Welcome CEO Jon Friedenberg

Jon FriedenbergIn 2003, the Human Genome Project made history when it announced that the human genome had been sequenced. Since that time, the science of genomics – utilizing the patient’s individual genetic information or that in the cells of their disease to target treatments that are both more effective and less toxic – has grown to the point that nearly three-quarters of all oncology drugs/agents currently in development are focused on a specific gene, mRNA or protein or other biomarker.

In the early 2000s, I was an executive at a hospital in Silicon Valley and became interested in this emerging science. That interest resulted in an invitation to speak at the 2008 Precision Medicine Conference, the big annual genomics conference hosted by Harvard Medical School. My presentation in turn resulted in an invitation to come to Dallas to meet with the leadership and tour Mary Crowley Cancer Research.

At the time of my site visit in 2009, Mary Crowley was already a leader in genomic trials. Since that visit, I have been following the progress of this truly inspiring cancer research center. The idea that I would one day become the CEO of Mary Crowley never occurred to me…until very recently.

I assumed my new role as CEO in November 2021. I have spent my first six months getting to know the organization and collaborating with our physicians, staff and the board as we plan for our future.

The last several years have seen an increase in the number of trials at Mary Crowley as we have become a preferred site for trial sponsors. Our efficiency, clinical excellence and earned reputation with the regulators have resulted in Mary Crowley being in a position to bring the most scientifically compelling trials to our clinic. This is especially true for genomic trials.

Mary Crowley has been the starting point for 18 FDA-approved cancer drugs that are now part of standard therapy. We are poised to significantly add to that in the near term.

With the support of our donors, physicians and staff, Mary Crowley will continue to conduct the most promising trials whether they be genomic trials, first in human drug trials, immunotherapy trials or a combination. I am excited to be a part of this effort to find new and better treatments for cancer patients.

Best wishes,

Jon Friedenberg
Chief Executive Officer
Mary Crowley Cancer Research

ASCO Findings 2022

After two years of meeting virtually, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reconvened their annual meeting in Chicago in June with attendees from over 100 countries. Clinicians and professionals in the oncology field gathered to learn about clinical care advances across many different tumor types.

This year’s theme of “Advancing Equitable Cancer Care Through Innovation” highlighted the need to uncover fresh solutions that fundamentally improve the lives of all those touched by cancer. Breaking down barriers to access and making cancer care more equitable, convenient, and efficient for patients worldwide. Strategies discussed include telemedicine and updating clinical trial eligibility criterion so that clinical trial patient populations are representative of the general patient population. 

More than 2,800 abstracts were presented during the oral and poster sessions, including the practice changing results of the DESTINY-Breast04 trial. Roughly 50 percent of patients with metastatic breast cancer are classified with HER2-low expression. Traditionally, patients in this setting are offered single-agent palliative chemotherapy. However, readout of DESTINY-Breast04 establishes trastuzumab deruxtecan, a HER2-directed therapy, as a new standard of care option for all HER2 positive (high and low expression) metastatic breast cancer patients.

The ASCO annual meeting is a key opportunity for Mary Crowley Cancer Research to network with pharmaceutical sponsors and contract research organizations. Jon Friedenberg, Dr. Minal Barve, Robert Nunan, and Tina Nghiem attended on behalf of MCCR and met with more than 20 companies to discuss new phase I clinical trials to bring to MCCR. Additionally, the investigators co-authored 13 abstracts on data from the following trials: MC# 19-08, MC# 19-17, MC# 19-25, MC# 19-35, MC# 19-39, MC# 20-13, MC# 20-28, MC# 20-42, MC# 21-10, MC# 21-11, MC# 21-14, MC# 21-25, and MC# 21-40

The MCCR team thanks all patients, caregivers and referring oncologists for their support of MCCR and contribution to clinical research. Without the patients’ commitment, there would not be encouraging advances to share at conferences like ASCO.

Emotions and Feelings Matter, Too

Emotionsby Jackie Castillo, LCSW

Everyone deals with common stressors in life, some are predictable and others unexpected: Stuck in traffic, Paying the bills, Waking up late, taking care of kids, car breaking down, finding money to pay for car, so on and so forth. For many people these daily stressors are manageable and cause no major issues. So what happens when someone receives a medical diagnosis like cancer? Just verbalizing the word cancer can trigger so many different kinds of emotions/stressors. When you are in the midst of treatment, physical symptoms become so important to monitor to help remain stable. I would also argue that paying attention to how you are feeling is just as important. 

Unmanaged mental wellbeing can cause:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Change in appetite 
  • Change in mood
  • Tension in the body
  • Trouble focusing on the present

Coping with mental health is not a one size fits all. Some people may work their feelings out by exercising and releasing endorphins or other may find that a good cry or great conversation with a friend might help. 

It’s OK to not be OK.

If you find that your feelings are becoming too much to handle or interfering with the day to day don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are plenty of people you can connect to that can provide some care
and expertise:

  • Physicians 
  • Physician Assistant
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Nurses
  • Nurse Navigators 
  • Social Workers

Even as a mental health professional myself, I have to find time and outlets to make sure my wellbeing is in the best shape to be able to help patients and caregivers to the best of my ability. Each of these individuals listed above may have different options or resources to figure out how to help best manage your needs.

Event Watch: Pushing Hope & Swing Fore Hope

MCCR partnered with ZERO—The End of Prostate Cancer for the inaugural event, Swing Fore Hope in June 2022. Held at Top Golf Allen, featuring Honorary Chair and guest speaker, former news anchor Scott Murray, the funds raised from this fun-filled afternoon will allow Mary Crowley to open more prostate cancer clinical trials. Swing Fore Hope attendees enjoyed golf, a unique rafflle, good food, and networking, Thanks to the generosity of our participants $30,882 was raised, half of which will go toward prostate cancer research at Mary Crowley. 

In August 2022, the annual Pushing Hope event was held in Alton, Illinois, benefitting Mary Crowley Cancer Research 100 percent for the tenth straight year. Activities at the event included golf and a corn hole competition. MCCR CEO Jon Friedenberg and members of the development staff were on hand at Pushing Hope, which raised more than $183,000 due to the hard work of the passionate volunteers and participants.

Tom Hulsey on his Escape from Alcatraz

Tom HulseyTom Hulsey is not only a MCCR Board member, he is also working on a mission to be a “Men’s Health Champion,” in all aspects of the word “health.” Part of this mission included participating in a “bucket list race” for him, the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco.

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and as a prostate cancer survivor, Hulsey was proud to be selected to run this year’s race back on National Cancer Survivor’s Day®, June 5, 2022.

Before he had cancer, Hulsey considered himself a very fit person and receiving his cancer diagnosis years ago on his birthday made him feel “like a fraud.” At first, he was uncomfortable to share his diagnosis with anyone but once Hulsey made the decision to share his story, he worked quickly to generate awareness, authoring his book, “The Winning Mindset that Saved My Life,” which is now in its second edition.

“It can happen to anyone, you can’t control your parent’s genes,” stated Hulsey. Hulsey uses platforms such as the triathlon to generate awareness for men’s health as well as the many organizations he supports, such as Mary Crowley and the group he supported with the triathlon, Real Options for City Kids.

In the triathlon, Hulsey “got out of [his] comfort zone” in race that is just as much “mental as physical,” facing cold water currents of the San Francisco Bay and a hilly bike ride through thick rain and fog.

Hulsey is grateful for his introduction to Mary Crowley because of their work to “give patients hope” which aligns with his personal mission through his physical activities and advocacy as well as his writing.

The Heroes Among Us

SuperheroBy Jocelyn Alvarez Allgood

This year, Mary Crowley Cancer Research was the 2022 winner in the D CEO Magazine’s “Innovation in Health Care” category under the leadership of the center’s new chief executive officer, Jon Friedenberg.

For more than two decades, Mary Crowley Cancer Research has been bringing hope to cancer patients “through the evolution of personalized medicine” by conducting clinical cancer trials in finding cancer treatments. The goals of the clinical studies are simple - to prolong the lives of the patients and give them a better quality of life while faced with all the challenges that cancer brings along. Patients have been coming to Mary Crowley with nothing but hope in their hearts and an uncertain outlook but with a deep commitment toward a brighter future in the treatment of cancer. 

Every morning, they dress up and come to the clinic with so much to give knowing what little time they may have on their hands. They are ordinary folks: someone’s mom, dad, sister, brother or grandparent, who have accepted the cancer diagnosis yet are still willing to fight to the very end. 

They are the heroes among us, unnoticed, unknown and unrecognized, who put their hearts filled with hope toward making a difference in the lives of others. They are the miracles the world has not seen. They show optimism and cling to the promise of tomorrow that someday cancer will not be as fearful as it is today. They do what must be done, whatever is necessary to not only to make the clinical trials successful but also to inspire others that we’re all in this together; that we’re all fighting cancer together – hand in hand.

Every battlefield has its heroes. Every hero has his or her stories. Every one of our patients has stories of hope and inspiration to share with the world. Like a soldier in battle, they never give up, never surrender and fight all the odds against them. They keep going even when their bodies want to give up. The desire to win is always there, knowing that success and victory may be just around the corner. They know that they may or may not reap the benefits of a new cancer drug or a new treatment, but it gives them hope knowing that other cancer patients will benefit from their sacrifices and the hope that springs eternal from their hearts.

They are the reasons we, at Mary Crowley, wake up every morning and come to work to lead a purpose-driven life in helping the scientific community conquer cancer.

Some of our heroes have come and gone, but they have never been forgotten. And they should never be forgotten. In them, we saw a glimpse of ourselves – the courage they had shown, their determination and tenacity they had shared with us—to stick to the fight even when there’s nothing left but hope. 

When we give patients’ hope, they share it with friends and family, who walk the path with them toward a better life. With the possibility of a patient’s brighter future, loved ones and trusted friends can help calm the patient’s fears and keep the spark of life going. 

Cancer heroes show immeasurable courage, which is sustained by the inner conviction they will beat the cancer beast. Without hope, our patients see no future. Without hope, then what are we fighting for?