Before we completely put 2015 in the rearview, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a quick review of the progress and impact that we made, together, last year. (Note: NBTS will have a more comprehensive Annual Report later in the year). We’ve already taken a look back at some of our staff’s favorite memories of the year, and now we want to look, specifically, at the advances made toward better treatments and a cure that were only possible because of your support.
Past Funding Begins to Bear Fruit
Early in the year, we learned some encouraging initial results from three groundbreaking projects that NBTS had previously helped fund.
- In early March, a new study highlighted in the prestigious scientific journal Nature presented findings from a small trial that appears to demonstrate that adding the common tetanus (or “booster”) shot can help “prime” glioblastoma (GBM) patients’ immune systems to enhance the therapeutic effect of a type of experimental immunotherapy.
- Later in the same month, a story on the popular news program “60 Minutes” revealed the exciting early results from a trial using a re-engineered poliovirus to treat GBM patients.
- Then in June, two major studies (one of which NBTS helped fund) were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which demonstrated how gliomas (astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, or oligoastrocytomas spanning grades II to IV) are more accurately categorized and classified by molecular and genetic analysis than current histopathology methods.
“These molecular data help us better classify glioma patients, so we can begin to understand who needs to be treated more aggressively and who might be able to avoid unnecessary therapies,” Dr. Daniel Lachance of the Mayo Clinic said of the studies.
As the year went on, we continued to report results from studies we’ve funded through donor support that are helping the scientific and medical field understand brain tumors and how to best treat them.
Public Policy Advocacy Kicks Into High-Gear
Thanks to extraordinary volunteer support, engagement, and commitment our Public Policy Advocacy Program has continued to grow since it launched in 2011, and 2015 was easily our biggest year yet.
Starting in May, our annual Head to the Hill advocacy day drew record attendance and participation. And the work our volunteer advocates and staff did on (and off) Capitol Hill clearly resonated with policy-makers in Washington:
- In July, the bi-partisan 21st Century Cures Act – which would improve polices related to brain tumor research and drug development – passed the U.S. House of Representatives, with the Senate working on a companion bill.
- In September, legislation NBTS helped create as part of the Alliance for Childhood Cancer – the Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research (STAR) Act – was introduced and has since amassed an incredible 124 members of the House of Representatives and 12 member of the U.S. Senate co-sponsoring the bill.
- In December, NBTS was afforded the opportunity to meet the Vice President Joe Biden’s staff to discuss our ideas and recommendations for his recently announced “cancer moonshot.”
- The number of co-sponsors for the NBTS-backed Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act increased by 44 in the House and five in the Senate on a bi-partisan basis.
The year was then capped off with a last minute budget deal in Congress that provided more funding for pediatric brain tumor research, as well as more funding overall for the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.
Overall, NBTS volunteer advocates sent more than 5,000 messages regarding our legislative agenda and priorities to their members of Congress.
Expanding the Oligodendroglioma Research Fund
In 2013, NBTS gave out the first two grants as part of Oligodendroglioma (Oligo) Research Fund to Drs. Anders Persson of UCSF and Drs. David Louis and Mario Suva of Massachusetts General Hospital. We called that “Phase I” of the Oligo Research Fund. Next, we awarded Drs. Robert Jenkins and Daniel Lachance of the Mayo Clinic a grant in 2014 as part of “Phase II” of the project. While the grants for Drs. Persson and Louis and Suva wind-down, and Drs. Jenkins and Lachance are in mid-stream of their project, NBTS announced yet a third-round of grants from the Oligo Research Fund this past September.
After looking at the science coming out of the Oligodendroglioma Research Fund, we conducted a landscape analysis, which showed that the development of clinical biomarkers for oligodendroglioma was key to translating research findings into treatments that can benefit patients.
“Previous funding through our Oligodendroglioma Research Fund has, thankfully, provided some much-needed knowledge about how these under-studied tumors develop and progress, as well as a number of potential treatment targets for precision therapeutics,” said Carrie Treadwell, chief research officer, National Brain Tumor Society. “Implementation of a clinically relevant biomarker development research program will now provide the foundation for realizing precision-based medicine by providing an important bridge between early research studies and later clinical evaluations. Advancing clinically testable targeted agents will depend on biomarkers.”
Within the next few months we will be reporting out on the outcomes, accomplishments, and impact of the Phase I grants, as well announcing some exciting new oligo and low-grade glioma projects.
Defeat GBM Research Collaborative Produces Key Findings
Our signature research effort, the Defeat GBM Research Collaborative, produced two big findings in 2015:
- In August, a new study discovered that glioblastoma tumors can use two common nutrients in the body to promote resistance to targeted cancer therapy. This finding could be used to help researchers develop interventions that alter tumor metabolism and make treatments for GBM more effective.
- In October, Defeat GBM-funded research discovered a completely new process whereby EGFR alterations – which occur in the majority of GBMs – fuel tumor growth, and, importantly, identified a potential way to exploit these changes in tumor cells to treat GBM using a class of anti-cancer drugs already in development.
Taken together in 2015, the Defeat GBM Discovery, Predictive Markers, and Systems Biology research teams really started to dive deeper into mapping the total effects known molecular alterations have on GBM cells so that treatments can be developed with the ability to overcome the resistance we typically see from GBMs. At the same time, the Drug Development core began to look at drug combinations that could work against GBM, and is concurrently developing a number of new preclinical testing tools that will continue to aid future drug testing.
Moving into 2016, Defeat GBM is looking to add an immunotherapy core, and to continue to plan how the discoveries happening in Defeat GBM might inform the GBM AGILE trial.
A hallmark of NBTS’ strategy is to foster collaboration and help the brain tumor field work together, instead of in silos, to find better treatments and ultimately a cure. In 2015, we announced a new partnership; united with other groups, scientists, and doctors in a global research effort; and reported results from one collaborative effort already underway:
- The Jumpstarting Brain Tumor Drug Development Coalition – which NBTS leads with Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), the Musella Foundation for Brain Tumor Research and Information, and the Society for Neuro-Oncology – announced that a consensus agreement had been reached for a new protocol for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in brain tumor clinical trials. This new protocol, called the Brain Tumor Imaging Protocol (BTIP), will help better assess if a new treatment is effective.
- During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September 2015, NBTS announced a new partnership with the V Foundation for Cancer Research to fund pediatric brain tumor research. Specifically, V Foundation introduced a new collaborative initiative between our two organizations to help fund a new, innovative molecular-driven pediatric clinical trial for pediatric high-grade gliomas, including DIPGs.
- In November, NBTS helped launch what is being called “historic” and a “sea change” in brain cancer research, the GBM AGILE Trial. NBTS participated in the conception of the trial, and will co-chair the Patient Advocacy Committee for this global effort.
We look forward to these efforts yielding new and more positive results in 2016.
More Hope for Pediatric Brain Tumors on the Horizon
In the sections above, we’ve already mentioned a number of new efforts that initiated in 2015 to help accelerate progress in a therapeutic area where research funding and investment in drug development has underserved the immense unmet medical need of children with brain cancer. And in September, we also finalized plans for, and announced the leadership of, the Defeat Pediatric High-Grade Glioma Research Collaborative, set to be the research arm of Project Impact, our latest, comprehensive pediatric initiative.
Between our alliance with the V Foundation to fund pediatric brain tumor research, re-opening an extra funding stream for pediatric brain tumor research through the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Fund, and the introduction of the Childhood Cancer STAR Act, pediatric brain tumor research was primed in 2015 for a path to more effective treatments.
Raising Awareness and Bringing the Community Together
In 2015, NBTS hosted two inaugural events that served to bring members from all corners of the brain community together to unite for the common cause of finding better treatments and ultimately cures for brain tumors. These two events, were incredible illustrations of passion, energy and community support:
- In May, the inspiring Grey Soiree, hosted through the generosity of brain tumor research advocates and philanthropists Ashley and Alan Dabbiere at their home in Virginia, raised more than $1 million to fund high-impact science and raise critical awareness.
- In October, the first National Grey Gala in Boston celebrated and honored leaders and change-makers in the field of brain tumor and cancer research. The event, which gathered hundreds of patients, survivors, and caregivers, as well as trailblazers in the area of brain tumor science, research, and public policy, raised more than $260,000.
On the heels of the Grey Gala, our annual Scientific Summit which convened renowned leaders from all aspects of the brain tumor field — many actively engaged in our ground-breaking research initiatives — to share our collaborative work, explore emerging opportunities, and build strong and diverse partnerships to fast-track new discoveries toward a cure.
Finally, we continued to provide valuable news, education, and insights to the brain tumor community via our communications channels, chief among them this blog. To see our Top 10 Blog post of 2015, visit here.
We invite you all to stay tuned with us throughout 2016. We’ll soon be sharing some thoughts/hopes/predictions for the year from top neuro-oncologists, our own vision for 2016, and, of course, more outcomes from the initiatives we are able to undertake with your support.
Our work is not completed until we’ve found a cure, and every dollar you give brings us closer.