Johns Hopkins Medicine brought a panel of leading experts to tackle the big issues surrounding Precision Medicine to the National Press Club in a series called #HopkinsOntheRoad. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Precision Medicine is “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.” The panel moderated by Washington Post Reporter, Laurie McGinley tackled the big issues surrounding the deployment of Precision Medicine. The panel presented Precision Medicine at a time when immunotherapy models of cancer treatment have moved out of the lab and are now the forefront of cancer care. Immunotherapy has been successful in 15 different cancer types. The anti-PD-1 immunotherapy developed at Hopkins has been called the single most significant advance in cancer medicine.
Antony Rosen, MB, ChB, BSc, Co-Director of Johns Hopkins inHealth and Vice Dean of Research at Johns Hopkins University spoke of Johns Hopkins cross-University Precision Medicine Program pulling in researchers from the School of Medicine, the School of Engineering, the Applied Physics Laboratory, and Information Technology. Dean Rosen said: “Innovation is what attracted me to this country. Innovation is what’s going to drive medicine. It’s our future.” He commented, the program has to have robust patient safety and yet simultaneously look to be “disruptive” from the inside to help these technologies leap forward. The core foundation for this research going forward is public-private-patient partnerships. He remained concerned that access to healthcare continues to be a challenge.
William Nelson, MD, PhD, Director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, is committed to developing “out-of-the-box” approaches that empower patient’s own immune systems to defeat their cancer. He commented, “We are trying to unleash the brakes on the immune system but those brakes are there for a reason.” He spoke of the inter-individual differences that will be coming more into play in Precision Medicine. Dr. Nelson said: “The better we understand precisely who treatment works for, the more judicious we can be with therapy.” He notes that understanding cancer is more than understanding human cells, but also understanding the microbiome that co-habitats within us.
Margaret Anderson, Executive Director of FasterCures, a Washington DC-based center of the Miliken Institute, is driven by a singular goal, to save lives by speeding up and improving the medical research system. She sees an opportunity for “biomedical bipartisanship.” She would like to see that outreach and partnership with patients be as vigorously pursued as research. Ms. Anderson, like all of the panelists, supported the role of the FDA in helping bring these new technologies into patient care as quickly and safely as possible. She echoed Dr. Rosen’s comment, that “Access” is key. How do we get more adults into clinical trials? “Access.”
Roy Baynes, MD, PhD, Senior Vice President and Head of Global Clinical Development and Chief Medical Officer at Merck Research Laboratories sees opportunities for rapid advances in the next five years. He expects improvement in biological markers for cancer. He expects the emergence of combination data predicting the efficacy of therapies. He expects that cancer therapy will become increasingly personalized. As he notes, “The race is on to identify markers for those who will respond well to immunotherapy.”
Glenn Dranoff, MD, Global Head of Exploratory Immuno-Oncology at Novartis suggests that we all will be very surprised at what will be accomplished in the near future. Dr. Dranoff said, “The pace of discovery in immunotherapy is truly breathtaking!” He notes that at this moment, we only know a small fraction of the rules that guide these immune reactions. We want to unlock the tools to increase the effectiveness of the immune response. He cautioned not to slow it down with less funding.
Elziabeth Jaffee, MD, Deputy Director at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and Associate Director at the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, is helping set the national agenda for cancer research and medicine. She is co-chair of the Vice-President’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative. She expressed support for the FDA as they take on the challenge of new therapies. She noted that in recent years, the FDA has helped speed cancer therapies by permitting cocktails of cancer treating medications be evaluated. She expects that cancer therapies will not be single agents, but combinations, often of immunotherapies and chemotherapies.
Photo credits, Ben Boccuzzi, Vox Salutem, Inc.