Friday Frontline: March 15, 2019

Published on: 

From FDA news to today’s top performers and entertainers, here’s what’s making headlines in the cancer space this week.

Norman “Ned” Sharpless, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), will serve as acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner starting in April, 2019, according to an announcement from Alex M. Azar III, the secretary of health and human services. The announcement was made a week after Scott Gottlieb, M.D., stated his resignation as head of the FDA, effective next month.

Sharpless, a physician and scientist, joined NCI in October 2017, after serving as the head of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina. An enthusiastic supporter of Gottlieb’s policies, Sharpless will likely pick up where Gottlieb leaves off in his efforts to curb youth tobacco and e-cigarette usage. While it is not yet established whether Sharpless will lead the FDA long-term, he was considered the “likely pick” to replace Gottlieb. Sharpless is already well acquainted with the agency, Gottlieb said in a staff memo provided by the FDA. “One of the things that made me appealing to the White House was that in addition to working in research and as a cancer center director, I’d had some work in the commercialization of ideas, from a basic science lab into a phase 2 trial asset,” Sharpless told STAT News in a 2018 interview.

Photo courtesy of "Nolan's Tribe of Warriors Against Cancer" Facebook Live Video

A Facebook Live broadcast showed police from Bolivar, Missouri searching for marijuana in the belongings of a patient with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, according to the Kansas City Star. The patient had recently stopped chemotherapy and was facing end-of-life care at Citizens Memorial Hospital. Bolivar police say they were responding to a complaint about someone smoking marijuana. When the patient told officers he had taken a cannabis pill outside of the hospital to ease his pain, they searched his personal items until a doctor intervened. The City of Bolivar police department and Citizens Memorial Hospital both released statements following the incident: The hospital issued an apology to the family, admitting they, “fell short of expectations”; the Bolivar police department’s statement noted that the police acted lawfully and are using this as an, “opportunity to learn, teach and improve.”

A woman was awarded over $29 million by a California jury in a superior court case against Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday. The woman said asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products are responsible for causing her mesothelioma. The health care giant is currently facing more than 13,000 talc-related lawsuits across the United States. The company said it would appeal the decision, citing, “serious procedural and evidentiary errors” during the trial. “We respect the legal process and reiterate that jury verdicts are not medical, scientific or regulatory conclusions about a product,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement. The New Jersey-based company denies that its talc products cause cancer, citing numerous studies on their web page entitled “Our Talc is Safe.

Paddy Doherty, “Celebrity Big Brother” winner and star of hit TV show “Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” announced he has received a prostate cancer diagnosis and is facing two operations this week at Manchester Royal Infirmary. “The pain got so bad that I actually thought about taking my own life on two occasions,” he told The Sun. Doherty, 60, initially kept quiet about his diagnosis but decided to speak out in order to urge other men to get screened for prostate cancer.

"The only people who have known about this are my wife, my brothers and sister. And it was my wife who suggested I should speak out about the condition — she said it might encourage other men to get themselves checked out,” Doherty told The Sun. "Men don't talk about these things…but the bottom line is this: I was in a bad way.” He added, “This has definitely been the biggest battle of my life but it’s one ill determined to win.”

Actor James McAvoy is auctioning off his Oscars shirt, signed in red Sharpie marker by dozens of “acting royalty” to donate to Ronald McDonald House New York, a charity that provides housing and support for pediatric patients with cancer and their families. McAvoy has been a long-time supporter of the charity, and the actor’s Instagram encourages fans to donate $10 to Ronald McDonald New York for a chance to win the shirt, signed by stars including Charlize Theron, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Sophie Turner, Jason Momoa, Helen Mirren, Taylor Swift and many more.

“When I found a Sharpie lying on the floor, I just asked people to totally deface my beautiful white shirt,” said McAvoy on the campaign’s Prizeo page. “Sure, it was an off-the-cuff, alcohol-infused idea, but now I get to auction it off and raise money for an organization that means a lot to me!”