Cancer treatment is undergoing a revolution thanks to advances in the field of cancer immunology and immunotherapy, with thousands of clinical trials currently enrolling patients and FDA approvals of new treatments coming at a remarkable rate. To help the public stay current on the latest advances, the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) has created its Immunotherapy Patient Summit Series, which provides a unique opportunity for patients, caregivers, and patient advocates to come together and hear directly from the field’s leading scientific experts and patients about this exciting new approach to treating cancer.
On Saturday, July 27, 2019, CRI brought its Immunotherapy Patient Summit to Boston for the first time, taking place at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), one of the world’s foremost cancer treatment centers. Brian Brewer, director of marketing and communications at CRI, opened the day by welcoming more than 200 patients, survivors, caregivers, advocates, and healthcare professionals in attendance, setting the stage for a day of learning and discussion about the latest developments in cancer immunotherapy research and treatment.
Mr. Brewer was followed by Dr. Laurie Glimcher, president and CEO of the DFCI, who thanked attendees for coming to share their experiences, reflecting, “I know I speak for the entire Dana-Farber community when I say our commitment to patients drives everything we do every day. You: patients, your families and caregivers—you are the cornerstone of our work.”
Dr. Laurie Glimcher welcomes attendees to the first CRI Immunotherapy Patient Summit in Boston, held at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.
Dr. David A. Reardon, clinical director for the center of neuro-oncology at the DFCI, then gave a brief talk on the basics of the immune system how scientists are working to harness its power to fight all types of cancer. He discussed different types of immunotherapies currently approved or in clinical trials, and pointed to future research needed to determine the best way to combine immunotherapies with each other as well as other treatments to extend its benefits to more patients.
Dr. David Reardon explains during his immunotherapy basics presentation how immune cells operate like trained assassins with specific targets. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.
Dr. Reardon then moderated a panel with Drs. Susanne Baumeister (DFCI/Boston Children’s Hospital), Justin F. Gainor (Mass General Hospital), and Kimmie Ng (DFCI) on the latest scientific and clinical research in immunotherapy. During the panel, Dr. Ng shared, “The most transformative thing for me is that metastatic cancer may actually be curable with this new type of treatment. This is a response and a durability of a response we have never seen before.”
Immunotherapy Research Updates Panel: Drs. David Reardon (moderator), Kimmie Ng, Justin F. Gainor, and Susanne Baumeister. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.
Ariella Chivil, a CRI ImmunoAdvocate, shared her story of self-advocacy and resilience as a young survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma. She reflected on the importance of asking for help and being an expert in your experience: “Talk to your doctor. It’s important that you get the knowledge you need and feel empowered as you navigate your treatment options...” Ariella’s message resonated with many patients in the audience, with one attendee noting, “I feel inspired and more hopeful than I have felt in a long time.”
The lunch break following Ariella’s talk was a great opportunity for attendees to continue the conversation with each other and with expert speakers.
Summit attendees reviewing their notes and discussing the morning session. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.
Throughout the day, attendees had the opportunity to meet confidentially with clinical trial navigators to review their medical histories, to learn about trials in which they may be able to enroll, and to find out how to contact trial coordinators.
A summit attendee meets with a clinical trial navigator. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.
The afternoon session began with a presentation from Mr. Brewer focused on demystifying clinical trials followed by a panel of patients and caregivers to discuss their experiences with immunotherapy. Denise Malone, mom and caregiver of the youngest panelist, Cole, stressed the importance of a team approach throughout his treatment. Cole was one of the first pediatric patients to receive CD-19 targeted chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia at DFCI. Denise discussed her experience of entering the unknown, advising attendees to trust their doctors, but to also “help them to understand your experience.”
14-year-old Cole Malone (center) with his mom, Denise Malone (left), and one of his oncologists, DFCI’s Dr. Susanne Baumeister (right). Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.
John White, a survivor of metastatic prostate cancer, emphasized the importance of genomic sequencing to find the optimal treatment options for patients based on genetic markers: “Genomic sequencing is the first step. You have to advocate for yourself.”
John White shares his experience receiving an anti-PD-1 immunotherapy for prostate cancer. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz
Ernestina Dos Reis was joined by her daughter, Joycelin, on the panel to discuss their experience on a clinical trial combining radiation, chemotherapy, and biweekly infusions of the immunotherapy nivolumab for glioblastoma. When asked about fears going into the trial, Joycelin shared that many of their reservations were mitigated by their oncologist, Dr. David Reardon, who addressed their questions and provided support throughout.
Ernestina Dos Reis, Dr. David Reardon, and Joycelin Dos Reis. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.
The day closed with four breakout sessions focusing on childhood cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, lung and esophageal cancers, and general immunotherapy research. One patient, who attended Dr. Gainor’s breakout session commented, “We are living in the golden era of cancer research and I’m so grateful to be living during it.”
Dr. Justin Gainor answers patient questions about relevant biomarkers for lung cancer during a lung and esophageal cancers breakout session. Photo by Sofia Balog.
Thank you to our wonderful host and institutional partner, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and to all of our sponsors and educational partners who helped to make the Summit possible and promote it to community members in the Boston area. We’re looking forward to our next Immunotherapy Patient Summit on September 7, 2019, in New York City, hosted at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, and encourage you to register for a summit near you.
Register for a CRI Immunotherapy Patient Summit