Louis J. DeGennaro, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, discusses the organization’s multifaceted mission and its priorities for the upcoming year, including a unique research initiative.
Louis J. DeGennaro, PhD, is president and chief executive officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and is the key architect of LLS’s cures and access agenda. He conceived and pioneered LLS’s Therapy Acceleration Program®, which is a philanthropic approach to accelerating new treatments through drug discovery and partnerships within the biotechnology industry. DeGennaro leads LLS’s $300 million advocacy agency which is headquartered in Rye Brook, New York.
OBR: The LLS’s mission in conquering blood cancers is multifaceted, encompassing research, advocacy, and support. Can you give us an overview of some of your major initiatives for 2018?
LD: For 2018, we will focus on ensuring access to new therapies through educational programs, guidance and navigation through clinical trials, and financial aid. High on the agenda is expanding clinical trial support and drug discovery and development. We will have new efforts in survivorship, and costs of cancer care will also have a high priority. We have a pilot study with the American Society of Hematology to match patients with clinical trials. Many community physicians lack broad knowledge of what clinical trials are available. We hope to close this gap.
OBR: In which areas regarding blood cancers do you see a research gap?
LD: We have doubled our research investment to 20% in multiple myeloma, with two $5 million research programs. The science says there are opportunities in mantle cell lymphoma and T-cell lymphomas as well.
OBR: Tell us about the Beat AML Master Trial and how that came about. What can we expect to hear about it in 2018?
LD: We are the sponsor of this paradigm-shifting trial. It will enroll newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients over age 60. Patients will receive a targeted therapy based on the genetics of their tumor. We are testing 6 agents at once. The goal is to shave time off the normal drug development cycle for AML agents. We currently have 10 study arms open (with more to come soon) and there are 6 pharmaceutical companies (soon to be more) in the collaboration. So far, 186 patients have enrolled. If all agents provide good signals, we could enroll 500 patients. We expect to have significant data by end of the year. AML is a complicated disease and we are optimistic about success with individual drugs, but the Holy Grail is combination therapy. We are in discussions with the FDA to lay out a path for novel combinations that we will highlight in 2018.
OBR: Do you see leveraging the collaborative spirit of this trial to expand to other leukemias and lymphomas?
LD: Yes, beyond a doubt. We have created a model that’s easily replicable for other blood cancers, such as multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
OBR: How are you moving forward to bring novel immunotherapies, such as CAR T-cell therapy, to more tumor types?
LD: LLS has invested $70 million in adopted cell therapy research over the last 20 years, including $21 million in Carl June’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania that made one of the primary CAR T-cell discoveries. The bell weather will be when we can successfully adapt this technology to solid tumors. We are funding research to better understand patient profiles, control side effects, and manufacture suitable CAR T reagents. We are also looking to develop off-the-shelf cells to eliminate the use of a patient’s own cells. Also, I was pleased that ICER reported value for money with CAR T-cell therapy. We believed that all along. We need to keep the costs in check.
OBR: What do you see in the future of LLS?
LD: In the past year we raised $400 million to provide services to patients and research, policy, and advocacy work. We left $40 million in worthy research and patient activities unfunded. My goal as CEO is to get us to $500 million in revenue.