UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

2015 Year-End Director's Message

The end of the year is always a time for reflection. For those who have devoted their lives to the fight against cancer, we know the passage of time brings us ever closer to realizing our mission of a world without these devastating diseases. In fact, 2015 gave us many opportunities to pause at the passage of time while celebrating our accomplishments at UPMC CancerCenter and its partner, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.Elsie and Henry Hillman

Our greatest sorrow in 2015 was the loss of our dear friend and philanthropist Elsie Hillman, who died in 2015 at the age of 89. Besides being the namesake along with husband, Henry, of our flagship Hillman Cancer Center, Elsie was a true supporter of the work we're doing to treat and end cancer. At the Hillman Cancer Center gala on September 17, we had the opportunity to come together to remember Elsie and celebrate our many partners.

UPCI 30th Anniversary LogoThe event also launched our year-long celebration of the 30th anniversary of our founding on September 3, 1985. And what better present to get than a renewal of our status as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center? The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also announced the renewal of our cancer center support grant for $25.6 million over five years. We have now enjoyed this elite status as the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in western Pennsylvania for 25 years. During this special year, we were delighted that NCI Acting Director Douglas Lowy, M.D. served as the keynote speaker at the 27th annual UPCI Scientific Retreat in June, 2015, discussing his work on cancer prevention through HPV vaccination.

One source of pride for our investigators and hope for our patients is our team science that is robust and flourishing. Under the leadership of Robert Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., our SPORE grant in head and neck cancer was renewed for $10.9 million for five years to enable an innovative scientific agenda on targeted therapy, immune therapy and prevention of head and neck cancer as well as a new project on molecularly-driven therapy for thyroid cancer. We are proud that we continue to house 3 ½ of the 56 SPOREs that are funded nationwide. Also, radiation oncologist Joel Greenberger, M.D., led a multidisciplinary team in the renewal of our Center for Medical Countermeasures against Radiation, an $18 million grant for five years, focused on reduction of side effects from accidental or therapeutic radiation exposure. Finally Greg Cooper, M.D., Ph.D., led a joint effort between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University for an initiative termed Big Data for Better Health in Pennsylvania. This $5 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania tobacco funds will develop methods and software needed to integrate large amounts of molecular, clinical and demographic data to predict clinically important outcomes in patients with breast and lung cancer.

None of our work would be possible without the right people to advance our mission and here are just a few of our leaders who have been recognized this year. Cancer virologist Yuan Chang, M.D., was named by President Obama to serve on the National Cancer Advisory Board. Cancer immunologist Olivera Finn, Ph.D., just learned she will receive a lifetime achievement award from the American Association for Immunologists for her work in cancer immunoprevention. Cancer prevention scientist Thomas Kensler, Ph.D., received one of the inaugural Outstanding Investigator Awards from the National Cancer Institute, a $6.3 million grant to enable his work in dietary strategies for cancer prevention for seven years. Cancer immunologist Pawel Kalinski, Ph.D. was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation while melanoma specialist, John Kirkwood, M.D., and pathology chair, George K. Michalopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., were elected to the American Association of Physicians. In its seventh year, our UPCI Summer Academy hosted 56 rising high school seniors from across our region in an 8-week immersion internship in our labs with the goal of hooking young people on careers in biomedicine. We hope that some of them will be the cancer leaders of the future.

Our clinical mission has never been stronger. As one example of our commitment to quality cancer care, UPMC CancerCenter renewed its designation as a Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI)-certified entity through the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Our nursing colleagues at Shadyside Hospital renewed their certification as one of a handful of Magnet Hospitals in the U.S.

Our clinical research team is making an impact nationally. In November, a new monoclonal antibody, necitumumab, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in combination with chemotherapy for treatment of advanced squamous cell lung cancer based on an international clinical trial led by our own Mark Socinski, M.D. The work is a testament to the fact that great science does lead to better medicine.

None of this would be possible without support from our donors. We give special thanks to Barbara and Herb Shear for their generous donation to support the Shear Women's Cancer and Personalized Medicine Research Fund. On August 25, we held a festive reception to recognize major donors to the Stanley M. Marks, M.D., Endowed Research Fund as well as those who helped us to complete the match for the Pittsburgh Foundation Chair in Innovative Cancer Research. This year the Marks fund is supporting a research collaboration between radiation oncologist David (Andy) Clump, M.D., Ph.D., and basic scientist Christopher Bakkenist, Ph.D., on a potential marker in blood cells that would help to guide radiation treatment for bone metastasis. This exciting work comes as cancer virologist Patrick Moore, M.D., is hard at work as the inaugural recipient of the Pittsburgh Foundation Chair to advance work in cancer-causing viruses. We could not do this important work without generous community support.

Buoyed by so much positive news, we know the promise of progress is truly exciting as we welcome the new year and continue to honor our past and friends like Elsie who have believed in and supported us on this journey. We look forward to 2016 and the hard work that is to come.