’m not sure. I plan to ask the organizers what they think, once they’ve had time to process it. They’re the experts. I’m just a voice of lung cancer, telling my story, representing countless others, and trying to do that well.

I hope that it makes a difference – even the smallest difference. That’s what I hope for.

Grace