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Adriana Jenkins and the Case for Personalized Medicine

December 12, 2011

Adriana Jenkins passed away on February 9, 2011 after battling breast cancer. Known for her tenacious advocacy on behalf of targeted therapies, Kelly Lindenboom, honored her passionate work within the personalized medicine community at the Boston Reception hosted by the Personalized Medicine Coalition on November 8, 2011.

Adriana Jenkins had an intoxicating personality and lived every day to the fullest — until, earlier this year, when she died from a rare form of breast cancer at age 41. Adriana was in the prime of her life — she had a thriving career in biotech public relations, was an incredible artist and had an extensive network of friends, that to Adriana, were her family. I’m part of her family.

At age 32, Adriana was engaged to be married, getting ready to start a new job with an up-and-coming biotechnology company and excited for what was to be the best time of her life. And then came the phone call from her doctor that changed everything. With a diagnosis of stage 3B inflammatory breast cancer — a rare, aggressive form of the disease — she had limited options to consider.

With less than a 50 percent chance of survival beyond five years, Adriana was desperate to explore any and all options that might give her better odds. Unlike the majority of people who are diagnosed with cancer every year, Adriana possessed a unique and intimate understanding of the pharmaceutical industry and was able to be her own best advocate after her diagnosis. When a colleague suggested she look into an investigational therapy — Herceptin — being tested locally at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston, she jumped at the chance. And as it turned out, she was a perfect fit for the trial and was enrolled in the study.

While the clinical trial was not always easy, Adriana responded wonderfully to the Herceptin, which was eventually approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is used today to treat many women with the same type of genetic marker, HER2, that was present in Adriana’s cancer.

Because of her success with Herceptin, one of the first so-called personalized medicines to be approved for use, Adriana was able to beat the odds. Really beat the odds. She credited personalized medicine treatment for giving her the nearly 10 years she was told she wouldn’t have. And she was thankful for every day that she had.

Unfortunately, despite encouraging results, personalized medicine is still a rarity in most cancer treatments. In her article “A Dying Wish,” published in Forbes magazine, written shortly before her death, Adriana made an eloquent appeal for the broad adoption of personalized medicines for cancer and other diseases based on her own incredible, nearly decade-long fight with breast cancer. In the article, she posed a question related to personalized medicine:

How do we convince drugmakers to focus their shrinking R&D budgets on this area of scientific discovery?

And then offered this potential challenge to our nation’s pharmaceutical companies and lawmakers:

“One idea is to create an incentive for drugmakers comparable to that in the Orphan Drug Act. Passed in 1983, it encourages companies to develop drugs for diseases that have a small market (fewer than 200,000 patients in the U.S.). Under the law, companies that develop such a drug may sell it without competition for seven years, in addition to often receiving quicker “fast track” regulatory review… A comparable law could push drugmakers to develop PM drugs for cancer and other deadly ailments.”

At the end of the article she offered this plea:

I urge patients, physicians and insurers to create a similar group to support the commercialization of personalized cancer drugs.

After her diagnosis with cancer, Adriana had the word “hope” tattooed onto the inside of her wrist as a constant reminder to herself for how she wanted to embrace life.

In the years that followed her remission, Adriana remained a strong advocate for the potential of personalized medicine, putting her public relations know-how to work by partnering with Herceptin’s developers to share her experience with the media and bring awareness to other women receiving a new cancer diagnosis.

The week that Adriana passed away, her article about the power and potential of personalized medicine was published in Forbes. And today, her friends are supporting her vision — keeping her “hope” alive — through the Adriana Jenkins Foundation for Personalized Medicine and a fundraising team with Stand Up To Cancer. Formed in Adriana’s name, the goal of the group is to raise awareness and be a proponent for development of personalized medicines, like the one that gave Adriana the nearly 10 years she never expected she would have.

Cancer is an extraordinarily complicated problem, and will only be solved through new approaches and ideas. Personalized medicine is one of them.

- These remarks were first made by Ms. Lindenboom at the Personalized Medicine Coalition Boston Reception on November 8, 2011. They were also posted on HuffingtonPost.com.


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