A Message From the President:
It is with great pleasure that I present the first edition of “Voyager,” the Atrium Health Foundation newsletter that brings you up to date on our progress at Levine Cancer Institute. As you will see, despite many challenges in the healthcare environment, LCI has had another amazing year. We are on track to see our largest number of new cases in a year, with the expected total being around 20,000. We have completed a great deal of research, with a focus on developments in: bone marrow transplantation (more than 1,000 completed, with results in the top 5% in the U.S.); the use of Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) therapy for lymphoma and multiple myeloma; and new anticancer drugs for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, genitourinary cancers, lymphoma, myeloma, and many other tumors. We have published hundreds of cancer research papers and presented our data at most of the major cancer treatment and research meetings in the U.S. and abroad.
We have also focused on survivorship and care of our patients and families in the long term, with extensive work on psychological support, rehabilitation, pain management, and integrative cancer medicine. We developed the first Financial Toxicity Tumor Board and published our data in the Journal of Oncology Practice – demonstrating that we saved our patients out-of-pocket expenses of more than $60 million per year by helping them with a range of financial issues, such as health insurance payers who were not supporting them. Our mobile lung cancer screening bus, supported by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation and the Leon Levine Foundation, has now screened more than 1,500 uninsured, underinsured, and underserved heavy smokers, and identified 38 lung cancers, mostly in early stage (as reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Scientific Meeting). We have also published data to show that we can achieve the same survival rates in poor and underserved patients as in wealthy, insured patients, and are one of the very small numbers of cancer centers to demonstrate this accomplishment.
If you visit our main campus of Levine Cancer Institute on East Morehead Street, you will see a major new construction – a building that will house our new proton beam equipment, a gamma knife (for brain tumors) and a liquid radiation facility – the first such complex radiation facility incorporating those three modalities in the Southeast. Working together, our radiation oncology team and SouthEast Radiation Oncology have become national figures in the field of radiation oncology, and our Chair, Stuart Burri, MD, headed a plenary session on the treatment of brain tumors at the national meeting of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology. We also have teams of surgical oncologists developing new ways of diagnosing cancer early, and novel and more sophisticated approaches to reducing the side effects of cancer surgery.
Our biggest challenge remains staff shortages and, at times, finding hospital beds when our hospitals are the safety net for so many other conditions. However, we are used to addressing challenges and will continue to provide the best and safest service to our patients and families. Another very complex task is to achieve integration with our friends and colleagues at the Wake Forest Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center; our progress towards integration has been nothing short of spectacular, and a great tribute to the leadership of their interim cancer center director, William Blackstock, and the teams at both centers. I hope you enjoy reading the newsletter provided by Atrium Health Foundation.
Derek Raghavan, MD PhD FACP FRACP FASCO FAAAS
Founding President, Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute Professor/Medicine, Wake Forest School of Medicine
Under the Microscope
Genomic Testing: The Future of Precision Medicine in Treating Cancer
Cancer treatment has become more sophisticated and individualized than ever before. Levine Cancer Institute’s genomic testing program has dramatically expanded the number of patients whose tumors can be tested for genetic factors that would respond to new, targeted therapies.
Because the number of targeted oncology drugs in trials has increased substantially in recent years, molecular profiling plays an essential role in clinical trial patient selection and eligibility to participate in clinical trials. When a mutation found through genetic testing does not have an FDA-approved targeted therapy, it is possible that a clinical trial of a new therapy may hold promise for patients with no alternative treatment options.
Results of LCI’s innovative program to increase genomic testing, led by Carol Farhangfar, PhD, assistant vice president of Translational Research, were published in July 2022 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology’s Clinical Cancer Informatics. The 10-year study demonstrated a process for overcoming disparities and barriers to utilization of molecular profiling at a large, multisite cancer institute in both urban and rural areas. Recommendations from the study include integrating a clinical genomics program into the clinic workflow with tools for interpretation, trial matching, virtual molecular tumor board, and managing concerns regarding patient cost.
“It’s important to have broad representation in clinical trials from patients throughout our communities and provide them with equal access to the most innovative testing,” said Farhangfar. “There are some molecular differences among people from different backgrounds due to their genetic makeup. The more we learn, the better we will become at developing personalized therapies that provide the best chance of a cure for our patients.”
Clinical Research Leads to New Treatment for Lymphoma Patients
Recent advances in CAR T-cell therapy led by Levine Cancer Institute are giving hope to patients diagnosed with cancer, particularly lymphoma. Juno 017001 is a Phase I study testing the safety, pharmacokinetics and anti-tumor activity of JCAR017 in adults with relapsed and refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This novel form of immunotherapy has proven effective in patients who have not responded favorably to traditional chemotherapy. LCI is one of the first centers in the Carolinas participating in Juno 017001, bringing hope to patients in the Charlotte region. Philanthropic support from multiple individuals and foundations helps to bring new clinical trials to Levine Cancer Institute. In addition to the Juno clinical trial, patients with certain types of large B-cell lymphoma will soon have another option: Yescarta. Levine Cancer Institute was one of the first centers in the Carolinas to offer this FDA-approved treatment commercially
Stories of Hope:
One Patient’s Journey Provides Hope for the Future of Pancreatic Cancer Treatment
Clinical trials are essential for the development of new treatments for patients. At Levine Cancer Institute, there are more than 100 clinical trials available to adult oncology patients. Lynne Holcomb’s story illustrates the importance of clinical trials in her remarkable cancer battle with advanced pancreatic cancer.
When Lynne was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer six years ago, she was determined to fight the disease. After she stopped responding to chemotherapy, her oncologist, Dr. Jimmy Hwang, recommended that she participate in a phase I immunotherapy clinical trial at LCI.
Immunotherapy’s goal is to use the body’s immune system to attack cancer with fewer side effects and longer-lasting results than chemotherapy, and it did that in Lynne’s case. Within three months, her tumor shrank by 20%. This progress continued throughout her treatment and even afterward. Four years since her last treatment Lynne has no signs of cancer and is thriving.
From a patient’s perspective, Lynne felt fortunate to have access to this trial without having to travel. “To have that research right here at home is amazing,” she says. After seeing great success from her clinical trial, Lynne encourages others who are candidates for clinical trials to participate.
“Levine Cancer Institute is where the newest, latest, greatest research is,” she says. “If what I went through helps someone else, it’s worth it. It helped me a lot.”
Today, Lynne shares that she “feels great” and stays busy enjoying crocheting, working on jigsaw puzzles, walking the dog, and reading. Most of all, Lynne looks forward to welcoming her first grandchild in the coming months.
Support for Every Step of the Way
Supportive Oncology: By Your Side From Diagnosis to Survivorship
Levine Cancer Institute provides one of the largest and most robust Supportive Oncology programs in the country. A recent report by U.S. News & World Report touts the numerous benefits of this whole-person approach to cancer care and its positive impact for patients. Community support continues to make a profound impact on the Supportive Oncology services LCI provides, at little or no cost to patients.
Incorporating supportive care alongside traditional medical care helps patients manage numerous side effects from cancer, such as nausea, headaches, and pain. Additionally, supportive care is proven to cut back on emergency room visits, curb anxiety and depression, and help those in treatment live longer.
LCI has a world-renowned Department of Supportive Oncology that features all facets of supportive care for patients navigating a cancer diagnosis. LCI’s highly experienced team works in tandem with patients and caregivers to provide the most effective, evidence-based healing modalities for patients. Services include psycho-oncology, survivorship programs, acupuncture, art therapy, music therapy, healing touch massage, and more. Patients are encouraged to incorporate supportive care into their cancer treatment plan, particularly from the standpoint of providing psychological support for the tremendous emotional toll cancer takes on patients and caregivers alike.
“Within the Supportive Oncology department we have eight clinical sections,” shares Declan Walsh, MD, MsC, FACP, FRCP, director of Supportive Oncology. “We have a psycho-oncology section where we have psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, therapists, and others who are all not just experts in their particular disciplines, but they all are also experts in cancer care.”
Top Honors Go to Levine Cancer Institute for Person-Centered Care
At Atrium Health, our dedication to delivering world-class treatment never overshadows our commitment to real people, real families, and real lives touched by our care. From Levine Cancer Institute’s focus on family involvement to its efforts in integrative wellness, LCI teammates put patients at the center of everything they do. LCI is proud to be the nation’s only cancer network awarded Gold Certification for Excellence in Person-Centered Care by Planetree International, and one of only two in the world.
On the Leading Edge
Levine Cancer Institute Breaks Ground on Proton Beam and Gamma Knife Radiation Oncology Facility
Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute (LCI) is grateful for the opportunity to provide patients with cutting-edge, precise radiation oncology options. LCI will soon become the only center of its kind between Washington D.C. and Atlanta, and one of just 38 sites in the country, to offer innovative proton beam and gamma knife radiation therapy treatments to children and adult patients with complex tumors.
When a tumor grows in the brain, lung, eye, head or neck, traditional radiation therapy can pose a risk to critical tissue nearby. Proton beam therapy can offer large advantages in complex tumors, as well as tumors in children, by targeting radiation precisely to the tumor, leaving the areas around it unharmed.
Like proton therapy, gamma knife radiosurgery delivers targeted radiation with extreme precision, leaving very few effects on surrounding tissue. The outpatient procedure does not require an incision or general anesthesia. While it can treat other conditions of the brain, gamma knife radiosurgery’s most common use is for brain metastases.
In March 2022, LCI broke ground on the new radiation therapy facility that will house the two new cutting-edge treatments. Recently, the construction team built the foundation of this center, much of which is happening underground (pictured right). To complete the job, 87 trucks filled with concrete will soon fill up the slab. The next step will be creating the formwork for the vertical walls which will be three stories tall.
During construction of the facility, radiation oncologists will receive specialized training in proton beam therapy and gamma knife radiosurgery. In addition, Atrium Health will hire specialized physicists to join the staff in this work. The center is expected to open in 2023, with gamma knife radiosurgery beginning mid-year and proton beam therapy beginning later that year. Be on the lookout for more updates.
LCI Disparities & Outreach: Bringing Hope to All
Levine Cancer Institute’s Disparities & Outreach Team is committed to reaching under-insured and uninsured
populations across LCI’s service area. This dedicated team works to remove barriers to high-quality care, provides targeted cancer prevention education, and provides free screenings for several forms of cancer, including breast, colorectal, head and neck, lung, prostate, and skin cancers.
LCI’s Project PINK and Project PINK Plus screening programs provided 1,384 free cancer screenings and diagnosed 27 cases of breast cancer in 2021. This vital community program exists thanks to generous donors and sponsors.
To learn how you can support Levine Cancer Institute’s research, clinical, and Disparities & Outreach programs, visit AtriumHealthFoundation.org/LCI or contact us, directly:
Page Stroup, Director of Development
Page.Stroup@atriumhealth.org | (704) 355-0951
Elizabeth Rodriguez, Senior Development Officer
Elizabeth.Rodriguez1@atriumhealth.org | (704) 355-0933