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Over the last 15 years, and with more goals in 2016, ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure) advances breakthroughs in brain cancer research. Learn more in a conversation with Max Wallace the ABC2 CEO.
As cancer patients learn about the cancer world through their journey, cancer nonprofits often come into the picture. In my quest dealing with a brain tumor since 1998, I’ve utilized extensive resources with brain tumor nonprofits, meetings, conferences and community through family, friends, work, clubs and other meaningful sources. Along with receiving, I also engaged in giving through supporting cancer patients, fundraising for nonprofits and hospitals, lobbying Congress during Brain Tumor Awareness Month and through my professional work, speaking in front of the Capitol in Washington DC regarding brain tumors, delivering presentations at brain tumor events for the Senate and members of Congress, brain tumor conferences, cancer nonprofits, hospitals and various businesses.
In 2001, I read about Dan Case, co-founder of Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2) who was also dealing with brain cancer himself. Together with his wife Stacey Case, his brother Steve Case and his wife Jean Case, the organization was started. They turned their family’s pain into purpose: to speed the pace of research that will lead to new brain cancer therapies and, ultimately, a cure. Since 2001, ABC2 has awarded over $20 million to fund brain tumor research.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve learned more about ABC2 and the unique approach their dedicated team takes to advancing brain cancer breakthroughs. I’ve also had a chance to get to know their trailblazing CEO, Max Wallace. Recently I connected with Max to ask some questions about ABC2, specifics about brain cancer, education with resources, and strategies toward cures.
What are challenges in brain cancer that ABC2 helps address?
Compared to other cancer types, biology itself in brain cancer presents an especially difficult challenge. The brain is contained and protected by both the skull and the blood brain barrier. As a result, it’s very difficult to access. It also has many different cell types, all connected to work interactively to control our key bodily functions. This explains major reasons for uniquely specific and selective treatment approaches. Because some people with advanced brain cancer often have poor life expectancies, time may not be available for multiple diagnostic or therapeutic interventions, which makes treatment and research difficult.
What does ABC2 provide when brain cancer patients and caregivers are seeking information?
We’ve created a curated guide to the best brain tumor resources on the web. In the "What Now?" section of ABC2’s website, anyone can find helpful information about brain tumor facts, clinical trials and resources in 10 Steps. From diagnosis, research, decision-making, treatments and clinical trials, 10 Steps addresses those topics and others such as owning health records, tumor tissue and testing your tumor’s genetic makeup. Emphasized in 10 Steps and with more specified information in another section, ABC2 provides brain tumor centers that lists the centers specializing in brain tumor treatments across the country. These centers provide the most experienced doctors, have the best technology and have access to the some of the most promising clinical trials.
How does ABC2 specifically focus on funding research?
We believe that a nimble, focused and aggressive entrepreneurial funding approach will increase the number of therapies discovered and then enable those therapies to be more rapidly driven into the clinic. Revolutions in science come from challenging the conventional wisdom. ABC2 partners with scientists, physicians and drug companies to push the limits of science and technology as well as solve key issues and enable new treatments for brain cancer.
What do you consider the best accomplishments of ABC2 with research?
ABC2 measures ourselves by three metrics — impact, leadership and leverage. In its 14 year history ABC² has made more than 100 grants totaling over $20 million and has had a material hand in bringing a dozen new treatments into the clinic. These include molecularly targeted therapies, repurposed compounds, viral therapies, cellular therapies and vaccines. One of these initiatives, an early ABC2 collaboration with Genentech, led to the May, 2009, approval of Avastin for use in treating recurrent GBM -- the first new brain tumor treatment approved in over a decade. We helped establish the first pre-competitive "head to head" screening initiative to evaluate and compare brain cancer drug candidates. We helped bring The Cancer Genome Atlas project to life with glioblastoma multiforme as the first tumor type sequenced. We have enabled and built partnerships that continue to drive some of the newest and most important work being done in our field today. This is only a start, and there is so much more to do.
What are your top research goals in 2016, and what is required to reach those goals?
We are strong believers in the use of personalized medicine with new tools of high-end molecular profiling to develop highly specific treatments and then use those targeted therapies to better treat patients. Many people talk about doing this, but the approach has yet to be broadly deployed for the benefit of patients. ABC2 has created the Allele project to bring robust advanced genomic profiling to brain cancer patients. We’re collaborating with a team of researchers from the Broad Institute, The Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Johns Hopkins, The Henry Ford Health Systems, Massachusetts General Hospital and The Mayo Clinic to develop a groundbreaking system that provides brain tumor patients and their physicians with rapid CLIA-compliant whole exome molecular tumor profiling. These profiles, provided free of charge, both guide patient care and create a uniquely powerful knowledgebase that will enable better treatments in the future. This new system is already providing profiles that form the front end of a unique vaccine clinical trial at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and there are several more trials in the planning stages. We believe that this system will accelerate the creation of a more standardized and effective approach, improve research, enhance clinical trials, and improve patient care. It will take money, effort, good will, creativity, patience and persistence to get there. And we are excited about the progress so far.
What else do you want to share for brain cancer patients?
We often say that the role of ABC2 is like that of Lewis and Clark — we venture into the wilderness, forge new trails and send back maps for others to follow. In our case, the wilderness is brain cancer. Today in the U.S., 41 people died from the most common form of that disease called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). This also happened yesterday and, unless things change, it will happen again tomorrow. Sadly, physicians are still using the same basic treatment approaches that have been used for decades and, in spite of their best efforts over that time, the average life expectancy for a GBM patient is still about a year. However, new tools and approaches are becoming available that can change this, perhaps materially. We are here to help lead the change, not just by creating and using the new tools to break new scientific trails, but just as importantly, by providing maps and knowledge that can catalyze changes in long-entrenched attitudes and behaviors within the research and treatment communities.
Learn more about Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2) through their website, using their resources, and joining their movement with fundraising and other ways to support ABC2.
For information about the author and 18-year brain tumor survivor, visit Jeannine Walston.