Introducing the new members of the Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel

5 July 2023
Introducing the new members of the Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel

We are pleased to welcome seven new members to the Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel: Yelak Biru, Ivana Cattaneo, Anjee Davies, Joya Harris, Dirk Hellrung, Chris Stewart and Christine Wu.

From helping to shape our challenges, to working closely with teams, the Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel is instrumental in helping develop how we embed advocacy within the initiative. Chaired by Margaret Grayson MBE, the panel ensures that those affected by cancer are involved in and positively impacted by our research.

After welcoming its newest members, the panel is now made up of 12 advocates from the UK, US, Canada, Italy and Germany who each bring their own unique perspectives, skills and lived experiences to the initiative.

Yelak, who lives in the US, is President and CEO of the International Myeloma Foundation. After being diagnosed with myeloma at the young age of 25, Yelak first joined the foundation as lead of a support group and later became a member of its Board of Directors. His vision is to find a cure for myeloma so that no one dies from this type of cancer by the year 2035.

Yelak has been a member of various committees and advocacy groups including the National Cancer Institute (NCI)’s Myeloma Committee, the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group and National Cancer Research advocacy organisations. He is also a co-author of published research and a prolific speaker on patient care and myeloma research issues.

“My area of cancer advocacy is research, as well as equitable care - I feel like research and the outcome of research is not necessarily equitably distributed around the globe,” says Yelak.

 “I'm happy to be here and support this creative and ambitious project.”

Ivana joins the panel from Italy, where she currently works for pharmaceutical company Novartis as Executive Director Oncology Policy and Healthcare Systems. She is passionate about cancer policy and believes in the power of inclusion and collaboration.

Ivana brings a wealth of experience from her current positions within a variety of steering committees that focus on policy advocacy in cancer research, cancer challenges, access and inequalities, including as Chair of the Oncology Platform within EFPIA (European Federation of Industry and Association Fighting cancer); Steering Committee member of Rare Cancers Europe (RCE, ESMO); and founding member of Transforming Breast Cancer Together.

“When it comes to cancer, there is still a lot that we don't know and don't understand. So, when I saw the Cancer Grand Challenges application for this Advocacy Panel, I thought: this is my dream coming true. Because of the vision of Cancer Grand Challenges:  no one scientist or institution or country can tackle cancer alone. We really need to transcend the classical way of doing things, go beyond boundaries, geographies, include all disciplines to urgently transform cancer care. And I am proud and humble to be part of this," says Ivana.

Anjee, based in the US, is currently President of Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC), a national patient-empowerment organisation that serves as a relentless champion of hope for all affected by this disease through informed patient support, impactful policy change and funding impactful research.

She is a breast cancer survivor, after being diagnosed in February 2020.

Anjee advocates for patients’ access to care and research advancements. She is chair of the NCI’s Council of Research Advocates and member of NCI’s Clinical Trials and Translational Research Advisory Committee, amongst other positions in the cancer policy space.

To the Advocacy Panel, Anjee brings almost two decades of experience in research advocacy and a passion to ensure the voices of people affected by cancer are heard.

Joining the panel from the US, Joya is the Executive Director, CEO Cancer Gold Standard for the CEO Roundtable on Cancer. As part of this role, Joya is working on a multi-year strategic partnership between corporations and Minority-Serving Institutions to help achieve equitable health outcomes in those disproportionately affected by cancer.

After being diagnosed with stage 3-C breast cancer in 2007, Joya is grateful to be able to match her personal experience with professional interests by being an advocate. Some of Joya’s advocacy positions include being a member of the NCI’s Council of Research Advocates, a Consumer Advocate Peer Reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs – where she works with scientists to review and evaluate breast cancer research grant proposals – and a volunteer with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

Dirk joins the panel from Germany, where he is a member of the patient advisory board of the DKFZ – Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. As an engineer, Dirk has a keen interest in research.

In 2003, Dirk’s eldest son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at the age of five and underwent treatment for 4 years. This experience helped Dirk to engage in a local parents’ organisation, first as a volunteer and later as a member of the board. In 2022, Dirk himself was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. As he is benefiting from progress made in research over the past 20 years, it has been an easy step for him to engage with initiatives that bring research one step ahead.

From his experiences during his professional career and insights in the field of childhood cancer, Dirk believes cooperation between researchers, clinicians, industry and patients is key for success.

“When I was asked to join this panel, it was no question for me, and I really look forward to exchanging with [the panel members]. To see what patients can do worldwide for cancer research will be quite interesting for me and I'm really looking forward to working together with the panel,” says Dirk.

After being diagnosed in 2017 with two different blood cancers (chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and cutaneous follicle centre cell lymphoma), Chris is passionate about helping those affected by cancer to be heard.

Chris, from the US, is active in the blood cancer community and has conducted research with blood cancer patients on awareness of their disease, knowledge related to therapies, preferences related to treatment and unmet needs. Chris has been published in a number of cancer and medical journals. 

To the panel, Chris also brings his experience as a social scientist where, during his professional career, he led basic and fundamental scientific research in the fields of social and behavioural sciences.

“I love going back to first principles and discovering that there's perhaps a new answer that we hadn't considered before. I’m looking forward to being part of an initiative that brings this way of thinking in from a multidisciplinary standpoint and to being able to provide a voice for cancer patients,” says Chris.

Christine joins the panel from Canada, where she is currently leading a research project on Canadian lung cancer patients’ fear and anxiety about the recurrence of lung cancer.

Within the cancer research space, Christine co-developed the Breakthrough Team Grant ($45m) for the Canadian Cancer Society, and is a key research team member and leads a six-member patient-partner team at the University of Montreal, funded by the Canadian Cancer Society. She also serves as a patient and family representative on the board of the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology and has served as a grant reviewer for a number of funding bodies.

Christine began her journey in cancer advocacy after receiving a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer in 2015.

“I’m excited and privileged to be a member of the Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel, which gives me the opportunity to help shape cancer research and to have a voice in the science strategy,” says Christine.

The new panel members joined their first Advocacy Panel meeting in May, where they met with existing members of the panel to discuss the role of advocacy in upcoming milestones for the initiative.

“I've been part of this initiative since it was Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge back in 2014, before CRUK and the National Cancer Institute founded Cancer Grand Challenges in 2020. I still view it as exciting as ever, as being big, bold outside-the-box science thinking. And if it's like that in science, then I also believe that it has to be big, bold outside-the-box patient advocacy within it,” says Margaret.

“I'm looking forward to working on this round of challenges and with all the panel members.”

Find out more about the Advocacy Panel and all members here.

We would like to express our gratitude to former Advocacy Panel members Jeremy Dearling, Jim Elliot, Terry Kavanagh and Richard Stephens for their hard work and commitment to the initiative. We will soon be sharing a blog post focused on the experiences and learnings of existing and former members of the Advocacy Panel.