Nov 15, 2022
Dr. Charles Ryan, president and CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), joins ASCO Daily News Editor-in-Chief Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, of the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute, to assess impactful prostate cancer research from the PCF’s recent conference and discuss Dr. Ryan’s vision for the future, including increasing access to cutting-edge care.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: Welcome, to the ASCO Daily News Podcast. I'm Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, the editor-in-chief of the ASCO Daily News, and director of the Genitourinary Cancers Program at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Today, we'll be discussing compelling research that was featured at the recent Prostate Cancer Foundation Scientific Retreat, and I'm very pleased to welcome Dr. Charles Ryan, the president, and CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Our full disclosures are available on the transcript of this episode, and disclosures relating to all episodes of the ASCO Daily News Podcast are available on our transcripts at: asco.org/podcasts.
Dr. Ryan, thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
Dr. Charles Ryan: Dr. Agarwal, thank you. It's my pleasure to be with you.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: So, Dr. Ryan, before I discuss the PCF meeting, I would like to ask you, what made you move to the PCF as the president and CEO when you had a flourishing career as a division chief of a large academic program, and as one of the top and internationally recognized investigators in prostate cancer?
Dr. Charles Ryan: Well, thanks. That's a fair question, I guess. And it took me about three minutes to make the decision when I was offered the position, simply because the Prostate Cancer Foundation has been one of my intellectual homes for my entire career. I've been at the University of Wisconsin, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, UCSF, and the University of Minnesota, and all those institutions were affected by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, or previously, CaP CURE. So, I was involved in their research during my time at all those institutions.
In addition to my own personal legacy with the PCF, but more importantly, is the fact that it is an organization that funds the deepest scientific inquiry into prostate cancer and the ways that it can cause suffering and death for men with the disease and has made tremendous progress in identifying factors that lead to that lethality. It's also a community of scholars, a community of researchers, that is a platform really for collaboration. And it's also an organization with a world reach - we fund research in 28 countries around the world, and we fund research going from the scope of very basic research to correlative research, to quality of life, and health services research.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: That is truly impressive and inspiring. So, what is the mission of the Prostate Cancer Foundation formally?
Dr. Charles Ryan: Formally, it's pretty simple. The mission of the Prostate Cancer Foundation is to reduce the death and suffering from prostate cancer.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: So, the 29th PCF Scientific Retreat was recently held on October 27 to October 29th in Carlsbad, California. What were the goals and objectives of this meeting?
Dr. Charles Ryan: The meeting, we call it the retreat, it's an annual event and it always has several goals. One is, it's where we announce and hand out, if you will, our awardees of our various awards that we give. It's also a reporting-in process where those who have been using PCF funding are called to come and discuss their work. We also want it to be an open forum for individuals to come and interact - it's really a collaboration and an interaction vehicle as much as anything.
So, when you come to our scientific retreat, we all stay at the same hotel, we all share meals together, nobody goes out for dinner. You don't leave the campus, essentially, of the hotel where we are. We have many, many round tables set out, it's designed to be interactive. We have a big room where people are giving their talks, but if you step outside of the room, there are likely to be many, many conversations happening, and those conversations range from collaborations being formed to people looking for jobs, to people getting advice and mentoring, and even people sharing, as I've done over the years, compelling and challenging patient stories around prostate cancer, and really engaging in what communities do - which is, share ideals, share a mission, and share a passion for what they do.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: Very interesting. Very inspiring. Please tell us some of the highlights of the meeting.
Dr. Charles Ryan: Sure. Well, there are many highlights. There are many things happening in prostate cancer research. Most notably, there are a number of papers and investigators that are looking at how prostate cancer evolves, and probably the most significant set of observations that have been made in the field in the last decade, have been understanding the diverse and numerous mechanisms that underlie the evolution of prostate cancer from a disease that responds to hormonal manipulation, to one that becomes resistant to hormonal manipulation. And so, a lot of the work that's happening now is identifying, for example, the evolution of neuroendocrine prostate cancer, or mixed types of prostate cancer, or this sort of evolution of it under constant therapy. And that is allowing the exposure of new targets that we can exploit for new therapy development, and that feeds into some of the grant-making process that's going on in the background. And so, you have a lot of individuals who are looking at this or that mechanism pathway related to disease resistance that they can exploit, and whether they can create small molecules to do that, or antibodies to do that, et cetera.
At the same time, we have a strong component of discussion of how prostate cancer affects different populations. So, we had some really nice talks looking at healthcare disparities and different populations across the world, and how they're affected by prostate cancer, and how care delivery may be impacted in those groups of patients. And then you have topics ranging around survivorship and other factors that are looking at what is life like for a man with advanced prostate cancer, which is in many cases, you know, men who get prostate cancer, who have recurrent disease, who end up going on systemic therapy are frequently on the treatment for 5, 10, 15 years. And so, survivorship, and how they live their life, and what the complications are of that treatment, is tremendously important because it's such a daily experience for these men undergoing treatment.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: So, how does the Prostate Cancer Foundation support and build the next generation of prostate cancer researchers?
Dr. Charles Ryan: Right. So, the PCF supports the next generation in a very specific way, in addition to the informal way of bringing people together and inducing collaborations. We have a program called the Young Investigator Program. It started formally in 2008, but before that, there were one-off, if you will, Young Investigator Awards being given. So, our Young Investigator Awardees receive $75,000 per year to support their work, and we awarded 34 of those this year. The range is somewhere from 25 to 34 per year. We get over 100 applications for them every year. It's a straightforward application - they need to have a project that's going to be about three years in length, they need to be mentored, and they are best served by describing a mentorship plan for themselves and how that mentorship relationship will help them grow in their careers.
Now, once you become a Young Investigator, it's not that we just write you a check and wish you well, we do that, but we also have annual check-ins. So, we try to visit the sites of our Young Investigators, see them in their home institution, and meet with their colleagues and their mentors. And that's one of the things I do, or Howard Soule does-- Howard Soule, is our chief scientific officer, one of those things we try to do. We also bring them to the scientific retreat that we just had last week, and we have them present their data. So, a vast number of the individuals who are presenting at the scientific retreat are in fact, Young Investigators, or they were Young Investigators when they started the projects that they are presenting.
And then, the other thing we do is we have another retreat specifically for the Young Investigators, and that's called the Coffey-Holden Retreat, and that's named after Don Coffey, the late researcher from Johns Hopkins, who is really considered to be one of the grandfathers of prostate cancer research, and Stuart or Skip Holden, who is one of the founders of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and a urologist at UCLA. So, that event that we do is designed for people to come to give highlights of the work that they're doing; it's designed to be incredibly interactive. In fact, we have 15 or so minutes of presentation, followed by sometimes 25 minutes of questions for each presenter. There's always a line of people who are waiting to ask questions, and it's designed to engage and have that dialogue with the Young Investigators, to make their science better, and to get it known.
And so, the Young Investigator Program, it's about 30 individuals per year on average, and the average age is about 30. Many of these are postdoctoral PhDs, and many of them are fellows, or early-stage faculty, MDs. And I like to think that if somebody's going to work until the age of 70, we're stimulating, or launching a 40-year career with these Young Investigator awards. So, I like to think that if we give 25 out, times 40 years, that's 1,000 years of research that we're sort of stimulating with this Young Investigator program. And I bring that up for the reason that we're very proud of the fact that many of our Young Investigators may start out in prostate cancer, and their ideas, their science, takes them elsewhere. And that's what science does. And we, of course, are very, very focused on solving the problem of prostate cancer, and we want people to do that. But we also understand that by launching a scientist, by launching a scientific career, you may end up with people going off in different directions. And so, we have many examples of that.
And in my talk this year, I actually highlighted a person who, let's say she won an investigator award when she was young, it was before the formal Young Investigator Award was named, and this was a person who is creating conjugates for the delivery of chemotherapy to prostate cancer cells. And this was Carolyn Bertozzi up at UC Berkeley, and she just won the Nobel Prize. She didn't win the Nobel Prize for research she did on prostate cancer, but at some point, at one point in her career, this was a direction she was going, and she got two grants from us in 1999 and 2000, that helped her work continue on and go the direction that it did.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: Yeah. And congratulations.
Dr. Charles Ryan: Sure. I'll take credit for that one.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: Being the President and the CEO, you deserve the credit.
Dr. Charles Ryan: Sure. That's my job.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: So, we are coming to the end of the interview, but let me ask you this; the prostate cancer field is so constantly evolving. What is your vision for PCF going forward?
Dr. Charles Ryan: Well, my vision for the organization is that we are going to continue on our mission to reduce the death and suffering from prostate cancer. But that's a fairly general statement, and one of the ways you can do that is you can research cancer at a molecular level, and you could try to develop new therapies - we're going to continue to do that. But there's also a real problem, especially, in the United States, and actually globally, with individuals with prostate cancer who are not receiving the cutting-edge care, not receiving the cutting-edge therapy. We have some data that in the United States, maybe upwards of 50% of men with metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer are not getting the therapies that are supported by the latest findings from randomized phase III trials. And this may be for economic reasons, it may be communications or an education deficit with their treating clinicians, and there may be other factors as well.
So, as we think about the vision of this, we need to be mindful of that, because if we only focus on studying the cancer molecularly, and we don't address what's happening on the other end, then we're not completing the story, and we're not completing the mission. And so, I've started calling Prostate Cancer Foundation the Global Public Square of Prostate Cancer, because I think of four sides of that square - funding research, as of what we just got done talking about, education and communication, is another one, and we do that in the same way that you are doing this today - through podcasts, and web content, and in-person meetings, as well as applied discovery, which is helping our researchers take their discoveries or their findings out into the clinic.
Now, you might think, "Well, that's a small molecule, becoming a company going into a phase I clinical trial." Certainly, that's part of it, but it's also the epidemiologist who is making observations about diet and exercise, who is then empowered to do a clinical trial of exercise and diet intervention. It's also the health services researcher who is able to use their data to go talk to payers or talk to organizations about how care may be delivered differently. So, that's applied discovery. And then finally, supporting the patient is part of what we do. So, we also hold patient webinars every month, we've held patient summits at various points around the country where we bring patients together and talk to them about the latest research or about the factors we've discussed, such as survivorship, or quality of life after treatment, or treatment complications, and things like that.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: That's wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. Any final remarks, Dr. Ryan?
Dr. Charles Ryan: Dr. Agarwal, thank you so much. It's always a pleasure to speak to another Genitourinary Oncologist, of course, about the field, and the opportunity to talk about the Prostate Cancer Foundation and what we're doing, and the directions we are trying to grow. We've had a great collaboration with ASCO over the years, and I hope that that continues as well. I hope anybody who is interested would come and visit us at: pcf.org, and they can also check us out on: urotoday.com, where we have a lot of content that might be of interest to them.
Dr. Neeraj Agarwal: Thank you, Dr. Ryan, for taking the time to be with us on the ASCO Daily News Podcast today.
And thank you to our listeners for joining us today. If you value the insights that you hear on the ASCO Daily News Podcast, please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe, wherever you get your podcast. Thank you very much.
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Dr. Neeraj Agarwal:
Consulting or Advisory Role: Pfizer, Medivation/Astellas, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Nektar, Lilly, Bayer, Pharmacyclics, Foundation Medicine, Astellas Pharma, Lilly, Exelixis, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, Eisai, Seattle Genetics, EMD Serono, Janssen Oncology, AVEO, Calithera Biosciences, MEI Pharma, Genentech, Astellas Pharma, Foundation Medicine, Gilead Sciences
Research Funding (Inst.): Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Takeda, Pfizer, Exelixis, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Calithera Biosciences, Celldex, Eisai, Genentech, Immunomedics, Janssen, Merck , Lilly, Nektar, ORIC Pharmaceuticals, crispr therapeutics, Arvinas
Dr. Charles Ryan:
Honoraria: Janssen Oncology, Bayer
Consulting or Advisory Role: Bayer, Dendreon, AAA, Myovant Sciences, Roivant, Clovis Oncology