VAM Email Alert: July 2020

July 2020

** CDMRP Myeloma Research Programs Receive Funding
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We often talk about the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) in this newsletter; asking for patients to serve as consumer reviewers with the CDMRP’s Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP) and updating readers on the appropriations progress of CDMRP/PRCRP, which is how the program funds its research into diseases such as myeloma. Inclusion as an eligible disease for CDMRP funding requires a yearly lobbying effort by the IMF Advocacy Team, as at least one member of both the House and Senate must request the inclusion of blood cancers as a topic area in PRCRP.

Due to the time it takes to determine which research to fund and negotiate contracts for award money, we are only now getting the full scope of research funded under PRCRP for fiscal year 2018 (FY18), which was the first year for myeloma to be reintroduced as an eligible disease area.

And so, it is with some excitement that we share over $2.2 million has been steered towards myeloma specific research for FY18. Just this month, a major award of $1.4 million was finalized for Dr. Fenghuang Zhan of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to study the molecular genetics and drug resistance of multiple myeloma. The National Institutes of Health has awarded a joint grant of $1.74 million towards this research as well.

Relapses of myeloma and other types of cancers are often caused by these drug-resistant cells. Dr. Zhan believes a protein called CD24 may serve as a reliable indicator of the presence of these drug-resistant myeloma cells and that a therapeutic antibody called SWA11 could be used to target them. Learn more about Dr. Zhan’s program here (https://bit.ly/2OV3UKx) .

UAMS is not the only research center awarded funding. University of Iowa and Wistar Institute both received six figure awards for myeloma specific research.

We are immensely proud of our efforts to keep CDMRP alive and fully funded. We will continue to push for the inclusion of blood cancers within PRCRP and keep our readers updated on new developments on research and consumer review opportunities.


** Veterans Affairs Continues Fourth Mission Amidst Pandemic and Concerns of PPE Shortages
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We have previously written about the little known fourth mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in our March newsletter, which includes making equipment, facilities, and personnel available for non-veteran patients with COVID-19. The VA has continued this mission throughout the summer and as of this month handled a surge of 9,000 non-veteran COVID patients, according to statements from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. Cases of the coronavirus are up almost 350% at VA facilities since the beginning of June.

But the spike in recent coronavirus cases across the country have taken a toll on the VA; The top Veterans Health Administration leader, Dr. Richard Stone, warned Capitol Hill lawmakers last month that personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies needed to increase before a second wave of the virus, expected this fall. You can view his testimony here (https://www.c-span.org/video/?472963-1/house-hearing-vas-response-covid-19) .

In June, Stone said VA had about 30 days of PPE at its hospitals. It needs a six-month supply to cope with a second wave of the virus, he said. A VA official confirmed to Senate lawmakers earlier this month the department was still operating with a 30-day supply.

VA staff for months said they were rationing, or going without PPE while VA leaders denied any shortages (https://t.co/K7YmQChQ3x?amp=1) . Reports from frontline workers indicated that staff were reusing PPE and were issued expired or inadequate supplies. Conditions caused some frontline staff to protest the situation between shift changes. On July 10th, the Tucson VA reported 32 “actively positive employees” at one facility.

The VA has eventually admitted to “austerity measures,” including rationing during the height of the pandemic, but maintains that no VA facility ever ran out of PPE.


** Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Holds Hearing on VA Telehealth
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Today at 2:30 EST the committee will hold a hearing on “VA Telehealth During and Beyond COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities in Rural America.” The witness list includes:

Dr. Kameron Matthews, Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Community Care, Veterans Health Administration

Dr. Kevin Galpin, Executive Director of Telehealth Services, Veterans Health Administration

Dr. Thomas Klobucar, Executive Director, Office of Rural Health, Veterans Health Administration

Mr. Eddie Pool, Executive Director, Solution Delivery, IT Operations and Services, Office of Information and Technology, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VAM has been supportive of telehealth efforts by the VA, as many myeloma patients have been advised to remain home during the pandemic. We hope to see this benefit extended beyond the pandemic as it provides access to patients who would otherwise have difficulty speaking to a specialist within acceptable driving distance. You can view the hearing live online at https://www.veterans.senate.gov/. If you miss the hearing, a recording will be available at this same address.

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