Vertex Pharmaceuticals opens expanded San Diego research center with focus on cystic fibrosis

By Bradley J. Fikes

Vertex Pharmaceuticals opened its new San Diego research center Monday, starting a new chapter in a decades-long quest to not only treat but cure cystic fibrosis.

In 18 years, three drugs for the lung-ravaging disease have emerged from Vertex’s San Diego center and more are in the pipeline.

The first, Kalydeco, was approved in 2012. It is the first drug that treats the underlying cause of the disease. The second, Orkambi, was approved three years later. And the third, Symdeko, was approved in February.

These drugs can benefit about half of all patients with the incurable disease. In the next several years, Boston-based Vertex hopes its drugs can help nearly all patients live longer, healthier lives.

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic defect that allows a buildup of thick mucus in the lungs, and other internal organs. This mucus clogs airways and promotes the growth of bacteria. The average lifespan of patients is 37 years, up from 20 years in 1980. Treatments include antibiotics to fight lung infections and mucus-thinning drugs.

The new 170,000 square-foot building on Torrey Pines Mesa more than doubles the company’s space. The center includes cell culturing equipment to grow lung cells from patients, to be used for drug screening. A 4,000 square-foot incubator suite will serve outside collaborators.

Asides from cystic fibrosis, the staff will work on other serious diseases.

Among the speakers Monday morning was a veteran in the fight against cystic fibrosis: Jennifer Ferguson, who has two children with the disease, Ashton and Lola. Both her children are taking Vertex drugs, and both were present with her at the event.

With these drugs and the promise of better therapies ahead, she says Ashton and Lola have a good chance of growing up and leading their own lives. She urged all Vertex employees to think of themselves as part of a team to cure the disease.

Ferguson, of San Diego, found out about the work from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The foundation had invested $30 million in startup Aurora Biosciences to find therapies.

In 2001, Vertex purchased Aurora for $592 million in stock, the same year Ashton was diagnosed. The research went on under Vertex, and Ferguson became quite familiar with the research team.

“The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation asked me to come speak, to show them what it’s like to have a little child with CF,” she said. “So I came here about 17 years ago with him as a 6-month-old.”

At that time, many cystic fibrosis patients never reached adulthood.

“I had a hard time keeping it together,” Ferguson told the audience of that long-ago visit.

“But I looked in the staff’s faces — and some of you are still here — and I thought, I’m going to put my faith and trust in your hands, in your brains. And I was able to let go of my worry, because you were on the case.”

Ferguson started visiting every few years to check on what progress was being made, first with Ashton, and later including Lola. She also raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Both her children have shown improvement since starting the Vertex drugs, Ferguson said. But they still need to go through a daily regimen of clearing out their lungs.

From medications, the research frontier has advanced to investigations into a cure. That means fixing the genetic defect, which can come in several variations, inside living patients.

That cure might come from the hot new gene editing technology called CRISR. In 2015, Vertex allied with startup CRISPR Therapeutics to develop curative therapies.

This post was originally published on The San Diego Union-Tribune

7 Things Your Partner with CF Probably Isn’t Telling You

By Hannah Buck

Being in a committed, loving, long-term relationship is a distinctly intimate experience. It is the most intimate experience of humanhood many would argue. To see a person walking by and say to them, “Hey, you’re fairly OK-looking. Would you like to hold hands for forever and accrue debt until we die?” is to truly know companionship. That, and watching each other poop.

Chronic illness makes dating a thoroughly more vulnerable experience, and not just for the patient. You see, sickness affects everyone involved. It accelerates everything. Sickness makes daily life complicated (e.g. planning dates that aren’t physically taxing or one partner relying more on the other for help with everyday chores) and the future even less promising than it usually is. When you or your partner has a condition like cystic fibrosis, the bleak reality of your situation is sorely evident. It’s inescapable. One of you will die much sooner than the other. And with that intense reality flashing its lights 24/7, it can be tempting to hold things in.

I don’t speak for all people with CF in writing the following list — but by sharing what I’ve withheld in past romantic relationships, I hope to make you laugh, open your eyes, and help you become a better partner to the person whose hand you like to hold. Enjoy.

Things your partner with CF probably isn’t telling you

1. They’ve been wetting your bed for a while.

Have you ever rolled over in the middle of the night to feel a damp spot on the mattress? Has your girlfriend been known to spontaneously wash your sheets and comforter out of the goodness of her heart? Yeah, sorry to break it to you, it’s not because she’s an angel. It’s because she has coughing-induced, premature incontinence, and she doesn’t want you to know.

2. Their antibiotics give them diarrhea.

It just happens, OK! We don’t ask for this! Antibiotics have one mission: to kill. This includes good gut bacteria, which unfortunately messes up our tummies. Make your partner’s day by surprising them with a bottle of probiotic-rich kombucha to get things back on track.

3. They’d prefer if you looked away during their cough attacks.

Coughing ain’t cute. Yes, yes, I know you love them, but try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. If you were red in the face, foaming at the mouth, hunched over like the Notre Dame character, and spewing phlegm like a swampy sprinkler, would you want the love of your life to gaze longingly upon you? Probably not. Give ’em space.

4. They wish you visited them in the hospital more.

They just feel too guilty to say it out loud. It is unspeakably lonely to sit in a small room and face the same wall every day. Please, even if they insist they’re fine, be there for them. Stop by. Make the time. If you can’t do that, text, call, or video chat. While 24 hours pass by in a snap in the outside world, in the hospital, the hours drag like you wouldn’t believe.

5. It makes them really happy when you randomly flex your CF knowledge.

Showing your partner that you care about them enough to not only learn about their disease but about how it’s treated is an instant way to grow closer. For many of us, the only people we have to confide in about this part of our lives is our medical team, our family, and occasionally other CFers (but only online). Take the time to learn what’s what — get the medication names right, make yourself an ally, and demonstrate that the two of you are teammates in this fight.

6. Explaining what’s “wrong” with them to other people makes their life so much easier.

With this one, I want to repeat my disclaimer: I am speaking for myself, and every person with CF is different. Please talk to your partner before taking this advice.

With that said, I have always found it to be an incredible relief when my partner discreetly says, “She has something called CF, so she coughs a lot. It’s normal. So anyway … ” and then changes the subject when I have a cough attack around people who don’t know me. Explaining myself is something I’ve had to do my entire life, so having someone else do it for me is a treat I savor every time.

7. They don’t feel worthy of your love, and they feel guilty about loving you.

I hope this one isn’t true for you guys. In my case, it is, and I suspect it’ll be a lifelong battle. Having an incurable illness is a heavy burden to bear, but when you’re born with it, there’s no other option. Putting it on another person, though, that’s different. That isoptional. And it can feel impossible to justify exposing the person whose hand you like holding to that level of lifelong pain.

This post originally appeared on CF News Today.

Broadway’s biggest stars come together to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis

What do you get when Broadway’s biggest stars, such as Javier Muñoz and Gideon Glick, come together in the recording studio? One heck of a song. And one heck of a message.

Joined by Broadway veterans Laura Osnes, Christy Altomare and actress Sarah Levy, Muñoz and Glick have banded together for a new campaign — called the “Anyway” campaign — for an original song to help raise money for Emily’s Entourage.

At the center of the Entourage is Emily Kramer-Golinkoff: a 33-year-old daughter, sister and granddaughter who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when she was just a few weeks old. Her parents, Liza and Michael, have done everything in their power to raise Emily as if she was a normal child.

As the fatal disease only affects 70,000 people worldwide, funding for a cure is limited. Emily and her family are even more restrained by her specific mutation, which means medical funding is even rarer. And with a life expectancy of only 35-37 years for her kind of CF, time’s ticking.

Six years after the Kramer-Golinkoffs decided to take matters into their own hands, they’ve raised $3 million to drive high-impact research and speed up breakthroughs to research not only Emily’s mutation, but many other diseases including muscular dystrophy, inherited blood disorders and certain cancers.

They’ve also built a network of family, friends, and strangers from around the world, all of whom have been welcomed into the Entourage. Each Entourage member has been more inspired by Emily’s story than the next.

Take Elizabeth Phillipson-Weiner, from Emily’s hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and composer of “Anyway.” She took a simple journal entry from a songwriting retreat, turning lyrics like “when the going gets tough I ask questions” into a prolific melody.

Elizabeth explained to AOL Lifestyle. “The song wasn’t just cathartic for me, but could actually ring true for a lot of other people. I immediately thought of Emily.” Working with co-writers, producers and engineers, that melody was soon turned into a demo.

But as inspired as Elizabeth was by Emily’s story, the Entourage required “star power” to bring this project alive.

“I cold contacted agents and managers, I asked friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends,” said Elizabeth. “We did hear ‘no’ quite a bit, but whenever I became discouraged or frustrated I thought about who and what I was doing this for.”

This story was originally published on AOL.com

Vertex Employees Donate $1M to CF and Other Communities via Matching Gift Program

By Carolina Henriques

Vertex Pharmaceuticals employees have raised more million $1 million  using  the Vertex Foundation‘s matching gift program in a show of commitment to causes that include the cystic fibrosis (CF) community, a company press release states.

The dollar-for-dollar matching gift program is being run through the nonprofit Vertex Foundation, established by the company in November 2017 as part of it’s charitable giving goal of donating $500 million to qualified nonprofits and other causes worldwide over 10 years.

To date, more than 500 Vertex employees have used the program to support 753 charities around the globe working to advance work in areas that include healthcare, human services, education, and disaster relief.

Vertex’s charitable commitment has four primary goals: supporting CF patients and caregivers worldwide, including enabling access to Vertex’s medicines; helping underserved students and young women with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education; supporting young doctors and scientists; and strengthening and fostering innovation in local communities through health and wellness programs.

“Giving back is in our DNA at Vertex, and our employees have a long history of going the extra mile to improve the lives of patients, students and their neighbors,” Jeffrey Leiden, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Vertex, said in the release. “I’m proud that The Vertex Foundation is able to help extend the impact of our employees’ giving and look forward to seeing the reach of these investments in the causes they care about most.”

Also as part of its 10-year commitment, Vertex awarded $400,000 in scholarships to eligible CF patients and their family members in May as part of its second “All in for CF” scholarship program. In total, 80 scholarships worth $5,000 each were awarded for the upcoming academic year.

Vertex, which specializes in cystic fibrosis, has three approved CF therapies: Kalydeco (ivacaftor), Orkambi (lumacaftor/ivacaftor), and Symdeko (tezacaftor/ivacaftor).

The company is also testing potential triple combination treatments for CF.

For the rest of this article, click here.

How to Beat Brain Fog

By Wendy Caroline

As I sat down to write my column for this week, a massive wave of writer’s block hit me. This has been plaguing me for a while. Great timing, right?!

I started five different column pieces, each of which I would get a solid start on, and then nothing. I stopped understanding where the piece was going and didn’t like any of the words that I was writing. A few years ago, I started developing chronic fatigue. It started slowly, then quickly snowballed. In the past year, it has developed into brain fog. Very frustrating. I love using my brain for writing, reading, problem-solving, and critical thinking. It increasingly feels like cystic fibrosis is taking all these parts of my personality away from me. So here I am today, compiling a list of some tips and tricks that I use to combat brain fog and feel a little more like myself.

1. Don’t force it.

I can’t tell you how many times I have blocked my own brain by trying to force my way through brain fog. “Just do it.” How many times have we heard that? Unfortunately, at least for me, if I “just do it” and try to force myself to work through the brain fog, it just puts up more blocks. Then I get frustrated, and all I can think about is how I can’t think. It just spirals from there.

Cool, so how do you get past brain fog and still make your deadlines (because if you’re forcing it, that’s often why)? Be ahead of the game. I am guilty of this not being a natural instinct. In fact, I’m still learning how to do this. I used to be a procrastinator. I would thrive under the stress. My brain fog does not. Now I start writing and drafting at least a week before.

2. Get inspired.

One of the best ways to get inspired is to look to others. CF News Today columnist Brad Dell’s latest piece about brain fog directly inspired this post. It got me thinking about my own experience with brain fog, and how I have been insanely frustrated by its hold on my life. Find a piece of other people’s lives or the world around you that makes you think about your own. Capture it and go. I find that making a note of these inspirations in a note-taking app on my phone really helps because brain fog causes forgetfulness.

2. Create the mood.

Ditch the phone and whatever other fancy gizmos that cause a distraction. Find the type of environment that makes you feel inspired and ready to work. For me, that’s open space with lots of natural light and structured seating.

Next, put on some music — music that is going to make you focus and productive. My go-to is this Classical Essentials playlist on shuffle. This helps me drown out enough thoughts that I won’t get distracted without drowning out the thoughts that I need to work. Whatever you listen to, just make sure it doesn’t have words.

It’s also important to get your brain in the right mood. My brain fixates on chores and tasks that need doing, so I always make sure to get those done before I sit down to write. Also yoga and meditation, that’s some great stuff.

4. Let it flow.

A friend of mine gave me this very useful tip. Just let the words flow out of you, even if you don’t like them. When I use this technique, I have to write everything my heart desires and then walk away. Don’t reread it right then. You will get frustrated. Instead, write all you can and come back to it after you’ve had a solid break. For me, this is usually the next day. Your rough work can have a really good base but just needs to be re-worked.

I know that these tips and tricks are focused on writing, but I use the general ideas in all aspects of my life. Whether it is work, family, friends, or hobbies, brain fog can affect every aspect of your life. It’s one of the reasons that I haven’t been very active on any of my social media platforms — Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and even my blog. As my brain fog developed into almost a daily issue, I took a step back and prioritized what I needed to focus on first. I truly believe that as these steps of beating brain fog become a habit, I will be able to handle more. Hopefully, you’ll see me around the internet again real soon.

» Find me on the internet at The Living, Breathing Wendy «

This article was originally published on CF News Today.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Lessons Learned Through Parenting and CF

Guest Blog By Jeannine Ricci

Back in 2001, when I became a mother, resources on parenting
with CF were practically nonexistent. Thanks to all of the
research advancements, it’s so exciting to now see more and
more people with CF exploring the possibility of parenthood.
Because this topic is becoming more prevalent, I thought it might
be a good time to resurrect an article that I wrote 5 years ago. It
discusses my experience with talking with my children about CF
and the possibility of a shortened life expectancy. Hopefully it will
help other parents as they face this challenging subject.
At the end of the article, I give an update on my daughters
and how their experience with my CF continues to impact their
lives.

***Lessons Learned- Parenting with CF***

My CF has shaped my children’s lives for as long as they can
remember. As toddlers, they developed patience. After many
temper tantrums, they eventually learned that I had to finish my
treatments before we embarked on our day’s adventures. As
preschoolers they learned empathy. They would run to get me
tissues and water if I was having a coughing fit. Their teachers
would comment on the level of empathy they showed their
classmates and how unusual it was at such a young age. During
their school years, they are learning to become more
independent. Just last week, my older daughter surprised me by
making their lunches and helping her sister with her homework
because she knew I was not feeling well.

Since CF had been woven into their everyday lives, I took their
comfort level with my CF for granted. They knew that CF meant
coughing, treatments, and IVs. What they did not know was that
it is a life-threatening disease. I regret having not broached this
subject with them as soon as I felt they were mature enough to
handle this information. Last year my daughter’s teacher called
to tell me that he was concerned about her. She was not herself
at school. She was very distracted and seemed depressed. I
knew immediately what was bothering her. I was on IVs because
of an especially difficult exacerbation. The side effects of the
antibiotics left me on the couch most of the day. It was the
sickest she had ever seen me. We had a long discussion after the
phone call and she opened up to me and told me how she had
read something at the CF walk that stated that the life
expectancy of someone with CF was 37 years old. I was 40. It
truly broke my heart to know that I was not there to answer her
questions and ease her fears when she read this critical piece of
information. She deserved to hear this from me. As I spoke to
her, I tried to give her realistic but hopeful answers. I told her
that I wanted nothing more than to watch her and her sister
grow up and that I hoped to be there for her college graduation,
her wedding, and the birth of her children. I explained that there
are so many new medicines being discovered that would help to
make this a possibility, but I also told her that there are no
guarantees, and that is why I try so hard to keep myself as
healthy as possible.

Just as my children have always incorporated important life
lessons from my illness into their lives, I believe that this
discussion will only further strengthen their character. It will
teach them the value of treating every day as a gift. I hope my
experience encourages other parents with CF to be prepared to
have this pivotal discussion with their children. No matter how
difficult it may seem, it will be worth the peace of mind knowing
that you will be the one delivering this information, ready to help
them cope with their fears.

Here are some guidelines from Lisa C. Greene, a mom of two
children with CF and co-author with Foster Cline, M.D. of the book
Parenting Children with Health Issues (www.PCWHI.com)

• Pivotal parenting moments can take us by surprise, so be
prepared ahead of time. Our answers should be honest, calm,
matter-of-fact, and hopeful. We shouldn’t use terms like “fatal”
or “life-shortening” nor should we make empty promises. Use
terms like “healthier” rather than “healthy,” “more likely to live a
long time” rather than “will live a long time.”

• We need to try our best not to let our own fears and worries
show, both in our words and in our body language. Children pick
up on (and tend to mirror) their parents’ emotional cues,
especially when they are young. If you are having trouble
controlling your own emotions about these tough issues,
counseling might be helpful.

• At some point, we do need to address the issue of life
expectancy. Hopefully, this will be clarified by around the age of
eight (around 3rd grade) depending on the maturity of your
child. One way to address this issue is to ask your child questions
to open up dialogue. Some examples are:
“How much do you know about CF?”
“How are you handling it?”
“Is there anything about CF that worries you?”

With a little awareness and preparation, you can make talking
about these difficult issues a positive experience. Relationships
can grow closer when people go through tough times together.

Update: 5 Years Later
It’s no surprise that this disease has continued to shape my
daughters’ lives over the past 5 years. There’s no denying that my CF, anxiety, and depression have caused many hardships for my family. And it’s
difficult not get swallowed up in the guilt of knowing that there
are times that I’m not able to be the mom that I desire to be, the
mom that they deserve. During these times, I try my best to
focus on the positive ways CF has touched their lives.

The attributes of fortitude and courage were fostered as they
watched my battle with CF progression as it inched its way closer
and closer to the center of my life–our lives–demanding more
attention. And then, in November of 2014, they witnessed hope
being transformed into tangible reality as I swallowed my first
dose of Kalydeco. This new reality has allowed them to more
confidently envision me by their sides in the distant future. They
have embraced this gift with a deep sense of gratitude that can
only be felt when someone has experienced the threat of the
unbearable alternative.

They have watched as this same gratitude has fueled my desire
to help others who are still waiting for their miracle. At the young
ages of 15 and 17, they possess a keen understanding of the
intrinsic value in every life, and that the amount of money in
someone’s bank account or what type of insurance they have
should not be dictating access to these life-saving medications.

They have learned the importance of taking action and
advocating for others, even if your voice is seemingly
overpowered by others. They have both participated in the Cystic
Fibrosis Foundation’s Teen Advocacy Days in Washington D.C.
the last few years, meeting with members of Congress and
stressing the importance of ensuring adequate healthcare
coverage for all. They recognize the gifts both given and received when you touch a person’s life indelibly and both of my daughters have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the healthcare field. 

I’m so proud of them as I watch them develop into
compassionate, strong, young women, inspired to make their
mark on this world; a mark that undoubtedly would not be so
deep and impactful if it wasn’t for the valuable life lessons they
have gleaned from having someone they love with CF.

Ground-Breaking Procedure. A major step for science, medicine, the human condition

by Mary Bulman; Independent UK

“Woman spends record six days without lungs thanks to ground-breaking procedure”

Yes you’ve read that correctly.
Yes, it reads six days.

A true miracle! Definitely an understatement.

Though it’s been over a year since this procedure was carried out, it’s one that I believe cannot be shared enough. A huge step for medicine and science- but perhaps a larger one for the human condition and the willingness to live and fight.

“I still don’t believe it happened. It seems very surreal.” says patient Melissa Benoit.
And that’s because it is, Ms. Benoit.

After coming down with the flu the last year 2016, Ms. Benoit was taken from her home in Burlington, Canada to the ICU in a nearby hospital located right outside of Toronto, Canada.  Doctor’s made the spilt decision to go through with a first time procedure in order to save her life. After becoming resistant to most antibiotics, bacteria began to move throughout her body, eventually causing her to lapse into septic shock. One by one her organs started shutting down, due to the decline of her blood pressure.

“Although it had never been carried out before, doctors decided to remove her lungs entirely.”

“What helped us is the fact that we knew it was a matter of hours before she would die,” said Dr Shaf Keshavjee, one of three surgeons who operated on her. “That gave us the courage to say — if we’re ever going to save this woman, we’re going to do it now.”

To learn more about Ms. Benoit and the new breed of surgery that was carried out please continue onto the article below:
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/woman-six-days-without-lungs-waiting-list-donor-organ-burlington-ontario-melissa-benoit-world-first-a7547936.html

We want to hear from you! CF Roundtable article submission deadline soon

CF Roundtable Article submissions are due December 15th.

The Focus Topic for the Winter 2018 issue is “Becoming A Parent With CF”.  If you – our adult readers with CF – have thought about becoming a parent, what decisions and considerations did you make? Are you a parent or do you help raise a nephew, niece or another child relative? Whether you already have children or want to start a family, tell us about your journey to parenthood.

Continue reading We want to hear from you! CF Roundtable article submission deadline soon

Strangers Help Give Woman in Need of 2nd Double Lung Transplant Her Dream Wedding

“We’ve kind of realized that if we wait it might not happen,” she said.

Caleigh Haber has been dreaming of her wedding day for as long as she can remember, but she never realized it would come like this.

The 27-year-old, who has cystic fibrosis and is currently in need of her second double lung transplant, is about to marry the love of her life, Bryan Takayama. It’s an exciting celebration with a somber undertone.

Continue reading Strangers Help Give Woman in Need of 2nd Double Lung Transplant Her Dream Wedding