Up Close and Personal: MassBio Annual Meeting takes a closer look at customized patient care
By Meaghan Casey
The 2011 MassBio Annual Meeting, titled Personalized Medicine: Every Patient Tells a Story, tackled issues related to the rapidly advancing field of customized, targeted healthcare that could make patient treatment as individualized as the disease.
“We are thrilled to convene a meeting centered on such a timely and vital topic, and are proud to have industry experts, regulatory stakeholders and the patient community represented in the discussion,” said MassBio President & CEO Robert K. Coughlin. “Personalized medicine represents a new frontier for biotechnology, and we believe the Massachusetts supercluster will be at the forefront of conquering that frontier.”
Held at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge on March 21-22, the two-day event opened with a patient address delivered by Emmy award-winning arts and entertainment critic Joyce Kulhawik , a three-time cancer survivor. She described her battle with melanoma and ovarian cancer as “an odyssey that I had no idea was in store for me.”
Kulhawik’s first diagnosis came in 1979, one week before her wedding, when a noticeable mole on her leg was determined to be a malignant tumor. A decade later, Kulhawik faced her second battle with cancer. She began experiencing violent abdominal pain, which initially led doctors to believe it was a pelvic infection or appendicitis. In surgery, they discovered a Stage 1A ovarian tumor, which they removed, along with one of her ovaries. A year and a half later, the abdominal pain returned and a blood test revealed her cancer antigen 125 (CA-125) levels were extremely elevated. The night before her scheduled surgery, she was rushed to the hospital, where surgeons discovered and removed a ruptured tumor. After six months of chemotherapy, Kulhawik insisted on a second-look surgery to determine if she was cancer-free. Twenty-one years later, she is still cancer-free and urging patients to trust their instincts and pursue the path of treatment that is right for them.
“Every person really is unique,” said Kulhawik. “I fell outside of statistical norms every single time I was diagnosed or misdiagnosed. Get a second opinion, listen to yourself and find a doctor who will hear you.”
Dr. Deborah Dunsire, President & CEO of Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, commended Kulhawik for speaking out and advocating for cancer patients everywhere.
“Her story really opens all of our eyes,” said Dunsire. “We learn by understanding the unmet needs of our patients and by building long-term, enduring collaborations with them. It’s with deep certainty that I acknowledge our treatments need to be more targeted. There have to be better ways of directing our therapies to the patients who will benefit most from them.”
Dunsire moderated a panel on the critical role of patient advocacy in science, examining how disease foundations have played a central role in getting patients connected with physicians for treatment and participation in the latest potential cures. Quoting anthropologist Margaret Mead, she emphasized the power of patient groups: “Never doubt the ability of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world. Indeed it is that only thing that ever has.”
Dunsire was later honored with the 2010 MassBio Innovative Leadership Award, recognizing her contributions and commitment to the success of biotechnology in Massachusetts.
“Deborah has been a constant champion for the Massachusetts biotechnology ecosystem and has proven to be a true leader in times of great change,” said Coughlin. “From her passion for solving some of the greatest unmet medical needs of our time, to her leadership role in pressing policy discussions, Deborah is a shining example for the industry in the Commonwealth and beyond.”
“Receiving the MassBio Innovative Leadership award is a terrific honor for all of us at Millennium,” said Dunsire. “If I stand here today, it is only because I stand on the shoulder of giants.”
Millennium employs more than 1,100 talented individuals at its headquarters in Cambridge, where they have developed a pipeline of more than 15 oncology investigational compounds that target a broad range of cancers.
“Innovation is at the core of everything we do,” said Dunsire. “It fuels our scientific programs, drives our business processes and is the driving force behind our aspiration to cure cancer.”
In addition to Dunsire, Somerville High School was recognized with the Innovative School of the Year Award for its efforts to inspire students to explore careers in the life sciences. The school offers an advanced biotechnology curriculum – 20 percent of which is co-taught by guidance counselors and deals with the career applications of biotechnology and modern biology. As part of the award, MassBioEd presented the school with $5,000 for additional supplies and equipment.
The event also featured panel discussions on the topics of gene patents, healthcare reform, social media, translational medicine, evolving business models , the progress of oncology in personalize medicine, advanced diagnostics and regulation, and pathways of accelerating novel medicines. Throughout the meeting and during the reception, posters were on display to present data on groundbreaking discoveries and translational research that could lead to industry collaboration.