3 Changes Coming To Clinical Trials

Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

Clinical Trial Changes

If you have a “rare” cancer that doesn’t have a great standard of care, chances are you will be offered a clinical trial. To the general public (which is who we all are before that diagnosis is presented) clinical trials sound like a scary thing. To a cancer patient being told there is no cure, a clinical trial is a lifeline being tossed in a stormy sea. IF you catch it, it MIGHT help save your life.

So how do you pick a clinical trial? Well, first you have to find one that you qualify for. We’re going to assume that you have a doctor who is really helping you and is presenting you with some choices. So you have a couple of clinical trials and the “standard of care” to choose from. How do you decide? Right now, it’s a guessing game, but all of that will be changing rapidly as technology and open access data become more commonplace in the process.

  1. You will have more concrete data to help make decisions. I have seen some pretty impressive technology being developed by Clalit Research Institute in Israel that will help a doctor walk through a list of weighted questions with a patient that will help them make this difficult decision. (That program was developed using data made available from a clinical trial, and as more data becomes open access, I think we can expect to see more applications like this developed.) Each patient will be able to rate a list of possible side effects and based on their feedback, an algorithm will provide guidance on particular trials.
  2. You will know more about what “successful” patients look like. As data begins to become collected in one place, it is easier to compare patients on a genomic level. Researchers will be able to compile profiles of successful patients to help determine who has the greatest chance of success on a trial. My son participated in a clinical trial where one patient was doing really well. We had no idea if David would have the same results because there was very little data to tell us why the first patient was successful.
  3. The system will start to find you. Right now, clinical trials are found largely by patients and doctors sifting through websites like clinicaltrials.gov to find possible trials. In the future, doctors will enter your information into the computer, and then you will be pre-qualified based on your exact diagnosis and personal information. The computer will then present a list of potential trials that you can choose from.

This all might sound a little too good to be true, but the fact is, the infrastructure is already in place. Cavatica.org is an open access research platform that Dragon Master Foundation and others have been funding for more than three years now. It houses a patient’s full genome and biosamples from the patient, and sometimes the patient’s parents. It also links to the patient’s clinical records so we can have a longitudinal view of that patient. I believe it is the single most complete picture of a patient you can get, and we are working hard to make it available to everyone. (At the moment, it is largely working with pediatric brain cancer data, but the platform is built to expand as funding becomes available.)

Data like this can take a lot of the fear and guessing out of treatment, and it should lead us to more successful treatments and cures. We are on the cusp of a meaningful shift in cancer care, and I’m excited for this to start really impacting patients lives.

Who’s Really the Enemy Here?

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

hawking

When someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the gut reaction is to attack that disease. That’s certainly how we felt when David was diagnosed, and our initial efforts were focused on ending Glioblastoma (GBM) because that was the type of tumor David had. We were not involved in the world of research, and that seemed the most logical  course of action to us. To strike back at the thing that struck at us.

We thought we knew how to help. As we learned more, we realized that we needed to help find cures for brain cancer as a group of cancers because there is a lot that can be learned by studying them together. We also felt like we needed to help that community as a whole because they are so underserved. A broader goal brought us into contact with many more researchers, and many more ideas.

We were energized by some of the sharpest minds in research, and realized that the kind of analytics we wanted to do are really best empowered by studying all types of cancer, and even other diseases, in tandem. The most cutting-edge research points to cancer being mutations in genes and studying the mutations, regardless of the starting point in the body, is leading to new research pathways.
Cancer is a disease that has plagued humanity for generations. In all that time, we have mostly dealt with it as a disease of a particular body part. We now know that it is much more complicated than that, and we need to empower researchers to follow many pathways.
David had a bright and curious mind. For him, helping researchers was never really about helping himself. It was always about helping other people and solving the puzzle of cancer. Brain cancer is the beast that took David from us, and we would love to see that disease wiped out for good. But what if the answer to curing brain cancer lies in pancreatic cancer research? What if the answers we seek lie in the cure for  fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive? (That’s a super interesting rare disease that has been connected to the brain cancer DIPG. You can learn more about that here.)
It’s human nature to strike back at the thing that hits you. But do we really even know what that thing is? Dragon Master Foundation is focused on putting all of a patient’s information into one giant research platform. It’s a database, yes, but it is also a place where researchers can collaborate and gain access to biosamples. It has a patient’s full genomic data, but it also has their treatment path over time. It gives us a more complete picture of what is going on with the patient and what treatments are successful. It can help us understand why certain patients do well on a clinical trial and some don’t. And possibly most important, it looks at patients across many disease types to compare and contrast things like gene mutations. Instead of having one small group of researchers working on a problem, this platform makes it possible for any researcher, anywhere on the planet, to work on high quality data to help find cures.
Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday. It’s a time when people around the world put a few of their hard-earned dollars into the hands of a charity that they hope can change the world. I’m convinced that Dragon Master Foundation is one of the most deserving places you could make your donation. Here are a few of the reasons why:
  • No one at Dragon Master Foundation gets paid.
  • We direct all of our research dollars directly into this one project that is already speeding research. (One doctor said that it shaved a month and a half off of his typical tissue request workflow!)
  • This project has the potential to help patients with cancer as well as a host of other medical conditions.
  • Through this portal, research can be done on both adult and pediatric populations.
  • It was listed as part of Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Fact Sheet.
  • It is open access – meaning researchers don’t have to be part of a special consortium to access the data.
  • It is cloud based – meaning the researchers don’t have to download petabytes of data that can take days to acquire. It also means they are not dependent on their hospital’s computational power because they can do their work directly in the web.
Dragon Master Foundation isn’t the only foundation funding this. As of right now, there are 13 hospitals and more than twice as many foundations putting resources toward this project. However, many of them have a specific disease focus where they direct their resources. By donating through Dragon Master Foundation, you can be assured that your donation will go to building the infrastructure that will help all patients, all researchers. This isn’t just a gift to help researchers. This is a gift for mankind. This #GivingTuesday, you can  be part of the generation that changes the world.

Bliss

Uncategorized

I’ve always liked that word. Bliss. Just saying makes me breathe a little deeper. I’ve liked the word, but I don’t think I truly understood the phrase “ignorance is bliss” until David got sick. I had no idea how lucky I was that I hadn’t had to watch a loved one battle cancer. I had no idea that the word “Momcologist” existed. I had no idea that having my child die from cancer would just be the first in a long line of unspeakable tragedies that I would have a front row seat to watch.

Ignorance can be bliss, but it can also be what holds us back. As humans, we are held back because most of us don’t  take the time to learn about disease and the obstacles facing medical researchers. I get it. Really. I was not a big fan of science or math in school, and reading anything other than Harry Potter at bedtime was not on my radar. But while I sat there doing my horrible Hagrid impersonation, a disease was lurking that would steal my son’s life. If someone had told me, I think I would have felt helpless. Cancer is a disease that has plagued the world forever. How could I possibly do anything to stop it?

But something happens to you when your child is threatened. Your bliss is shattered, so you start asking questions. You scream out to the world that it isn’t fair, and you get the echoes of countless other parents as your answer. The power to stop cancer lies within us. Ok, not me, most likely, but within someone. Maybe it will be someone in the oncology/cancer research field. Or maybe it will be some computational biologist or mathematician or astrophysicist. But it won’t happen if we sit by, blissfully ignorant that they need our help. THEY NEED OUR HELP. I don’t care what it is that you do, you can make a difference in the war on cancer. 

There is an open access platform called Cavatica that will bring top quality cancer data to the people who want to find cures. It is free for them to see because hospitals and foundations are paying to make it that way. But we are spending our money on building infrastructure – not big marketing campaigns. That’s where you come in. 

You are a single flame, but you could be the spark that starts the explostion (all props to Rachel Platten). Please tell people about Cavatica. Tell them that there is a new way to make discoveries for cancer research. Tell them that every type of cancer is important and that everyone deserves a chance to defeat cancer. The beta version is open to cancer researchers right now at Cavatica.org. Let’s make your moment of bliss the moment you hear that they have found a cure.

(Side note: couldn’t find a pic that illustrated my point with people, so this is a shot of my cat looking blissful.)

What A Rollercoaster!

Dragon Master Foundation

Like a rollercoaster as the last car eases over the top of the hill, we are hurtling forward after what felt like slow movement. The projects that we have been working on for the last three years are picking up speed. We have said all along that the way to change cancer research is through greater collaboration, and that message was loud and clear at this month’s Cancer Moonshot Summit at Howard University. There was an extremely diverse group of cancer research advocates brought together to hear Vice President Biden’s ideas and then work together to share our own ideas for how to bring about 10 years worth of change in the next five years. I think that idea might have scared some people, but we have already seen amazing advances using the Cavatica platform, so we know that kind of rapid improvement is possible. 

I know that there were many events held around the country, and we even hosted an event at WSU in Wichita, but many of you may not have had a chance to really see what happened during the day of the Summit. I wanted to give you my perspective on the day, and I hope it fills you with the kind of hope I have for the future of cancer and disease research. 

We started the morning with American icon Carol Burnett. She was delightful, as always, and the fact that she took the time to be there with us spoke volumes about how amazing this effort really is. Vice President Biden shared some of his frustration with us over costs and lack of progress, and we learned about some of the goals of the Cancer Moonshot initiative from Dr. Danielle Carnival, Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force. 

There were several other speakers, all of whom underscored the need for this important gathering and continuing effort by the community. We broke into work sessions for the morning, and I was placed in the “Solving the Technical Challenges to Unleash the Power of Data” group. That was no big surprise! 

I was incredibly humbled by the people in my workgroup. From industry veterans who have been working on making genomic data available like Warren Kibbe to bright, young innovators like Daniel Wagner who are challenging the way we look at and access the data. It was a fast-paced discussion that resulted in some great ideas.

We all returned to the general session for lunch where we could share ideas in a less-formatted way. I had the great pleasure of sitting with Dr. Charles Powell from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Our discussions covered everything from rare forms of Mesothelioma to the latest imaging technologies. There’s nothing quite like watching a doctor get a look at new technology that will help him do his job more effectively, and I had the pleasure of watching that at lunch. It is simply amazing what we are gaining access to through new technologies. We got a great look at how Siemen’s is turning analog scans into digital data that can be used for comparative analytics. That will be great in Cavatica!

After lunch, we heard some great speakers who spoke about collaboration. I think some of these were available on the live broadcasts, and they are available for viewing here:

Then we were off to our afternoon workgroup sessions. My session was on “Data: To What End?” and our insightful speaker to start the session was none other than David Agus. 

IMG_0598

We talked about existing collaborations, and I finally had a chance to mention Cavatica, the sharing platform we have been funding. The attendees seemed a little stunned that we already have 10 hospitals not only sharing digital data, but biosamples as well. There was still some sentiment among event attendees that it would be hard to get scientists to share their pre-publication data, but the doctors at the 10 Cavatica institutions are truly putting children, and indeed all humans, first. This level of collaboration may be unprecedented, but it is the wave of the future and that was evident from the number of people looking to learn more about our platform. I was so honored to be able to share about the many hospitals and nonprofits who have come together to build this amazing resource. I believe it could be the model by which all future research is done. 

After a pretty exhilarating working group, we returned to the main hall to hear Greg Simon, Executive Director of the Cancer Moonshot. Dr. Adam Resnick and I got to speak with him for a few minutes after the event was over, and I felt like he was truly trying to pull together all the resources he can to make the end of cancer a reality in our lifetime. 

IMG_0654

The event ended with Dr. Biden and the VP Biden speaking to the crowd and asking for a prolonged commitment to working together for cures. I believe we have that commitment from everyone that attended this important event. 

We returned home to find out that we have been accepted into the Revlon “Love Is On” Challenge. This is an amazing opportunity, not only to raise much needed funding for the research platform, but also to raise awareness for the platform and explain how it can improve research around the world. You’ll be hearing a lot from us about this, but there are two things you can do right now to make a huge difference:

  1. Sign up for our Thunderclap to announce the contest. We’ve used this before, and it is quick and easy. You give one-time permission to Thunderclap to send out a message on our behalf. The message will ask people to support Dragon Master Foundation in the “Love Is On” Challenge. Sign up here: http://thndr.me/ukBgiJ
  2. Sign up as a fundraiser for the “Love Is On” Challenge. This will give you a fundraising page of your own, which will allow you to easily share the challenge with your friends and family. We are asking that everyone make a minimum $10 donation because that is what is needed to count for the contest. Those $10 donations could easily be turned into ONE MILLION DOLLARS if we win the contest. We’ve won social media contests like this before, so we know with your help we can do it again.

 

#Cavatica Cancer Research Database Has Launched!

Uncategorized

The day is finally here, and I am so excited! Today is the day the beta version of Cavatica launches to the cancer research world. A dream we had almost three years ago is coming true today. It’s not done. Technically, it will never be done. It will always be adding new patients and more information. Putting that aside, it isn’t as “done” as we want it to be. There is more functionality to add. There is plenty of DNA sequencing yet to be completed. But today, there is a pretty awesome database that is already unlike anything else cancer researchers have had access to before.

If you know a doctor or researcher, please tell them about this awesome resource. We will continue to build it out and make it better, but I think they will be blown away – even right now. (Say those last three words in your best Southern accent. That’s the only way to truly give them the emphasis they deserve.)

Here is the official press release:

The Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium (CBTTC) and the Pacific Pediatric NeuroOncology Consortium (PNOC) conclude Brain Cancer Awareness Month of May with the announcement of the Beta launch of Cavatica, a new cloud-based environment for securely storing, sharing and analyzing large volumes of pediatric brain tumor genomics data.

Cavatica will, for the first time, allow doctors, researchers and data scientists unparalleled access to pediatric brain tumor genomic data paired with a suite of analysis tools in a cloud computing environment that enables scalable, faster and more robust research. Upon its full release, Cavatica will host the largest standardized, integrated, and quality-controlled genomic database of pediatric brain cancer genomic data.

Working with Seven Bridges, a biomedical data analysis company, the eight CBTTC site members and 15 member hospitals of PNOC are further fulfilling their commitment earlier this year to the White House Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) with the launch of the Beta version of Cavatica being announced today. The Beta release will be open for subscribed end-user input and will be iteratively enhanced by ongoing implementation of advanced platform features and deposition of additional data sets over the coming months. These datasets will include additional pediatric cancer supporting pan-cancer pediatric data analysis in partnership with additional consortia. including the SU2C-St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Cancer Dream Team.

Sign up for access to the Beta release of Cavatica is available for researchers and data scientists by going to cavatica.org.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact the CBTTC at CBTTCadmin@email.chop.edu