Thomas Heineman, MD, PhD, at PanCAN Scientific Summit 2023

Thomas Heineman, MD, PhD, at PanCAN Scientific Summit 2023

PanCAN’s 2023 Scientific Summit was all about sharing – sharing ideas, sharing results, sharing new strategies, sharing potential for collaboration. PanCAN brought together more than 100 current research grant recipients, Scientific & Medical Advisory Board (SMAB) members, patient research advocates, industry partners, staff and special guests for an intense meeting full of science, mentorship and networking.

The PanCAN Scientific Summit was held in Boston and included an opening reception followed by a full day of scientific presentations. In a welcome toast, Gregory Beatty, MD, PhD, Vice Chair of the SMAB, shared, “A toast to remember the amazing potential that we have to make a real difference in the world of pancreatic cancer.

“We are at a pivotal moment where our decisions and actions can challenge the old ways of thinking and bring hope and new opportunities to patients and their families.”

The reception also featured grantees showcasing their ongoing PanCAN-funded projects via poster presentations. The posters sparked animated discussion and allowed early-career investigators to get real-time, one-on-one feedback from leaders in the field.

The next morning kicked off with welcome remarks and an organizational overview from PanCAN President and CEO Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA. Fleshman dedicated her presentation and the meeting to the memory of Gloria Petersen, PhD, a beloved pancreatic cancer researcher who was a longtime member of our SMAB and a research grant recipient, who passed away earlier this year. Dr. Petersen epitomized PanCAN’s Community for Progress – an excellent mentor, a fierce advocate and a dedicated researcher who always kept the patient at the center of her work.

PanCAN President and CEO Julie Fleshman speaking at PanCAN’s 2023 Scientific Summit

Fleshman also took time to introduce and celebrate the newest cohort of research grant recipients – including the 2023 PanCAN Therapeutic Accelerator Award, which was announced in conjunction with the Scientific Summit.

Thomas Heineman, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer of Oncolytics Biotech, Inc., and principal investigator of the Therapeutic Accelerator Award, presented the company’s preclinical and clinical data that serve as rationale for their proposed investigational immunotherapy clinical trial supported by the grant. Pending the results of the early-phase clinical trial, the combination will be considered for entry into the PanCAN Precision PromiseSM adaptive clinical trial platform for further testing.

Attendees also got to hear updates about the PanCAN Early Detection Initiative from Chief Science Officer Lynn Matrisian, PhD, MBA, as well as two-time research grant recipient Wansu Chen, PhD. Dr. Chen presented updates related to her research grant evaluating natural-language processing to identify trends of symptoms in patients’ electronic medical records that may have preceded their pancreatic cancer diagnosis, as well as her newer project focused on identifying participants for the PanCAN Early Detection Initiative based on different measures of changes in their blood sugar.

A session was dedicated to presentations by recipients of PanCAN Career Development Awards in 2021. One of the presenters, Aditi Jain, PhD, spoke enthusiastically about her project focused on a novel protein target to slow or stop the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, and how she was able to leverage her PanCAN funding to receive a new research grant from the National Cancer Institute and has a new manuscript expected to be published soon.

There were also presentations from the 2020 group of Translational Research Grant recipients, whose projects were awarded a one-year extension, funded by Kenneth D. Custance and Gladys C. Custance, honoring the memory of Martha ‘Molly’ Reed Woodroofe, last year. Among the presenters was Susan Bates, MD, who shared that the investigational treatment combination she’s been evaluating in the lab is nearing readiness for clinical trial testing. She also expressed praise for PanCAN and its comprehensive approach, sharing that she routinely refers patients and their families to contact PanCAN Patient Services through her clinical interactions.

PanCAN’s SPARK health data platform was also highlighted through a new partnership with a company called Aitia. Colin Hill, MS, CEO and co-founder of Aitia, spoke about an artificial intelligence (AI)-based approach to utilizing health data stored within SPARK to better understand and predict which patients may respond best to certain treatment combinations and other analyses.

Overall, the meeting facilitated sharing through a collegial and collaborative environment, with intellectual curiosity and robust discussion.

None of this work would be possible without PanCAN’s incredible donors and supporters. To borrow Dr. Beatty’s closing statement from his welcome toast, “Here’s to our shared dedication and the exciting possibilities ahead!”

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