The Endocrine Society is pleased to welcome its president for 2020–2021, Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD, who took office at the Society’s virtual business meeting on April 6. As director of the Endocrine Oncology Program at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, his work on adrenal homeostasis focuses on progenitor cell biology in health and disease with research including genomic studies of adrenal neoplasia and the development of targeted therapies for adrenal cancer.
Hammer succeeds E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, as the Society president, a position that rotates yearly to broadly represent our core missions (science — both basic and clinical, education, and clinical care) on our executive team composed of our current president, immediate past-president, and president-elect. But Hammer steps into this new role during a frantic time — the spread of COVID-19 (the so-called coronavirus) has disrupted virtually every part of daily life around the world including San Francisco where ENDO 2020 was canceled for the first time since World War II.
“I am honored to assume the role of president of the Endocrine Society during this exciting albeit tumultuous time,” Hammer says, “with the remarkable challenges that COVID-19 has presented to the world, our society has also been profoundly affected.”
“Nonetheless, with a robust financial portfolio, a deep team of outstanding professional staff and volunteer leaders, the Endocrine Society is well-equipped to handle the challenges,” Hammer continues.
“I am honored to assume the role of president of the Endocrine Society during this exciting albeit tumultuous time. With the remarkable challenges that COVID-19 has presented to the world, our society has also been profoundly affected.”
He says that in 2020, it will be increasingly important for us to be nimble as we re-assess our societal and global priorities. “In particular,” Hammer says, “we must keep steady focus on our scientists, clinicians, and our patients with a constant finger on the pulse of our advocacy efforts throughout this difficult time.”
Advancing the Patient’s Voice
Hammer received his medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1992, then headed west to the University of California, San Francisco, for his residency and his fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism. Throughout his career, he has remained deeply committed to endocrine science and clinical care across the spectrum of basic science, translational science, clinical science, and endocrine care. “While we have a robust outward-looking Hormone Health Network, I’m particularly interested in more deeply advancing the patient perspective in our society,” Hammer says, “with deeper levels of patient engagement across every aspect of our societal mission.”
The patient voice is growing louder every year. “Whether it’s engagement in our governance structure, our annual meetings throughout the year, and of course, our advocacy efforts, it is clear that patients are playing a much more active role in everything from healthcare policy on Capitol Hill to setting agendas at funding agencies to raising funds themselves to find cures for rare endocrine diseases,” Hammer says.
Bridging Oncology & Endocrinology
Hammer, an endocrinologist who specializes in endocrine oncology, serves as the Millie Schembechler professor of adrenal cancer (named for the wife of the legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler — Millie passed away from adrenal cancer), says that cancers of hormone-producing organs have been routinely managed by endocrinologists or occasionally nuclear medicine doctors. “With very few approved therapies for endocrine cancers, there was little enthusiasm for engagement,” Hammer says. “Historically, oncologists were only involved in the care of endocrine cancer patients when all other therapies failed.”
“As targeted therapies have become front and center in the care of all oncology, we find endocrine scientists and endocrinologists front and center in discovery efforts and care. Most of the new targeted therapies ‘target’ endocrine receptors, hormone receptors, or growth factor receptors, which fall smack in the domain of endocrinology,” Hammer continues. “We see the continued development of bona fide endocrine neoplasia programs around the world usually led by endocrine scientists and clinical endocrinologists.” As such, Hammer sees the Endocrine Society taking center stage in coordination of international multidisciplinary, multi-institutional cooperative groups such as the A5 (American Australian Asian Adrenal Alliance) dedicated to research efforts, clinical care, and advocacy of patients who suffer from rare endocrine cancer.”
Regenerative Medicine Renaissance
Over the next two years and beyond, the Society will champion the emerging fields of regenerative medicine and gene-based therapy and the role of artificial intelligence at both the bench and bedside. “The recent FDA approval of CAR T cells as immunotherapy for cancer, and gene-based therapies for muscular dystrophies have opened the floodgates, finally, for a deeper dive into regenerative and genetic therapies across the healthcare landscape,” Hammer says.
“The recent FDA approval of CAR T cells as immunotherapy for cancer, and gene-based therapies for muscular dystrophies have opened the floodgates, finally, for a deeper dive into regenerative and genetic therapies across the healthcare landscape.”
According to Hammer, most big pharmaceutical companies and many universities have had regenerative medicine programs or divisions for more than a decade. “They’ve all been engaged primarily in basic science but have been waiting for the day that the doors open for developing gene and cell tissue-based therapies,” he says. “That gate is now open, and we will see increasing investment in this space at both the level of big pharma and our national governmental funding agencies.”
And endocrinology — and especially the Endocrine Society — has a vital role to play in this regenerative renaissance. Hormones are crucial to cell- and tissue-based therapies, since hormones and growth factors are critical mediators of the regenerative response, Hammer says.
He goes on to explain that the regeneration of endocrine organs is actually some of the lowest hanging fruit in the regenerative landscape because of the unique fact that endocrine tissues secrete hormones into the blood and do not always rely on an organ’s in situ position in the body. “This is why parathyroid tissue has traditionally been transplanted into the forearm, because you simply need the cells to sense calcium and phosphorus and to secrete PTH into the bloodstream,” Hammer says.
“I would posit that the Endocrine Society should be front and center in the regenerative arena as it pertains to the cell- and tissue-based therapies for endocrine dysfunction,” he continues.
“Dance of Discovery”
So here in 2020, this is where the field of endocrinology is headed. Hammer points out that many of our members already recognize the need for and benefits of regenerative medicine when it comes to diabetes and regenerating beta cells, but why shouldn’t this area work for all failing endocrine organs?
For instance, Hammer says that we will someday have the capacity to remove defective progenitor cells of an endocrine organ, replace the genetic defect with the new CRISPR CAS technology and re-implant those cells back on the adrenal gland as a regenerative and gene therapy-based approach to cure the disease. “An example of this approach could be congenital adrenal hyperplasia, in which a single gene defect can potentially be corrected ex vivo and implanted in vivo for cure,” he says.
“We must keep steady focus on our scientists, clinicians, and our patients with a constant finger on the pulse of our advocacy efforts throughout this difficult time.”
But to do this will take engagement from the entire Society — scientists, clinicians, organizations, government and industry, even patients. “The Endocrine Society will continue to play a central role in the iterative dance of discovery and advancement of care through working with patients, scientists, industry, and the government together to make a difference for the lives of our patients,” Hammer says.
And as for the cancellation of ENDO 2020, Hammer is already looking forward to next year. “We envision that the meeting in 2021 will be a culmination of two years of outstanding endocrine science development, endocrine innovation, and clinical care,” he says. “We will celebrate.”