Friday, August 14, 2015

Boston Red Sox Family Hit Again By Lymphoma: Manager John Farrell Diagnosed With This Increasingly Common Cancer

Red Sox skipper John Farrell -
The Boston Red Sox family has been hit yet again by lymphoma. Sox manager John Farrell stunned the baseball world today when he announced that he’s been diagnosed with "stage 1 lymphoma." We wish him well. 

Neither Farrell nor the team identified the specific type of lymphoma he is fighting. But the fact that his cancer is stage 1 and that Farrell describes it as "highly curable" is good news. 

"It’s localized. It’s highly curable and I am extremely fortunate to be with not only people with the Red Sox, but access to MGH [Massachusetts General Hospital] and all the world class talent that can handle this over at MGH,” said Farrell, 53, who led the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2013, his first year as skipper. "It’s been a surreal four or five days," he told reporters today. "I never had one symptom before the notification of it. No fatigue. No night sweats, loss of weight, obviously."

Red Sox Familiar With Lymphoma

The Red Sox family has been hit particularly hard by this disease over the years. My friend Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox CEO who just weeks ago announced he was stepping down after a remarkably successful run in which he led the team to three World Championships and should be a lock for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, is a survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Larry talked openly and courageously about his cancer in our book Hope Begins in the Dark

Former Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, which is rare but also very treatable. Jon, who spent eight memorable years at Fenway Park and is now with the Chicago Cubs, naturally turned to Lucchino, who'd been diagnosed years before, for guidance.

Less than two years after he was told he had cancer and was treated, Lester won the final game of the 2007 World Series for the Red Sox, and in the following season pitched a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals. Jon is one of my personal heroes.

Lymphoma In The Sports World

All of this simply shows how common lymphoma really is. Just three days ago, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders announced that he is being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma, and his doctors consider it "very treatable and curable." His plans are to remain coach and team president while being treated.

As for Ferrell, he said the cancer diagnosis "has been a shocker. But I take a step back and I am extremely, extremely fortunate to have caught this at this stage."

Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo will reportedly assume Farrell’s duties as manager for the remainder of the season while Farrell undergoes treatment, which will begin on Tuesday at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

On a personal note, I played baseball for much of my young life and into college. After I was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 35, I never thought I'd be in another batter's box or stop another grounder. 

But after my second of four battles with lymphoma, I was able to play the game I love again, for several years, in a San Diego Adult Baseball League. 

I felt like a kid again when I stepped onto the diamond. And I'm confident Farrell, too, will return to the game he loves next Spring. The Red Sox family has demonstrated, repeatedly, that it is stronger and tougher than lymphoma.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Groundbreaking Lymphoma Cancer Treatment Enters China for the First Time

As a global advocate for lymphoma cancer patients and someone who's had a lifelong respect and affection for China's people and culture, I'm pleased to announce that one of the most effective FDA-approved treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has just been made available for the first time to cancer patients in China, where lymphoma is dangerously on the rise. 

Zevalin, a remarkable but underutilized radio-immunotherapy that successfully treats some of the most common types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, including the kind that I've personally been battling for the last 19 years, is now available for patients at Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital, one of the leading private hospitals in Hong Kong known for its high quality of patient care.

Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, an American biotech company that owns and manufactures Zevalin, granted the exclusive rights to the drug in China to CASI Pharmaceuticals, an American company whose primary focus is China's unmet needs in cancer and other illnesses, and CASI's local partner, Global Medical Solutions Hong Kong Limited. 

"We are delighted to see our anticancer drugs developed and marketed in greater China through CASI, a NASDAQ-listed company focused on China," says Dr. Rajesh Shrotriya, Spectrum's CEO and chairman.

“We are very pleased that we can now provide Zevalin in Hong Kong hospitals and help address the unmet medical needs there," says Dr. Rong Chen, CASI’s chief medical officer, who notes that eventually the treatment will be available in other areas of greater China.

Zevalin, which was approved in the United States for the treatment of low-grade or follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), has significantly higher complete response rates than Rituxan, the better known blockbuster lymphoma drug. But for reasons that have nothing to do with how well Zevalin works on patients, most American lymphoma patients aren't even aware of this treatment. And of course Zevalin was virtually unknown in China, until now.

This new US-China partnership will undoubtedly increase global awareness of this lifesaving treatment, and of lymphoma in general. It could even lead to a curious and first-of-its-kind global healthcare dichotomy that could result in the following headline: More cancer patients in China than America being treated with a lifesaving drug made in the USA! 

But most importantly, this historic agreement will save lives. It isn't widely known, but lymphoma is increasing in China at an alarming rate. A white paper from the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau three years ago reportedly showed that the population of lymphoma patients in Beijing more than doubled from 2001 to 2010. Dr Zhu Jun, director of the Beijing Cancer Hospital's lymphoma department, told the South China Morning Post that the afflicted population of lymphoma patients is rising by more than 6 per cent each year. 

Innovation Works and Google China's Kai-Fu Lee
Even some very high-profile people in China have had to fight the disease. As I reported here a few months ago, Kai-Fu Lee (left), the former head of Google China and current CEO of Innovation Works, wrote about his lymphoma diagnosis on his hugely popular micro-blog last year. "Life is limited. Everyone is equal in the face of cancer," Lee wrote on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like micro-blogging service. His statement was read by millions.
Chen Wanqing, Deputy Director of China's National Cancer Prevention and Control Research Office, told Beijing Review that in the next 10 years, the number of cancer patients will continue to rise in China and by 2020 an estimated 6.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer each year. But unlike lung cancer and various other cancers, Zhu told the South China Morning Post, lymphoma is still a type of cancer with which most oncologists in China are just not very familiar.

The Keys to This US-China Partnership's Success

The key to the success of CASI's new venture in China is how effectively the company communicates with China's governmental agencies, oncology communities and, most importantly, lymphoma patients themselves. While we are seeing exciting new partnerships like this one and new lymphoma clinical trial agreements between China drug companies like Innovent and Chipscreen and companies from the United States and Europe, word of all this positive activity in the lymphoma space has for the most part not yet reached the Chinese people, who are all-too familiar with lung cancer, but unfamiliar with lymphoma. 
It's one thing to bring your new treatment to China. It's quite another to convince China's cancer patients and their families to embrace something of which they are not aware. 

There is very little patient advocacy in China. There is a dedicated woman in Hong Kong named Sally Lo who is doing tremendous things in support of Hong Kong's cancer patient population. But there are very few people doing what she is doing throughout greater China. And even Lo has no specific program for lymphoma.

That's why we've reached out to China's lymphoma patient population directly with our apolitical gesture of friendship. Chinese people are so brilliant and kind, but they do not like to be told what to do. Our project is my way of gently helping them navigate their own way through the lymphoma maze that I've traversed for two decades. I just want to help with some basic information about the disease and some inspiration.

It's vitally important to communicate the message directly and carefully to China's people that lymphoma is not a death sentence, that it is treatable and beatable, and that Zevalin is just one of many drugs that can treat this disease. This is what drug companies sometimes essentially lack: the human touch. They're saving lives, but they could be saving so many more if they more effectively marketed their products and more sensitively communicated with the patient population.

The Real Hero in This Story

Dr. Rajesh Shrotriya, CEO & Chairman of Spectrum
In addition to all the lymphoma patients who will be helped by this historic alliance, the other real hero behind this US-China accord is Spectrum's Shrotriya (left), with whom I've worked on several lymphoma patient advocacy projects. Raj is a highly intelligent and intuitive man and a hugely insightful and successful businessman. But even more impressively, there is real goodness in him.

As those of you who've read my work already know, radio-immunotherapy (RIT) saved my life in a clinical trial. I wrote about this in Newsweek, and in Hope Begins in the Dark, my first book on lymphoma survivors. But the trial wasn't for Zevalin, it was for the "other" RIT for lymphoma: Bexxar, which saved my life and gave me a very long remission.

Both Zevalin and Bexxar are outstanding treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But as I reported for the International Business Times, Bexxar was unceremoniously scrapped by GlaxoSmithKline last year. Bexxar was saving lives but apparently it just wasn't making Glaxo enough money. 

When Glaxo dumped Bexxar, Shrotriya told me reassuringly that he was committed to keeping Zevalin on the market. I was almost speechless with gratitude. My admiration for Raj has been a constant throughout my many years as an advocate for cancer patients. Even if you've not heard of him, Shrotriya is a quiet champion in the lymphoma community. Zevalin's arrival in China never would have happened if not for Raj's commitment. And hopefully this is only the beginning in terms of helping China's cancer patients.

Raj said last fall that China's pharmaceutical market is "growing at a rapid pace and is already approaching second place to only the United States in the world. The greater China drug market for anticancer drugs is projected to become the world's largest in the next decade, and CASI has the opportunity to take a leading position to address these significant unmet medical needs."

Ken Ren, CASI's CEO, said recently that although Hong Kong is a relatively small market, it is "strategically important" and will enable CASI to gain clinical knowledge and experience for Zevalin in a Chinese patient population, "which we believe will have positive impact in market penetration when Zevalin is approved and becomes available in our greater China markets.”

My Message to China's Lymphoma Patients

My job as a journalist and global lymphoma patient advocate is simply to tell cancer patients about all their treatment options, both pharma-based and holistic, including of course Traditional Chinese Medicine, and to provide some tools to patients and their families that help them cope with a cancer diagnosis, which of course can be devastating. 

Many of China's lymphoma patients still unfortunately think that a lymphoma diagnosis means certain death. I want to help spread the word that this is not true. This cancer is treatable and beatable. I want to help China's cancer patients not only regain the lives they had before they were diagnosed, but see their lives actually improve. 

Lymphoma is scary, but having it has made me a better writer, a better husband and father, a better person. It has brought me moments of fear but also moments of joy. And it has inspired me to help others get through what I've already been through. Remember: Hope begins in the dark!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Leave the Universe, New San Diego Band on Vans Warped Tour, About to Break Out Nationally

Some breaking news for my fellow fans of great new music: Leave the Universe, a new band on the brink of stardom, is on the current Vans Warped Tour and will be playing in San Diego on Wednesday, Aug. 5. I first heard about this intense but melodic pop-rock unit from a friend who sent me a video for the group's enticing song "Reflection." It kinda blew me away. The new single, "Just Let Go," is even better. It's an insanely infectious tune. 

Leave the Universe's first recordings struck me as a fresh reworking of one of those quirky but musically gifted 80's alternative bands that wore all black and appeared in those bar scenes in all those John Hughes flicks. But the band's direction now is clear. Leave the Universe has some decidedly dystopian/cyberpunk edges within a very catchy pop-rock framework. 

Think of Green Day with a female vocalist and a touch of trippy 80's W.O.B. (Wearers of Black) band thrown in. This is upper echelon stuff, an impressive and unique young band that is about to make its mark.

And the clear highlight is singer Crystal Douesnard, whose voice has an amazing clarity, warmth and maturity. She's one of the best young female rock singers I've heard in a long time. And the true test? The band's songs and vocals sound just as good unplugged as they do with effects. That says it all.

The group -- Douesnard, guitarist Kalin Pugh and drummer Cameron Philips -- hails from Durango, Colorado, but loaded up the car and headed to San Diego about a year and 1/2 ago. That's when Josquin Des Pres and Bryan Spevak, two veterans of the music industry trenches, started developing the group and honing its sound.

"Our next show is the San Diego Warped Tour, and then shortly after that we will be filming a new music video for our single ('Just Let Go')," Crystal explains excitedly.

When that video hits the airwaves, I suspect all hell's gonna break loose for this band, which I'm confident is on the brink of the big time. Good songs and good singers find a way. And this band has both. Nothing's been announced, but music business sources tell me that some major industry players are vying for Leave the Universe's affection.

"We're inspired by any form of art that we can take a deeper meaning from," Pugh says. "Anywhere from soundtracks to artists in the pop and rock world to even visual art. We actually take a lot of inspiration from film."

Drummer Philips adds, "With this last album we have discovered more of our true sound. As we continue to write we are going to keep exploring this alternate reality of sound that we have discovered."

Keep an eye on this group. Its star is about to leave the universe...