'Angels Among Us' Funds Research, Celebrates Hope

March 4, 2019
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

Every spring, come rain or come shine, patients, survivors, caregivers, loved ones, and Duke faculty and staff gather at the Angels Among Us 5K and Walk of Hope to celebrate hope and raise funds to fight brain cancer. 

In its 25-year history, the event has raised nearly $25 million for the cause. Last year more than 4,000 participants raised a record $2.3 million. Organizers are hoping to top their $2 million goal again this year by event day, Saturday, April 27. 

Fundraising efforts like Angels Among Us play an important part in advancing groundbreaking therapies and technologies. They’re used where the need is, from supporting a new researcher to buying new equipment for the lab or surgical suite.

Among the breakthroughs benefiting, in part, from this much-needed support, is the re-engineered poliovirus vaccine (PVSRIPO), which was invented by Duke researcher Matthias Gromeier, MD, to treat glioblastoma and potentially other solid tumor cancers. 

After years of pre-clinical safety studies at Duke to prove the vaccine wouldn’t infect patients with polio, the re-engineered poliovirus was granted investigational new drug status in 2011 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This paved the way for a Duke-led Phase 1 study of PVSRIPO in patients with recurrent glioblastoma in 2012, the preliminary results of which seem to indicate a significant increase in overall survival compared to standard-of-care. 

Matthias Gromeier, MD The PVSRIPO vaccine was granted "breakthrough" status by the FDA last year.

“The impressive results with PVSRIPO in this trial are the best we have seen to date in patients with recurrent glioblastoma and provide hope for these patients whose typical survival time is less than a year,” said neuro-oncologist Henry S. Friedman, MD, an investigator on the Phase 1 study and deputy director of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

Now, the vaccine’s effectiveness is being studied in a Duke-led multi-center Phase 2 trial of PVSRIPO alone and in combination with chemotherapy in adults with recurrent malignant glioma and a Duke-led Phase 1 trial in pediatric patients with recurrent malignant glioma. 

“Angels Among Us gives me a boost of energy and reinforces my choice to work in neuro-oncology,” said Duke neuro-oncologist Annick Desjardins, MD who led a flash-mob dance at the event last year (see video above), and was an investigator on the adult Phase 1 study of the re-engineered poliovirus vaccine. “Seeing all the patients and caregivers raise money for the event and then come together to tell us — ‘We raised this money for the brain tumor center at Duke, because we believe in you, we believe you will be the ones who will make a difference against this awful disease’ —  is quite powerful and humbling.”
 
Angels Among Us will take place Saturday, April 27, on the Duke Medical Center Campus, at the corner of Erwin and Flowers, in Durham, North Carolina. The competitive certified 5K run begins at 8 a.m. and the 1.5 mile Walk of Hope through the Duke Campus and Sarah P. Duke Gardens starts at 11:15 a.m. Survivor recognition takes place at 10:30 a.m. 

There’s a $35 pre-registration fee for participants over the age of 12. Event-day registration is $40. To form a team, join a team, or register as an individual, visit Angels Among Us. For more information or inquiries, contact Ellen Stainback or visit the Angels Among Us web site

CIRCLE PHOTO (TOP): Duke neuro-oncologist Annick Desjardins, MD, leads a flash-mob dance at the 2018 Angels Among Us 5K and Walk of Hope.