For Ed Fritsch, a Second Career in Immunotherapy

Read ACIR and UCIR co-founder's interview in "Inside the Institute" from the Dana-Farber.

Read ACIR and UCIR co-founder's interview in "Inside the Institute" from the Dana-Farber.


Create successful ePaper yourself

Turn your PDF publications into a flip-book with our unique Google optimized e-Paper software.



July 21, 2020 Volume 25, Issue 19

A Dana-Farber



Riders and volunteers of the Pan-Mass Challenge

(PMC), presented by the Boston Red Sox Foundation,

have faced nearly every obstacle Mother Nature can

cook up. From torrential downpours to sweltering heat,

nothing has forced riders off the course. This year,

however, the event is against perhaps its toughest

challenge yet. Due to COVID-19, the PMC will be a fully

virtual experience for the first time in its 41-year history.

It is called “PMC 2020 Reimagined.”

Despite the monumental change, riders haven’t shied

away from this new challenge. On the first weekend of

August, Matthew Davids, MD, MMSc, director of Clinical

Research, Adult Lymphoma Program at Dana-Farber, will

be one of 10,000 participants taking part in this year’s

PMC. Davids has participated in the event every summer

since joining Dana-Farber in 2011. He says the PMC has

become a tradition that is the highlight of his whole year.

“It is incredibly gratifying to see people come out

and support the work we do,” explains Davids, a leader

on Team FLAMES (Fast Legs and Minds Ending Suffering).

“It reinvigorates and re-inspires me to work as hard as

I possibly can.”

The Future of Oncology Research

As a researcher and oncologist, Davids is committed

to treating patients and advancing cancer care. Last year,

his team presented the initial results of a phase 2 clinical

trial for a novel combination therapy approach for patients

with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): a form of blood

cancer. The scientific rationale for the trial was developed

by Davids and his colleagues a few years ago and was

initially supported in part through PMC funding.

Since its founding in 1980, the PMC has raised

more than $717 million to advance cancer research

and treatment at Dana-Farber. For years, researchers

like Davids have used some of these funds to collect

preliminary data which helps secure additional funding

from other sources. “I would not have been able to get

Reimagined, page 4

Ed Fritsch, a seasoned leader in the biopharmaceutical field, was looking forward to retirement until a life-altering loss

motivated him to join the fight against cancer in a new way.

For Ed Fritsch, a Second Career

in Immunotherapy

An accomplished career in the biopharmaceutical

industry behind him, Ed Fritsch, PhD, was a month away

from retirement in 2009 when he and his wife, Jan,

learned that the breast cancer she had been treated

for five years earlier had returned. The opportunity

for enjoyment to which they had both looked forward

became, instead, a struggle with a relentless disease

that would take her life a year and a half later.

Fritsch experienced the period afterward as “an

emptiness.” But, like many whose lives have been touched

by cancer, he discovered, almost as a gift, a revived sense

of purpose. He knew personally, and from extensive reading,

“that despite considerable scientific progress, cancer was

still winning,” he remarks. “I wanted to change that.”

“My wife’s dying put me on a new mission,” he says.

“In many ways, it’s like finding a new love, it brings out

the best in you.”

In Fritsch’s case, it’s clear that his best was far from

depleted at the time of his original retirement. Over the

past decade, his achievements sound more like those of

an innovative young scientist and entrepreneur than of one

who was anticipating the relaxation of his golden years. In

addition to working on one of the most promising types of

personalized cancer vaccines, he helped lead a startup to

manufacture it and created websites to inform scientists

and the public about advances in cancer immunotherapies.

Now, as he begins his second tour of duty at Dana-Farber

(he originally worked at the Institute from 2012-15), Fritsch is

focusing on the next generation of the personalized vaccine,

NeoVax, that he played a key role in developing and producing

during his first time at the Institute.

Ready to Ride

Fritsch got to know Dana-Farber during the treatment

of his wife, whose primary oncologist was Daniel Silver,

MD, PhD, now of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center

Second Career, page 2

Patient Navigator Aims to Eliminate

Cancer Disparities in Her Home Country

As a patient navigator, Nancy Peña, OPN-CG, is attuned to

helping others overcome obstacles. She guides patients through

a complex health care system and provides resources they

need to help make informed medical decisions. Whether it’s

serving as a liaison between the patient and provider, arranging

transportation, or identifying available services, Peña aims to

empower every patient so they can better manage their health.

While many of these services are essential for cancer

patients in the United States, they are nonexistent in many

other countries around the world. Peña is originally from

Guatemala, and still has family living there. Frustrated with

the lack of support cancer patients were receiving in her home

country, Peña launched an initiative to help them gain access

to necessary treatment and services.

“It is a privilege to work at Dana-Farber with so many

incredible people,” says Peña. “Why wouldn’t I share

everything I’ve learned to help those who need our help

the most?”

Humble Beginnings

Peña began with encouraging self-education. She started

by collecting and mailing free educational material to cancer

patients interested in learning more about prevention, treatment,

and the importance of regular follow-up appointments.

Patient Navigator, page 3

Visit the DFCI intranet at dfcionline.org

News of Note

Second Career, continued from page 1

Frank Is Chair-Elect of

Medical Sciences for AAAS

David Frank, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine

at Harvard Medical School, has been named the Chair-Elect of

the Medical Sciences Section of the American Association for

the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Frank has been with Dana-Farber since 1990. He earned

his medical and postdoctoral degrees from Yale University.

He maintains a clinical practice at Dana-Farber and runs a

David Frank

lab which is focused on researching signaling pathways that

are important in normal cell growth that become corrupted in

cancer. These studies have led to the identification of new targeted therapies currently

being tested in clinical trials.

The AAAS is the largest multidisciplinary scientific society in the world, and is the

publisher of the journal Science. It aims to “advance science, engineering, and innovation for

the benefit of all people.” The different sections of AAAS focus on particular areas of science

and Frank will have an opportunity to bring his expertise to its Medical Sciences Section. ITI

Noonan Published in CJON

Kim Noonan, RN, NP, was recently published in the Clinical

Journal of Oncology Nursing (CJON). Her article focuses on

competencies for oncology nurse practitioners (ONPs). Noonan is

chief nurse practitioner at Dana-Farber where she treats patients

in the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center. She is also a

member of the clinical team of the Irene M. Ghobrial, MD, lab.

The article aims to define the importance of competencies

for ONPs in the medical field. Competencies are considered

Kim Noonan

the benchmark standards which set expectations and

responsibilities for medical professionals. Noonan outlines

how they are imperative in education, clinical practice, and administration.

Noonan also states that they create a standard of cancer care across a variety of

settings. “The updated ONP competencies will enhance the ability of ONPs to provide

quality cancer care and provide much-needed definition of the current role,” writes

Noonan and other authors of the article.

The CJON is published bimonthly by the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). It focuses

on“clinically relevant, evidence-based content for oncology nurses in diverse roles and

practice settings to use when caring for those affected by cancer.” The journal aims to further

the mission of the ONS in its pursuit of excellence in oncology nursing and cancer care. ITI

Demetri Honored by ASCO

George D. Demetri, MD, director of Dana-Farber’s Sarcoma

Center, senior vice president for Experimental Therapeutics,

and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has been

honored with the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and

Lecture by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

The award recognizes an oncologist who has made outstanding

contributions to cancer research, diagnosis, and/or treatment.

Demetri specializes in sarcomas and studying their

George Demetri

biological characteristics in order to help create new

therapies to target them. Demetri was instrumental in

developing a therapy to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). The therapy

revolves around tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Altered tyrosine kinases are an important

driver in turning normal cells into cancerous ones. Demetri and his team verified that a

signal transduction inhibitor, like a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, is an effective treatment

for patients with GIST. His work led to the development and U.S. Food and Drug

Association’s approval of imatinib mesylate (Gleevec).

ASCO aims to improve cancer patient care through developing new and improved

therapies based in breakthroughs in technology and molecular biology. David A.

Karnofsky is considered to be a pioneer medical oncologist who dedicated his career in

oncology to the successful use of chemotherapy to treat cancer patients. ASCO honors

Karnofsky each year by recognizing an oncologist who has distinguished themselves by

contributing important work to the field of oncology. ITI

at Thomas Jefferson University. His

first venture into the cancer field after

her death was a physical challenge –

as a rider in the Pan-Mass Challenge

(PMC), presented by the Boston Red

Sox Foundation. Despite some initial

trepidation – “It was mind-boggling to

think about riding 200 miles in two days”

– he will ride his 10 th PMC this year. The

event contributes 100% of ride-raised

funds to the Institute’s research and care.

Fritsch was determined to contribute on

a scientific level as well but hadn’t focused

on cancer in his biopharma career. He

scoured scientific literature daily to learn

“what was exciting, and where the field

seemed to be moving.” Then, he “came

across immunotherapy, which involved

proteins, antibodies, cells – all things I was

familiar with as a molecular biologist.”

A meeting with Glenn Dranoff, MD,

then the co-leader of Dana-Farber’s Cancer

Vaccine Center, led him to Catherine Wu,

MD, of Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute

of MIT and Harvard, and Nir Hacohen, PhD,

of Massachusetts General Hospital and

the Broad Institute, who created and were

developing NeoVax, a personalized vaccine

made from bits of proteins identified by

sequencing each patient’s tumor cells.

Wu and Hacohen explained the project

to Fritsch one morning over coffee. “It

took me 10 seconds to say I wanted to

be involved,” he relates. “It was a real

challenge, but one with great potential.”

The development of the vaccine became

“a virtual company within Dana-Farber,”

Fritsch says, and has produced impressive

results in clinical trials involving several

cancer types. In 2015, a real company was

formed – Neon Therapeutics – which Fritsch

co-founded with Wu and Hacohen and

joined full-time.

A Researcher’s Digest

Fritsch came to his second career

with impressive credentials. He is the

co-author of Molecular Cloning: The

Laboratory Manual, considered the bible


of cloning techniques, and during his

30-year biopharma career had a major

role in the development of six successful

biologic therapies. His late-career

burst of productivity didn’t end with

Neon Therapeutics, nor did his family’s

experience with cancer.

Less than four years after his wife

passed away, his son Matt, an engineer

at Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, died of

melanoma. Matt had wanted his SpaceX

stock to go to cancer research, which Ed

and his daughters, Lisa and Kate, thought

was a great idea. Fritsch didn’t just want to

make a donation, though; he wanted to do

something special. Reflecting on the period

after his wife’s death, when he would

devour scientific literature in search of

promising trends in cancer research, Fritsch

had an inspiration. “I thought: What if we

summarized new research papers and made

them easy to understand, and sent the

summaries free to whoever wants them?”

The result was Accelerating Cancer

Immunotherapy Research (ACIR), a notfor-profit

scientific news service he cofounded

with Ute Burkhardt, PhD, also

an alumna of the Wu lab. The site is now

used by scientists around the world to

stay current with research advances. It

was followed by Understanding Cancer

Immunotherapy Research (UCIR), a site

geared to a lay audience.

In using the stock to found ACIR and

UCIR, Fritsch carried out his son’s wishes.

The latest chapter in Fritsch’s career

came earlier this year when he rejoined

Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute

to help develop the next generation

of NeoVax.

“Being part of this project over the

years, I still see tremendous opportunities

in this approach to cancer vaccines,

as well as significant challenges,” he

comments. “We need to do better, to find

ways of producing personalized vaccines

faster and less expensively, and to

increase their effectiveness. Their

potential remains immense.” RL

I come to work for my colleagues and

for our patients. I’m one of the first

people our patients see, and being

there allows me to give them some

consistency in the midst of uncertainty.

All of us will always be here for them –

pandemic or not.

— Cindy Quijada, BSN, RN

Inside the Institute is produced by Communications.

The next issue will publish on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.

Story ideas are welcome. Email Jessica Cassidy.

Dana-Farber shares patient stories that may include descriptions

of actual medical results but are not intended to represent typical

results. Dana-Farber provides personalized care for each patient

based on their unique needs, and their experiences will vary.

Steven R. Singer

senior vice president for Communications

Michael Buller

senior director, Content and Creative Services

Gillian Buckley

associate director, Content and Creative Services

Naomi Funkhouser

manager, Content and Creative Services

Jessica L. Cassidy

managing editor

Lee Whale


Sam Ogden

senior photographer


John Digianni, Deanna Finlayson,

Austin Fontanella, Emily Leclerc, Robert Levy,

Richard Saltus, Saul Wisnia

Inside the Institute is printed on

30% recycled post-industrial fiber.

2 | Inside the Institute

Visit the DFCI intranet at dfcionline.org

Patient Navigator, continued from page 1

Peña soon began to understand more about the barriers

many low-income Guatemalan cancer patients face. In

Guatemala’s public hospitals there is a lack of immediate

access to radiation treatment. Cancer patients often have

to wait six months or more, and many are charged the full

amount even when they qualify for subsidized plans.

“Lack of immediate radiation access is what got me off

the bench,” says Peña. “This community needs our help

and I couldn’t just stand by.”

In 2017, Peña introduced Guatemala’s first patient

navigation program taught in Spanish, known as

Navegación de Pacientes Internacional (NPI). By the

following year, she had launched a pilot program using

five cancer survivors as volunteer patient navigators.

They helped ensure patients had access to their

treatments, as well as emotional support and guidance.

Since their founding, the group has helped more than 300

low-income patients gain access to cancer treatment.

Earlier this year, Peña conquered another milestone:

The NPI was approved as a recognized nonprofit.

Vision for a Better Future

For all their success, Peña says there is still a lot of

work to be done. Currently, the NPI is working to help

Guatemalan public hospitals that are dealing with a

physician shortage. Many patients don’t have access

to interpreters despite the country having 22 different

native languages spoken.

“It’s impossible to just copy and paste what we do here

in Guatemala,” adds Peña.

To get a better understanding of the situation, the

NPI plans to launch a new 3-6-month research study

this October to train select oncology staff members as

patient navigators in Guatemala’s largest public hospital.

Through the program, they hope to collect information

on the current patient population and demonstrate the

value of the position. Peña is optimistic the study will

help pave the way for paid, clinically trained patient


“This is a way for us to help decrease cancer

statistics while also increasing survivorship among

low-income patients,” Peña points out. “We want to

showcase what this position can be and how it can

help all patients.”

“Nancy’s work is truly inspiring, and her impact is

far-reaching,” adds Deborah Toffler, MSW, LCSW,

senior director of Patient Care Services. “It has been

amazing – though not surprising – to see all that she is


For more information on the work being conducted

by NPI, visit npint.org. AF

An Unexpected Friendship

When James Nauen was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2016, he knew he wouldn’t

have to go through it alone. With his wife, Kim, and their two young daughters by his side,

Nauen would have support and inspiration. What he didn’t know at the time, was that he’d

soon meet other advocates, motivators, and even a friend at Dana-Farber.

In 2016, Nauen, then just 49, was diagnosed with early-onset, stage IIIC rectal cancer

– meaning that while advanced, the cancer had not yet spread to other parts of his body.

Nauen originally contacted his primary care physician for the hemorrhoid-like symptoms

he was experiencing. The physician ordered a colonoscopy to put Nauen’s mind at ease by

ruling out a number of serious conditions. Instead, the results were devastating.

“The diagnosis was the hardest news I ever had to take,” recalls Nauen. “I’m supposed

to be in my golden years of health. The last thing on my mind was cancer.”

Nauen was referred to Dana-Farber, where he was placed under the care of Kimmie

Ng, MD, MPH, director of the Institute’s Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center. Nauen

needed to undergo radiation and chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumor before surgery.

The combination therapy worked, and in July 2016 the tumor was removed.

“I didn’t originally understand how lucky I was to get Dr. Ng,” adds Nauen. “If your

oncologist is the quarterback of your care team, I have the Tom Brady of oncologists.”

Comfort and Support

Nauen enjoyed clean scans for the rest of 2016, but in October of the following

year his cancer had returned and metastasized to lymph nodes in his right groin. He

would need another round of chemotherapy followed by a second surgery.

In the infusion room on Yawkey 7, Nauen was introduced to his new primary infusion

nurse, Melissa Perna, BSN, RN. The two instantly hit it off, and it wasn’t long before

they considered one another family.

“Jim has a way of making you feel seen and important even when he’s the one going

through so much,” says Perna. “Patients like him are the reason I love my job. I want to

do everything I can to help him come out on the other side.”

From jokes to dating advice, Nauen’s personality is infectious, Perna adds. While

the two love to laugh, they don’t shy from difficult discussions either. When it was

discovered in October 2019 that Nauen had a recurrence at the site of his original

surgery, Perna was one of the first people to help him work through the development.

And, in the wake of COVID-19, Perna provided additional comfort and support during

his infusions when his wife couldn’t be with him due to visitor restrictions.

James Nauen (left) says that the support and guidance he received from Melissa Perna (right)

and other members of his care team were monumental to his treatment’s success.

“Melissa is the best blend of coach, nurse, and psychiatrist. I couldn’t have gotten

through all 14 chemotherapy treatments without her. She was 100% invested in a

positive outcome for me,” says Nauen. “If she didn’t realize it already, I hope she knows

she is one of the best and Dana-Farber should take great pride in that.”

Last month, Nauen successfully underwent his third surgery and is currently

recovering with his family. Despite everything he’s been through, Nauen is still

optimistic about the future and says he’s hopeful he’ll be able to make it out to the

golf course before the end of the season.

“The end of my story is not yet written, and I refuse to believe I’ll have a bad ending.” AF

Images of Hope

Cancer doesn’t stop, and neither do Dana-Farber heroes like (l to r) Michelle Physic, Neil Gilbert, and Alexis Hartfield. ITI

Images of Hope highlights Dana-Farber faculty and staff during the COVID-19 crisis.

Inside the Institute | 3


Oncology Fellows Shape

Their Curriculum

Ascribing to the adage that experience

is the best teacher, leaders of the

Dana-Farber/Mass General Brigham

Fellowship in Hematology-Oncology

turned to a valuable resource to help

revamp the program’s first-year clinical

curriculum: veterans of the program.

Senior fellows in the program

collaborated with faculty from the three

partnering institutions – Dana-Farber,

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

– on the revisions. The updates launched

with the new class of 16 fellows that

started July 1. Previously, first-year fellows

spent the initial six months of their clinical

training at Dana-Farber and Brigham and

Women’s or MGH, and then switched

for the following six months. Now, they

will move back and forth monthly. They

will also train within a small number of

treatment centers (such as breast and

gynecologic cancer) each week, rather

than switching centers on a daily basis.

“The old structure felt like two halves

of one program rather than an integrated

curriculum,” says Dana-Farber’s Ann

LaCasce, MD, MMSc, an institute

physician and director of the fellowship

since 2011. “Consolidating the program

enables them to build knowledge and

confidence in each type of cancer.”

Three chief fellows who have

graduated from the program – Robert

Stern, MD; Chris Nabel, MD; and

Chris Reilly, MD – helped devise the

new system. Stern, who has a masters

degree in Education from Harvard and

now serves as an associate director of

the fellowship, says that the revised

curriculum is designed to better help

fellows learn the complex management

of hematology and oncology patients in

just one clinical year.

“Before, fellows would have a

gastrointestinal oncology clinic once

a week, take notes, and then wouldn’t

have time to think about it for the next

six days,” says Stern, now a staff

physician at Brigham and Women’s.

“We wanted to create an environment

where a fellow can participate in up to

four clinics per week within a single

disease group. We hope that it will

help them feel a part of the clinical

group and be able to consolidate their

learning in that disease area.”

Since 1973, the fellowship has been

one of the largest and most prestigious in

the world. Among its 500-plus graduates

are the heads of cancer departments and

centers across the country, and LaCasce

is one of many former fellows now at

Dana-Farber (see right).

“My time as a fellow was careerdefining,”

says Dana-Farber Chief

Scientific Officer William Hahn, MD,

PhD, also interim chief operating

officer. “It validated my choice to

devote my career to cancer research

and the care of cancer patients, in

the hopes that we would change

how cancer is treated. I have been

fortunate to have several fellows in

my lab, some of whom are now faculty

here and elsewhere.”

The success of the program – and

its continuous evolution – is a source

of pride for its founder, Dana-Farber

Vice President of Faculty Affairs Robert

J. Mayer, MD. So are the close

relationships formed by each year’s

incoming fellows.

“There is this incredible camaraderie

and generosity that marks who the

fellows are,” says Stern. “The shared

experience is what makes the program

so amazing.” SW

Fellowship Leaders at

Dana-Farber and Beyond

Faculty who trained in the Dana-Farber/Mass General Brigham Fellowship in

Hematology/Oncology (formerly the Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care Fellowship

in Hematology/Oncology) say it was a transformative time that led them to be leaders

in the field.

“The fellowship program established a set of mentors [for me] that endured,” says

Benjamin Ebert, MD, PhD, a fellow from 2001-2005, is now chair of Medical Oncology at

Dana-Farber. “Perhaps even more important, my cohort of fellow from our year has

remained close colleagues, collaborators, and friends.”

Ann Partridge, MD, PhD, vice chair of Medical Oncology and director of Dana-Farber’s

Adult Survivorship Program and a fellow from 1998-2001, says she benefited from mentors

with a passion for research and hands-on clinical faculty willing to step back and let

fellows lead. “I don’t think I could have been at a better place to work, learn, and grow

as a trainee,” says Partridge. “The teachers and exposure to a wide variety of clinical and

research experience during training and early faculty years prepared me well.”

Medical Oncology Chairman Emeritus George Canellos, MD, who helped develop the

Fellowship Program, says its success is his “greatest satisfaction” in his nearly 50 years

at Dana-Farber.

“The Institute’s best product – more than the scientific data we’ve generated – is

the people we’ve developed,” says Canellos.

Steven Artandi, MD, PhD, director, Stanford Cancer Institute

Robert Bast, MD, vice president, Translational Research, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Paula O’Connor, MD, U.S. head of Medical Affairs, Oncopeptides

William Oh, MD, chief of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Mount Sinai Health System

Amanda Paulovich, MD, PhD, Aven Foundation Endowed Chair, Fred Hutchinson

Cancer Research Center

Ned Sharpless, MD, director, National Cancer Institute

Reimagined, continued from page 1

Delivering Care Safely

Harold Burstein, MD, PhD, pretends to use a stethoscope during a virtual

appointment from his office. Dana-Farber patient, Cheryll Plunkett (left), and her

husband find humor in his creativity. Telehealth quickly gained traction during

COVID-19, and it supplements or substitutes in-person visits for many patients. ITI

Dana-Farber’s Matthew Davids has participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge since 2011.

Despite COVID-19, he and thousands of other riders gear up to take on the challenge virtually.

this work off the ground without that crucial initial seed funding,” he says.

Davids understands the power of advances in research as they not only offer patients

new treatment options, but also a renewed hope in the fight against their cancer. The results

of the work done at Dana-Farber has the potential to benefit patients around the world.

Preserving Solidarity

Organizers are working hard to maintain the feeling of unity that’s synonymous with

the annual event. In addition to an official virtual start symbolizing the commencement

of the ride on Aug. 1, there will be a virtual “Living Proof” toast at the end of the day

to honor those currently undergoing, or who have undergone, cancer treatment. It’s a

way to stay connected to the mission and remind participants why they ride.

As someone who not only cares for cancer patients, but also has a personal connection

to the disease through family members treated at Dana-Farber, Davids felt compelled this

year, more than ever, to help raise funds.

“Being able to participate in this event each year is a true honor and a privilege,” says

Davids. “Funding for cancer research has been put into crisis mode due to the pandemic.

If you are financially able to help, it is more important this year than ever to do so.” AF

To learn more about the PMC, and how you can help, visit pmc.org.

4 | Inside the Institute

Hooray! Your file is uploaded and ready to be published.

Saved successfully!

Ooh no, something went wrong!