27th - 28th Jun 2016
Dr John Mendelsohn, Director of the Khalifa Institute for Personalized Cancer Medicine and Chairman of the WIN Consortium, and speaks with ecancertv about the upcoming WIN 2016 conference.
The Worldwide Innovative Networking consortium comprises academics, industry figures, researchers and more, working towards innovative approaches and improved patient treatment.
Dr Mendelsohn discusses WIN consortium studies in combination therapies, the value of data generated through system biology approaches, and keynote speakers of this years conference.
WIN 2016: Preview of Speakers
Dr John Mendelsohn - Chairman of the WIN Consortium
The WIN consortium is a group that was formed about six years ago that’s fairly unique, it involves members from four different continents, about two dozen cancer centres, a number of pharmaceutical companies, non-governmental organisations that are interested in cancer, patient advocacy groups and our goal is very focussed, we want to speed up the development of targeted therapies for cancer from the point of view of the patient, get them into practice, get through the trials, bypass things that are slowing things down.
We use a number of mechanisms: we have a symposium every year in Paris like we will have this year at the end of June where about 400 people usually gather together. The speakers come from all of the different viewpoints of cancer, it’s not just a bunch of academics giving research talks. It’s people from pharmaceutical companies, it’s people interested in informatics and data management, obviously academicians interested in clinical trials and there’s plenty of time for questions. We try to teach each other, it’s a fairly open, very instructive meeting.
Then we run clinical trials that would benefit from the diversity of patients. We have patients from India, China, Israel, Europe, North America, South America and we’re very interested in trying innovative approaches using, for instance, three different targeted agents against a cancer rather than just one or two. That presents challenges but it also presents opportunities and we publish some manuscripts and try to influence this field.
What topics will the conference cover?
We have five different topics ranging from how to process huge amounts of information to how do we designate the best biomarkers for which to aim when we select the targeted therapies. It’s a broad but fairly practical approach to trying to assess speedier ways to get drugs to patients.
How does WIN 2016 focus on improved outcomes?
The improved outcome that’s most important to us is survival and it’s become pretty clear in this field that, except for rare types of cancer, one targeted agent which can produce prolongation of life, sometimes 6-9 months, sometimes much longer, it’s not going to be the general answer in the common cancers. So one of the main ideas we have, and it’s not unique to us but we’re trying to speed it along, is to pick two agents and three agents and combine immunotherapies, checkpoint therapies, with some of the new agents that target the gene products in cancer cells that drive the cancer. When we first postulated this about a year and a half ago it was fairly novel and there are more and more people doing this. We have some ideas that will be talked about at the symposium of how we might do this more effectively and more efficiently but we’re willing to learn and we’re willing to teach.
What can attendees expect to see?
We have a number of keynote speakers, so Andrea Califano from Columbia has developed very exciting approaches to systems biology which gather information based on gene expression primarily, also some proteomics. His theme is that mutations and genetic aberrations are important but equally important and not addressed adequately are which genes are expressed and whether they’re expressed in higher amounts or lower amounts and the proteins. He’ll be talking about that and ways to try to apply that to selecting therapy which is really the topic of our first clinical trial. It’s called WINTHER and our first clinical trial that’s sponsored by WIN was taking advantage of the fact that we have tumour specimens and we’re doing careful molecular analyses on these but only about 30% really develop actionable genes in the sense that there’s a drug available that can target that gene. For the other 70% we’ve been using technologies to look at gene expression and our hypothesis we’re testing is can we use gene expression as a way to pick a targeted therapy and will that be as relevant and as effective as looking at genetic aberrations to pick the targeted therapies. We will have now treated our 100th patient; some of those patients, of course, had gene directed therapy based on the genetic aberrations but even more of them had gene directed therapy based on expression. We’ll see if our hypothesis is right, it could be very important and others are interested in this too but we did pilot this, we began this trial over two years ago.
We have Lee Hood talking as one of our keynote speakers, he’s very interested in systems biology approaches and in developing ways of using data to get to the patient. Of course, a couple of decades ago he invented a lot of the equipment that’s used today to do the sequencing so he’s had a long range interest in this. Another one of our keynote speakers is Bruce Johnson who since he agreed to speak has now been elected the President of ASCO, the American Society of Clinical Oncology. His interest is especially in lung cancer but in other cancers and he’s been following the whole area of the biomarkers that allow some of the targeted drugs now to be given in lung cancer. I’ll be interested to see what he’s going to project as future directions in which we might go.
What stands WIN 2016 apart?
It’s interesting if you look at the list of speakers and topics dating back six years ago and moving up to today. Each year we’ve taken the science that’s been produced over the previous year and the previous couple of years and then asked questions relevant to the clinical applications of that science. This year there will be more emphasis on RNA, there will be more emphasis on how to pool data from many different sources in order to pick your therapy. Most targeted therapy today, as I said, has been based in terms of its application on looking for genetic aberrations and if you come to these AACR meetings where we’re speaking today you see more and more evidence, which is no surprise, that genetic gene aberrations themselves are only part of the story and response to therapy is going to depend on many other factors. We’re going to be addressing those at this meeting.
I’d just like to emphasise again one of the unique features of this meeting which we’re talking about in Paris, the WIN symposium, and that is that it’s relatively small, it’s about 400 people usually, and there are people that are looking through many different lenses at cancer. We challenge each other and we talk and a fair number of the speakers are from pharmaceutical companies or biotech companies and from clinical investigators and then people like Dr Califano, who we mentioned, that are really fundamental basic scientists that are trying to apply what they have learned to the clinical question. I think that’s the unique feature of the meeting and I always come away having learned more from that meeting than probably any other meeting that I go to and I hear that stated by a number of people. So I invite anyone that wants to join us the last weekend of June in Paris, which is a lovely time, and get into some heavy science for two days.