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Sanofi creates chief patient officer position

BY Michael Johnsen

PARIS — Sanofi on Monday named Anne Beal to the newly created position of chief patient officer. 

"The appointment of a chief patient officer at Sanofi, the first for a top 10 biopharmaceutical company, shows our commitment to go further in meeting the needs of patients," stated Pascale Witz, EVP global divisions and strategic development at Sanofi. "Interactions with patients are a source of strength for the company, and Dr. Beal’s appointment will help ensure the patient perspective advances our approach to meeting the unmet needs of patients."

Beal’s responsibility will be to further elevate the perspective of the patient within Sanofi so the company’s future healthcare offerings can better incorporate the priorities and needs of patients and caregivers in a variety of Sanofi activities, ranging from early stage R&D through to onmarket availability of novel healthcare solutions.

Beal is a pediatrician and public health specialist. She joins Sanofi from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, an institute focused on patient-centered outcomes research. As PCORI’s deputy executive director, and its first chief officer for engagement, she was charged with ensuring that the voices and priorities of patients and other stakeholders were reflected in the Institute’s research portfolio. 

Prior to her tenure with PCORI, Beal was president of the Aetna Foundation, an independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna. As president, she led the Foundation’s work on improving health care in the United States, particularly for vulnerable patient groups. 

Beal holds a B.A. from Brown University, an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College and an M.P.H. from Columbia University.

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Study: Smartphones and tablets key to getting more clinicians to screen patients for tobacco use

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK — Smartphones and tablets may hold the key to getting more clinicians to screen patients for tobacco use and advise smokers on how to quit. Using mobile phones loaded with tobacco screening guidelines prompted nurses to ask patients about their smoking habits in 84% of clinic visits and to offer cessation counseling to 99% of smokers who expressed a willingness to kick the habit, according to a study from Columbia University School of Nursing published in Oncology Nursing Forum.

“These findings suggest that mobile applications can play a significant role in curbing tobacco use,” stated lead study author Kenrick Cato, associate research scientist at Columbia Nursing. Currently, U.S. patients are screened for tobacco use in about 60% of office visits, and smokers are advised on how to quit less than 20% of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “These findings are a win in the ongoing battle against tobacco use, and they also point to a broader benefit of mobile applications in getting more clinicians to follow evidence-based practice guidelines,” Cato said.

The study evaluated tobacco screening rates for more than 14,000 visits at clinics in New York City. Clinic patients were treated by 185 registered nurses enrolled in advanced practice degree programs at Columbia Nursing. 

Funding for the research was provided by the National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Cancer Institute.

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Study: Derivative of vitamin A helps turn pre-cancer cells back to normal healthy breast cells

BY Michael Johnsen

PHILADELPHIA — A derivative of vitamin A, known as retinoic acid, found abundantly in sweet potato and carrots, helps turn pre-cancer cells back to normal healthy breast cells, according to research published this month in the International Journal of Oncology. The research could help explain why some clinical studies have been unable to see a benefit of vitamin A on cancer: the vitamin doesn’t appear to change the course of full-blown cancer, only pre-cancerous cells, and only works at a very narrow dose.

Because cells undergo many changes before they become fully aggressive and metastatic, Sandra Fernandez, assistant research professor of medical oncology at Thomas Jefferson University, and colleagues used a model of breast cancer progression composed of four types of cells, each one representing a different stage of breast cancer: normal, pre-cancerous, cancerous and a fully aggressive model.

When the researchers exposed the four breast cell types to different concentrations of retinoic acid — one of the chemicals that the body converts vitamin A into — they noticed a strong change in the pre-cancerous cells. Not only did the pre-cancerous cells begin to look more like normal cells in terms of their shape, they also changed their genetic signature back to normal. 

“We were able to see this effect of retinoic acid because we were looking at four distinct stages of breast cancer,” Fernandez said. “It will be interesting to see if these results can be applied to patients.”

The cells that were considered fully cancerous did not respond at all to retinoic acid, suggesting that there may be a small window of opportunity for retinoic acid to be helpful in preventing cancer progression. In addition, the researchers showed that only one concentration of retinoic acid (about one micro Molar) produced the anti-cancer effects. Lower concentrations gave no change, and higher concentrations produced a smaller effect.

The next step will be to try to learn whether the amount of retinoic acid required can be maintained in an animal model, and if that concentration will have the same effects as Fernandez observed in cells. If those studies show the same effect, the next step would be to test whether these observations hold true in humans. 

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