We take the stage
Alright Miss Duff. Enough procrastination. Time to write about the Xalkori launch.
From the evening of October 25th through Thursday morning on the 27th, David and I were guests of Pfizer at the Copley Square Marriott in Boston. We were in attendance for the patient portion of the Xalkori launch.
After registering on Tuesday, I located the ballroom where Alice (Dr. Shaw) was scheduled to speak. An interactive display had been installed in the foyer with patient photos and videos, and as I was checking those out I ran into the speaker herself. There was time for a quick hug before she took the stage and I slipped into a seat at the back of the room.
Alice recounted a brief history of the PF-02341066 trial to an audience of about 350 Pfizer employees; the majority of whom were pharmaceutical reps. She was joined onstage by Robert Martensen, an author and physician, who happens to have ALK+ NSLC and who began taking Xalkori last summer. Of special note, the histology of Dr. Martensen’s lung cancer is squamous, so here is a splendid example of the old exception to the rule theory.
It was interesting to hear the dialogue between two doctors; one of whom was also the patient. At the conclusion of their presentation, we had a ‘practice’ session, and I was able to meet the other ten patients whom I would be joining for our portion of the program the following morning. All of them, (except for myself) were current participants in phases II and III of the crizotinib (Xalkori) trial and had enjoyed positive results that ranged from stable to a whopping 100% response.
On Wednesday morning the eleven of us, plus our caregivers, made a rather dramatic appearance onstage as we lined up behind a white scrim which was then dropped at our feet (the reveal!). After we were individually introduced by the moderators (hello Jonathan and Chris), our families retired to the audience.
It was a moving experience, as each patient took turns describing the impact Xalkori had made on their lives. I found it rather an amazing vantage point as well; looking out over the sea of faces in the audience, many of whom were wiping away tears.
Each patient was given a chance to answer some prepared questions. When it was my turn, I commented that it wasn’t exactly fair that the moderators were the only ones with teleprompters, given the fact that most of us on stage had done some really hard drugs. I also asked the audience to take a good look at the eleven hale and hearty individuals (patients) in front of them and to remember that we each had stage IV lung cancer. Given the ravages of the disease as well as the difficult side effects of most traditional treatments, our current state of health was perhaps the most amazing thing of all. Not only had Xalkori given us more time, it was quality time.
After the session concluded, we had the chance to meet some of the people behind the development of crizotinb, including Keith Wilner, Pfizer’s Senior Director of Clinical Research, and then perhaps the biggest rock star of all, Dr. Jingrong Jean Cui, the scientist who invented crizotinib.
Dr. J. Jean Cui with some of her biggest fans
Jean is the epitome of intelligence, diligence, humility (!) and creativity. She shared with us a tantalizing glimpse of just what lay behind the synthesis of a complex molecule that would become Xalkori.
And this is it: Xalkori
Pfizer thoughtfully arranged a luncheon for the patients and their families, and we were joined by several key members of the team involved in development to market phases of PF-02341066/crizotinib/Xalkori. Possibly not your usual cafeteria chatter.
I had overheard that there would be a tribute to my friend Kevin Brumett, who was one of the very first people in the world to go on what was then know as PF-02341066. Kevin passed away in May of 2009, just a week after marrying his sweetheart, Stephanie Fellingham. With his boundless optimism, energy and generosity, Kevin touched the lives of many. In January of 2009, he had been invited to speak at the Pfizer laboratories in La Jolla, an experience he found profoundly moving. It was only fitting to close the Xalkori launch with a tribute to this exceptionally brave young man who eagerly went down what was then an unproven path.
There was time for a short and much needed break; I felt emotionally tapped out at this point. Then we crowded into buses with the pharmaceutical reps to join in a team building exercise at yet another venue. It was actually a great chance to get to talk to more people, and the product of the exercise was some lovely murals for The Lung Cancer Alliance of Massachusetts.
When finsished, we moved upstairs for dinner, and once again I enjoyed having the chance to converse with members of the crowd. An unsolicited plug for Pfizer here; I was truly impressed by both the sincerity and level of commitment exhibited by their employees. Just a really great group of people.
Just when I thought this day couldn’t be any more meaningful, Dr. Tom Lynch, my original oncologist and now Director of the Yale Cancer Center, walked up to our table. After a few moments to catch up, he took the podium, and knocked the socks off a crowd that on the third and final day of the Xalkori launch, was by all rights exhausted. Tom possesses the uncommon combination of brilliance and a real knack for performance; he is a phenomenal speaker. And his enthusiasm is absolutely infectious. And, of course, I couldn’t help but be pleased that he included the before and after image of my lungs (pre and post crizotinb/Xalkori; nice to see them on the big screen!).
The evening concluded with a moving presentation by Diane Legg and Rich Monopoli, friends and associates of mine as well as co-chairs of the Massachusetts Lung Cancer Alliance. What a day!!
Before I sign off, I would like to say how pleased I was to have people come up and introduce themselves and to say that they read my blog; I am honored. It was also wonderful to be reunited with those I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before; both filming in Meredith and on my trip to the facility in Connecticut. In closing, thank you, Pfizer, for making us feel so welcome and please, keep up all of the good work. You will never know how much it means to our friends, families, and those of us with lung cancer.