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Connecting Pancreatic Cancer Patients with Innovative Immunotherapies: PICI and 1440 Foundation

Courtesy: 1440 Foundation

How does a cancer patient know they’re getting the right therapy for them, and at the right time in their course of treatment? The diagnosis itself is scary enough, and it’s followed by testing, staging and what can sometimes seem like mountains of information. Though the process can feel overwhelming, it’s important for patients to continually advocate for themselves to make sure they understand their options and pursue what’s right for them individually.

For Joanie Kriens, co-creator of 1440 Foundation, helping patients feel that empowerment is not just the mission of her work. It’s also a part of a deeply personal journey. Kriens was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2017. While late-stage pancreatic cancer generally has poor outcomes, survival has been improving every year. New treatments, therapies and supportive care mean that patients are seeing better outcomes than in the past. Kriens is currently cancer free, and she credits this to the collaborative spirit and the health care team she assembled over the course of her journey.

“I ended up coming across doctors, researchers and others who were willing to collaborate, which isn’t always the case,” Kriens said. “I didn’t realize how important that collaboration was until I was in the middle of it.”

Kriens began her treatment at Stanford Medicine, where she participated in a clinical trial for a promising immunotherapy that was added to standard care. While on the trial, genetic testing revealed a HER2 mutation in her tumor. This led her to a second trial involving targeted drugs typically used for certain types of breast cancer. She received a personalized neoantigen vaccine, a therapy she still receives today through a compassionate access protocol. Along the way, she also received radiation and immunotherapy combinations.

“Joanie has been on trials, but you could also say that Joanie IS a trial herself,” Joanie’s husband and 1440 co-creator Scott Kriens says of his wife’s treatment journey.

Courtesy: 1440 Foundation

This experience is one reason 1440 Foundation was eager to partner with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI) on the common goal of tackling the toughest tumor types, especially pancreatic cancer. With clinical trials like REVOLUTION, funded in part by 1440, PICI is focused on developing innovative immunotherapies to treat pancreatic patients who need more options. A key pillar of this strategy is called a platform trial design, which allows researchers to follow the science with flexibility and efficiency. Different therapies and approaches can also be tested and added to the trial in parallel, with the option to expand the size of each cohort if the evidence suggests it. The model includes options to advance the most promising candidates for further study, meaning the ideas with the most potential impact move ahead faster.

But the Kriens know from experience that running an innovative clinical trial is only half the battle. It’s also critical to make sure the patients who need these studies know about their existence and have access to them.

“A novel cancer treatment is only helpful once it actually gets to patients, which is why we’re so enthusiastic about our partnership with 1440 Foundation,” said Ute Dugan, MD, PhD, PICI’s Chief Medical Officer, who pointed out PICI’s cutting-edge science becomes significantly more impactful thanks to the collaborative work of its partners. “By tackling the problem together, we start with the end in mind, designing therapies that will reach the patients who can benefit from them as quickly as possible.”

So, while PICI works to move new therapies from concept to patients, 1440 works in partnership from the other end of the pipeline, guiding patients toward the best treatments. Through their Canopy Cancer Collective, 1440 is helping to ensure every pancreatic cancer patient will receive coordinated, comprehensive care throughout their journey, including connecting them to the right clinical trials and therapies. By partnering with top medical care providers, cancer researchers and wellness specialists, Canopy Cancer Collective formulates and fosters best practices in cancer care.

“There’s no one person who tells you about all of the trials going on and whether you’d be a good candidate for any of them,” Joanie Kriens said. “The hardest part of my journey has been figuring out the right trials for me and where they’re happening.”

Scott Kriens said he knows his family was fortunate to have the support and resources that helped them develop a strategy for Joanie, which turned that initial feeling of information overload into a personalized plan. Now their goal is to put systems in place to streamline that approach for others.

“The intention is to get the best care systems in place to ensure the right therapies get to the right patient at the right time,” Scott Kriens said. “As PICI develops these therapies, our goal is to help get them to patients, so they don’t have to go through what we went through.”

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