Ruesch Center Hosts Second Scientific Symposium

November 24, 2010

Schafer family and John Marshall, MD
Schafer family and John Marshall, MD

John Marshall, MD, director of the Ruesch Center
John Marshall, MD, director of the Ruesch Center

Health care professionals, thought leaders, faculty, patients, industry and nonprofit organizations came together on November 4, 2010, for the second Ruesch Scientific Symposium titled “Molecular Diagnostics Drive Personalized Medicine”. The event highlighted the need to develop improved molecular diagnostics and biomarkers GI cancers to reach the goal of personalized of medicine in GI cancer treatment. Presenters emphasized the importance of integrating biomarkers and molecular diagnostics within the clinical setting as well as using biomarkers to improve drug development.

Marshall kicked off Part I of the scientific symposium by reiterating the importance of personalized medicine as a necessary and viable alternative to the standard of care. According to Marshall, the current standard of care for cancer takes a “World War II approach” to treatment, in which physicians “bomb an entire city and hope that the munitions factories are hit in the process.” Marshall believes that this approach is ineffective for a large portion of GI cancer patients and represents and insufficient paradigm in cancer treatment.

Joining Marshall were a panel of national leaders in the field of GI cancer research and policy who explained the role of biomarkers and molecular diagnostics in drug development, the need for clinical integration and the ethical implications of patient selection: Louis M. Weiner, MD, director of Georgetown Lombardi; Anton Wellstein, MD, PhD, professor of oncology and associate director for basic science at Lombardi; Minetta Liu, MD, associate professor of oncology; David Ting, MD, medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital; Lance Liotta, MD, PhD, professor of life science at George Mason University, co-director of applied proteomics and molecular medicine, medical director for George Mason University/Inova Health Systems Clinical Proteomics Laboratory;, Hartmut Juhl, MD, CEO of Indivumed GmbH; and Albert Fornace, MD, professor of biochemistry and molecular & cellular biology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Each panelist shared a brief presentation on the scientific basis of personalized medicine.

Part II focused on the need to integrate molecular diagnostics into the clinic and the market. Andrew Von Eschenbach, MD, senior director for strategic initiatives at the Center for Health Transformation, former acting commissioner of Food and Drugs at the Food and Drug Administration and former director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) gave the Schafer Memorial Lecture on health care reform and the cure for cancer.

The Schafer lecture, funded by the Thomas R. Schafer Memorial Lecture Fund for Research and Education in Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Cancer, was founded in 1999 as a tribute by Schafer’s family and friends. The annual lectureship is designed to share the latest innovations in cancer therapy.

Other experts included Donald Berry, PhD, head of the Division of Quantitative Sciences and chair and professor of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Subha Madhavan, PhD, director of Clinical Research Informatics at Lombardi who spoke about integrating molecular diagnostics into the clinic; Louis Jacques, MD, director of the Coverage Analysis Group at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services; and Kevin Fitzgerald, SJ, PhD, research associate professor and David Lauler Chair for Catholic Health Ethics at Georgetown University who spoke about the impact of personalized medicine on delivery of health care and the subsequent ethical implications. The event closed with a panel question and answer session with Berry, Madhavan, Jacques, Fitzgerald and Eschenbach.

Led by John L. Marshall, MD, the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers was established in September 2009 through a gift from Jeannette W. Ruesch and family. It was founded on a three-part mission of research aimed at a cure, patient-centered care and advocacy for improved research, regulatory and patient care processes. Marshall, who is chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology for Georgetown University Hospital and associate director for clinical research at Lombardi, planned the symposium to bring together scientists, advocates, care providers and industry professionals. According to Marshall, GI cancers remain among the most fatal of cancers and advances in treatment have lagged well behind other disease priorities because of a smaller pool of research funding and fewer survivors to carry the torch of advocacy.

Marshall’s vision of personalized care was published in an opinion essay titled “Fighting a smarter war on cancer” in The Washington Post on November 29, 2009. In this piece, Marshall describes the importance of personalized medicine and expanded cancer research funding. Through both the Washington Post opinion article and other continued advocacy efforts, he seeks to raise awareness of the challenges and barriers to finding cures for all cancers, especially those of the GI tract.

Podcasts from the Ruesch Scientific Symposium are available on the Ruesch Center website.

Author: Nkem T. Wellington