July 21, 2020 Volume 25, Issue 19
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
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
“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.
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based on their unique needs, and their experiences will vary.
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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
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
“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
“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.
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