Friday, December 19, 2014

Son of a Mesothelioma Victim Shows Veterans with Mesothelioma How to Get the Right Answers, Right Away

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 19, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — The West Los Angeles Veterans' Administration Medical Center (West LA VAMC) has taken an important first step to help victims suffering with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), by establishing a Comprehensive Mesothelioma Center at the West LA VAMC.

"Unfortunately, the center is not on the radar," said Clare Cameron, executive director of The Pacific Meso Center. "There is no mention of the Center on the VA website and many doctors in the VA system aren't clued in as to where to get advice or how to utilize the system.  In the meantime, veterans are being misdiagnosed or needlessly suffering without access to specialized care."

The Comprehensive Mesothelioma Center (CMC) in West Los Angeles is headed by Dr. Robert B. Cameron, MD, FACS. His team includes doctors and nurse practitioners who specialize in the areas of pathology, radiation, pulmonary (lung), oncology (cancer) and anesthesia. All have extensive experience with diagnosing and treating MPM, an asbestos-related cancer affecting the lining of the chest - the pleura.
The Pacific Meso Center (PMC) at the Pacific Heart Lung & Blood Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit research organization, focused on finding better treatments for victims of MPM, has issued a protocol to help mesothelioma sufferers navigate the system and get to the right specialists in time:
Step 1: The patient should inform his or her doctor at his local VA facility about the specialized treatment available at West LA VAMC - the only specialized mesothelioma treatment center in the VA system.
Step 2: Ask the local doctor to contact the West Los Angeles VAMC and request an "inter-facility" consult through the VA's "TeleHealth" program. The person to contact is Almaz Tesfasilase, the cardiothoracic surgery case manager at the West LA VAMC, at (310) 268-4543.
Step 3: Doctors at the CMC will conduct a "virtual consult" by reviewing the patient's medical records and films. They can then assist the local VA doctor with determining the precise diagnosis and recommending a course of treatment.
Step 4: If appropriate, the patient can be referred to the West LA VAMC for specialized treatment. A patient referred to the CMC will have travel expenses paid for by the VA. While in Los Angeles, complimentary lodging will be arranged at the Fisher House, the new West Los Angeles Hotel or a local hotel. The CMC will also arrange for transportation between the hotel and the medical center.
The PMC acknowledges the support of the John Johnson family. John Johnson was a veteran who passed away from mesothelioma in 2012. According to Michael Johnson, "My father might be alive today if he had access to specialists within the VA, but by the time he had heard about Dr. Cameron and his team from friends outside of the VA, it was too late." Johnson's 501(c)(3) non-profit, J.J. Mesothelioma Foundation | Fight Mesothelioma Now!, has a mission to reach out and help mesothelioma sufferers and their families with encouragement and advice, and guide them to the right people at the VA.  See Johnson's step by step video guide.
For further information, please contact:
Clare Cameron – 310-478-4678

Monday, December 15, 2014

Son of a Mesothelioma Victim Urges VA Secretary of Health to Fund Medical Program Dedicated to Veterans Stricken with Asbestos Cancer

LOS ANGELESDec. 12, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The Pacific Meso Center (PMC) is urging the US Veterans Administration (VA) to enhance mesothelioma healthcare services at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center (VAMC). Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Nearly one-third of the 3500 Americans diagnosed annually with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos in Navy shipyards or military facilities, making veterans among those most at risk for this cancer.

The campaign to establish a comprehensive meso center at the West LA VA was spearheaded by the family of John Johnson, a former US Marine who lost his battle with mesothelioma in 2012.  They believe that if Mr. Johnson had had timely access to specialized care, he might be alive today. The family has pledged substantial funds to help create, publicize and build the program, citing the need to prevent other veterans from receiving substandard care.
The US Government has never fully funded a medical program dedicated to veterans stricken with asbestos cancer. The Comprehensive Meso Center will give veterans access to an early diagnosis, optimal treatments, and leading mesothelioma specialists, including Robert B. Cameron, MD, FACS, who pioneered the innovative lung-sparing surgery for patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma.
While veterans fortunate enough to know about this Center receive an unprecedented high standard of care, the Center itself remains a virtual secret. The Center and its specialized services are not mentioned on the VA's website.
In an online video plea Michael Johnsons Powerful Message to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonaldMichael JohnsonJohn Johnson's son, said, "We're asking the VA to simply educate doctors and veterans via its website and media promotions so that veterans can learn about resources at this Center. How many veterans have to die to get your attention?" 
Supporters of the Comprehensive Meso Center ask that it be called the "Elmo Zumwalt Comprehensive Mesothelioma Treatment & Research Center," in honor of the Navy Admiral who succumbed to mesothelioma. In addition, advocates are petitioning Secretary McDonald for VA funding of $5 million per year to cover the Center's expansion costs. "With adequate financial backing, the Center can provide comprehensive treatment services to an increased numbers of veterans nationwide. Funding also will allow top scientists to conduct clinical trials to benefit veterans diagnosed in the future," said Clare Cameron, Executive Director of the PMC.
For further information, please contact:
Clare Cameron - 310-478-4678
SOURCE Pacific Meso Center  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Secretary McDonald, Here is a Win-Win, The Mesothelioma Center of Excellence.

Dear Secretary McDonald:

Here’s a win-win for you, as you emerge from the wreckage of the “death by waiting list” imbroglio.

Thanks to the courage of Dr. Dean Norman and Dr. Robert Cameron, the VA Medical Center in West Los Angeles has established a Comprehensive Mesothelioma Center.  For Navy vets exposed to asbestos while serving their country, mesothelioma is a war-related disability.  It’s estimated over 1,000 vets annually are diagnosed with this insidious cancer. But until now the VA has never built a treatment program, as it has for Agent Orange, nuclear radiation and PTSD.

The CMC is a giant and long overdue step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the VA has not publicized the program, veterans don't know about it, very few VA doctors outside of LA are aware of it, and it’s not well funded. Ironically, the problem is the lack of a waiting list.  Consequently, veterans are suffering without access to specialized care.

You can easily change this. And, for the thousands of vets now and in the future with mesothelioma who will be fighting for their life, you should. Please click here to view a video I prepared on the problem and solution. 

I have written to you and your predecessor before, without any return comment. Please respond. I am available to fly to Washington DC to meet with you in person.

Thank you for your service.

Roger G. Worthington

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Pacific Meso Center Receives $100,000 Donation for Ongoing Stem Cell Research Program

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 3, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Citing the need to invest in a long-range cure, Roger Worthington of the Worthington & Caron, P.C. donated $100,000 to The Pacific Meso Center (PMC) at The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (PHLBI) to support its ongoing stem cell research program. Worthington jump-started the research last December with a similar donation.

Dr. Raymond Wong of the Pacific Meso Center
The PMC is dedicated to finding a cure for mesothelioma, a potentially life-threatening cancer affecting the pleura - the lining of the chest. Tens of thousands of veterans exposed to asbestos during their military service are now at risk for developing mesothelioma. Thousands of veterans have already been diagnosed with this disease.

"Veterans need our help," Worthington said. "I'm hopeful that with this donation the Federal Government will recognize the potential therapeutic merits of stem cell research and more than match it, for veterans and all Americans struggling with mesothelioma."

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) – "pluripotent" adult stem cells that can differentiate into several types of cells -- are currently one of the most promising areas of anti-cancer research. Mr. Worthington's donation will help fund critical clinical studies affiliated with the new Comprehensive Meso Center at the West Los Angeles(WLA) Veterans' Administration (VA). Robert B. Cameron, MD, FACS, a Scientific Advisor to the PMC, is the Founder and Director of the WLA VA Comprehensive Meso Center.

The Comprehensive Meso Center will not only offer essential patient services – including specialized diagnostics and therapeutics – to meet the healthcare needs of Veterans with mesothelioma in Southern California, but will also  sponsor innovative clinical trials on patients with mesothelioma. In 2014 the PMC joined forces with the West LA VA to launch a seminal stem cell research program aimed at developing innovative therapeutic approaches to mesothelioma, which disproportionately affects veterans. In keeping with the PMC's mission to eradicate this cancer, the overreaching goal of the stem cell research project is to discover breakthrough treatments that halt the rapid progression of mesothelioma and to eventually find a cure for this aggressive cancer.

The PMC's end-of-the-year goal is to match Mr. Worthington's gift with an additional $100,000 from its donors at large. Contributors from all walks of life have helped to sustain the PMC. Donations, large and small, are a key to translating the organization's laboratory research into effective pharmaceutical treatments in the clinic.  "We are very fortunate to have continued with significant support from Mr. Worthington," Dr. Cameron said. "We are also grateful to all those who can contribute to this special campaign at this turning point in the PMC's history. Their collective donations will accelerate our search for novel therapies to improve both the longevity and the quality of life of those battling this devastating disease."

For further information, please contact:
Clare Cameron - 310-478-4678
SOURCE The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute

Worthington & Caron Mourns the Loss of 18 Year Meso Survivor Jill Vaughn

Stories of hope can be rare when talking about mesothelioma, even more rare than the aggressive cancer itself, but they do exist, giving us pause, that maybe we can fight this disease…and win. Jill Vaughn was one of these stories. She was a long time cancer survivor before finally passing away from mesothelioma this past month.

Jill was diagnosed with two different types of cancer between the 1970s and 1980s before she was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1996. Upon her diagnosis she took to the internet to learn more about her disease. In 1996 there simply wasn’t much information about mesothelioma out there, online or elsewhere. Jill came across our firm’s website, which was unique in that it shared detailed profiles of others with mesothelioma, their stories and which treatment regimen they used. Jill found it difficult to read about people’s struggles, but also helpful in determining which path was right for her.

Jill traveled all over the country seeking the right medical treatment for herself. She originally was set to undergo surgery to remove her entire lung, but awoke to find that she still had both her lungs. Jill’s surgeon told her that her cancer was too far advanced, and that leaving the lung in would allow her to “die easier”. Her surgeon then estimated she had six months to live.

The fact that she survived 18 years with mesothelioma is exemplary, she didn’t waste that time either. Jill was a brave mesothelioma advocate, sharing her own story to hopefully help others with mesothelioma, just as she had found help reading other profiles. Jill not only helped mesothelioma patients, but also volunteered for MD Anderson Network and Bloc Cancer Center to give support to others with cancer.

Jill’s advice to others was, “Attitude is what it’s all about, it’s your life preserver. So hang onto it very tight!” Thank you Jill, for never giving up and for your fight as a true mesothelioma warrior.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WR Grace Exits Bankruptcy After 13 Years, Was it Worth the Wait? You Decide

After ducking asbestos claims for 13 years, W.R. Grace in February of this year finally emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  W.R. Grace was one of the worst polluters on Earth. At the time they filed, they were facing over 100,000 personal injury and death cases, primarily stemming from the use of fireproofing and plaster products.  W.R. Grace gained notoriety as the company which contaminated the tiny mountain town of Libby, Montana with tremolite asbestos from the mining of asbestos laced vermiculite.

At the time they filed, in 2001, WRG stock was around $1.50 a share. When they emerged from bankruptcy protection 13 years later, the stock was selling at $92 a share. It pays to duck responsibility? You decide.

Part of its court-approved bankruptcy reorganization plan was the establishment of two trusts to pay personal injury claimants and property owners.  The trusts are funded by more than $4 billion in cash, stock warrants, insurance proceeds and other sources.

This August, the trust began accepting Proof of Claim forms. According to their Trust Distribution Procedures, (basically their instruction manual) the Scheduled Average Value for a claimant diagnosed with mesothelioma is $180,000. The value for asbestos-related lung cancer is $42,000. However, the actual payment percentage is 26% of the Scheduled Value.  

A claimant is free to seek a value greater than the Scheduled Value by requesting the Trust perform an Individual Review of the claim. However, this does not guarantee a greater value or even an equal value as the Scheduled Value. The Maximum Value for this type of review for a mesothelioma claim is $450,000 before applying the liquidated payment percentage of 26%. For an asbestos-related lung cancer, the Maximum Value of an Individual Review claim is $95,000

To qualify for payment, a claimant must provide credible medical and exposure evidence as defined in the instruction manual (TDP).

The claims are paid on an impartial first-in-first-out basis.

Now, if a claimant was unfortunate enough to have filed a claim prior to April 2, 2001 against WRG as a part of a lawsuit but was never paid, they would have to follow the conditions outlined in the TDP, but the claim would be reviewed sooner.

The WRG bankruptcy is the longest in a long line of bankruptcies filed by the asbestos superpowers.  It's a sordid tale, and a long and desolate trail, but for those with the stomach, and the patience, here's a timeline. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied. What do you think? Will MBA students be studying the WRG bankruptcy as an example of what not to do in corporate america? Or will they be looking at it as a brilliant business move that saved the company billions and enriched thousands of shareholders?

You decide.

In April of 2001, WRG is named in more than 325,000 asbestos-related personal injury lawsuits.  They soon announce they have filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In May of 2001, WRG gets approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to receive a $250 million loan from Bank of America, to help support operations.

In February of 2003, WRG asks the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to allow an extension of its $250 million loan agreement with Bank of America for another three years.

In October of 2004, WRG makes a request to delay filing a reorganization plan, hoping to continue negotiations with creditors.  WRG also is notified they are a target of a federal grand jury investigation, facing indictments on several charges including interfering with an EPA investigation, violating the Clean Air Act and placing asbestos materials in schools and local residences and conspiring to conceal the resulting health problems.

In November of 2004, WRG files a reorganization plan with a Delaware court which is soon approved.

In January of 2005, WRG files an amended bankruptcy protection plan with a Delaware court.

In September of 2005, WRG opens a new China headquarters in Shanghai, which consolidates four other offices in the country.

In December of 2005, WRG announces they have spent $20 million in the year 2005 on legal defense costs.

In February of 2006, WRG announces it will open a new manufacturing facility, costing $20 million, in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee.

In April of 2008, WRG reaches a tentative settlement on all current and future asbestos-related claims, worth $2 billion.

In January of 2011, WRG latest bankruptcy reorganization plan is approved by Judge Judith Fitzgerald in Wilmington, Delaware.

In January of 2012, WRG’s bankruptcy reorganization plan is approved by a judge of the U.S. District Court.

In November of 2012, WRG announces it will pay cash, not stock, to settle a larger share of the asbestos-related injury claims against the company.

In December of 2012, WRG announces its total payments to date with its bank lenders, including interest is at $1.1 billion dollars.

In February of 2014, WRG emerges from bankruptcy protection.

The Wall Street Journal provided an excellent WRG trip summary.

WSJ highlights: 
  • The original bankruptcy judge, Alfred Wolin, was ordered off the case under fire from distressed-debt investors who fretted he was too friendly with the asbestos plaintiff’s camp.
  • A criminal indictment of the company and some executives, accused of knowingly allowing dangerous asbestos contamination to spread. WRG and its executives beat the charges, after a trial before a jury in Montana.
  • Some dark comedy, such as the asbestos-disposal solution WRG pursued for years in a Minneapolis neighborhood: Advertise asbestos-contaminated material as “free crushed rock” and invite the neighbors to come haul it away to decorate their lawns, firm up their driveways. WRG cleaned up the contamination.
Was it all worth it?  Earlier this month, WRG showed off its new 90,000-square-foot global headquarters building along with several laboratories at its 160-acre Columbia, Maryland campus.

You decide.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Promising Clinical Data on VS-6063 for the Treatment of Mesothelioma Presented at the 2014 iMig Conference

On October 24, 2014, at the iMig (International Mesothelioma Interest Group) Conference, Professor Raphael Bueno, M.D., Chief of Thoracic Surgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), presented preliminary data on Verastem, Inc.’s clinical ‘Window of Opportunity’ study evaluating the biomarker response to VS-6063 (defactinib), an oral small molecule that targets cancer stem cells through the inhibition of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) in pleural mesothelioma patients (mpm) eligible for resection surgery.

The drug was administered to 10 patients twice a day, for 12 days, with biopsies performed before and after the administration of the drug. Tumor size was measured using CT/PET scans before and after the 12-day administration of VS-6063.

VS-6063 reduced FAK activity by an average of 70%, and in 5 of the 7 patients reduced the presence of cancer stem cell markers in the post-treatment biopsies. None of the 10 patients saw any tumor growth in the 12 days, and 2 of the 10 patients experienced partial tumor shrinkage of -30%, and -49%.

“To follow up on these encouraging results, the protocol is being amended to explore more extended dosing in 10-15 additional patients with mesothelioma prior to surgery,” said Dr. Bueno. “The window of opportunity before elective surgery provides a novel platform for the clinical evaluation of promising new agents for the treatment of this devastating disease.”

In addition to the ‘Window of Opportunity’ study, Verastem is conducting a registration-directed COMMAND (Control Of Mesothelioma with MAinteNance Defactinib) study as a disease maintenance program following successful treatment with Alimta and cisplatin in patients with mpm.

Verastem also presented preclinical data at the iMig Conference which demonstrated the ability of VS-6063 and the combination of VS-6063 and VS-5584 to target and kill cancer stem cells in models of mesothelioma.

The administration of drugs prior to surgery to suppress tumor growth is not new. Many patients undergo chemotherapy before surgery in an effort to reduce tumor size and minimize complications. The possibility of inhibiting the disease’s production of a particular biomarker linked directly to tumor growth is very promising.

Verastem’s approach to developing targeted therapies for mesothelioma has the potential to not only improve treatment of this aggressive and deadly disease, but to offer new hope to patients struggling with their disease.

For additional information on Verastem’s ongoing research into treatment therapies for mesothelioma please visit: