HARTFORD, CT, February 27, 2014 – Arlene Forastiere ’71, was the latest Trinity alum to appear as part of the “Science for the Greater Good” series, and she gave a riveting talk about her career as a cancer researcher and as senior vice president of Eviti, Inc., an innovative, collaborative approach to improving access to evidence-based treatment for cancer patients.
Forastiere spoke to a large Common Hour audience Tuesday, laying out some of the recent advances made in cancer treatment, and also discussing Eviti, of which she is chair of its Medical Advisory Board.
A 1975 graduate of New York Medical College, her Trinity roots run deep, as she put it, having graduated with the Class of 1971, serving as a trustee from 1985 to 1991, and receiving the 175th Anniversary Award in 1999 and the Alumni Medal for Excellence in 1991. In addition to working with Eviti, Forastiere is a professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore.
Forastiere began her talk by noting that cancer is the second-leading cause of death in this country, behind cardio-vascular disease. About 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year and about 580,000 will die, but 13 million individuals are cancer survivors. That figure is expected to soar to 18 million by 2020. Indeed, since 1990, the mortality rate for individuals with cancer has plunged by 20 percent, said Forastiere.
She told students that if they’re interested in pursuing a career in medicine, there are several avenues open to them: clinical research, private practice, public health and health policy or working in the pharmaceutical industry.
“You have an enormous opportunity to improve the quality of care,” she said.
In terms of clinical research, Forastiere explained that teams of scientists -- typically financed by government, philanthropy or industry – start with small groups of patents, graduate to larger groups and then must wait for the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) to approve a drug. The average time for a new drug to be approved for use on people, she said, is about 20 years. Nonetheless, drugs are being approved, with 14 getting the green light from the FDA last year.
Forastiere also spoke about how genome sequencing will someday become a routine aspect of diagnosing and treating cancer patients. Whereas once the cost was unimaginably expensive, it now costs about $3,000 to sequence genomes. She believes that price will drop to $1,000, which will allow physicians and make it part of their standard practice.
She noted that about 15 percent of the diagnoses of cancer patients are incorrect, that 35 percent of treatment plans deviate from the guidelines and that 45 percent do not comply with prescribed treatment.
That information proved the perfect segue into Forastiere’s discussion of Eviti, which has developed a Web-based tool that enables physicians to choose the correct regimens and protocols before treatment is begun. (To view the Eviti Web site, please visit: http://www.eviti.com/). Eviti also facilitates more efficient communication between oncologists and insurers.
Information is updated from a variety of sources and physicians can view various clinical trial options. The Eviti Web site addresses 120 types of cancer and 10,000 clinical trials, as well as comparative costs, outcomes, toxicity and even when hospice is appropriate for a patient.
Thus far, about 3,300 oncologists have availed themselves of what is known as the Eviti Advisor.
In addition to her work with Eviti and her professorship at Johns Hopkins, Forastiere is an internationally recognized expert in the treatment of cancers of the head, neck, larynx and esophagus. She was chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines panel for head and neck cancer until 2009 and chaired the head and neck center committees of the nation’s largest clinical trial research organizations: the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group and the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group.
After graduating from medical school, Forastiere had a fellowship in hematology-oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, held a research position at the Baltimore Cancer Research Program of the National Cancer Institute, and was on the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She then had a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan Medical School before joining Johns Hopkins in 1988.