Late Fall 2022
By Colleen Sullivan
In 2017, a mammogram revealed that Langley Perer had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the very earliest, and highly treatable, stage of breast cancer. Because she also tested positive for BRCA2, an inherited gene mutation that increases her risk of developing certain cancers over her lifetime, she decided to undergo a double mastectomy to ensure the cancer wouldn’t return. It was a difficult decision, but afterward, she felt ready to move forward with her life, her career, and taking care of her two small children, Bowie, age 5, and Sawyer, age 7.
But then in 2021, Langley noticed one of her eyelids was drooping. Another series of tests later, she received devastating news: at 40 years old, she had leptomeningeal metastases. Her cancer had spread to her bones, brain, and spinal fluid.
Leptomeningeal brain metastases (LBM) are rare and difficult to treat, with progress stalled largely due to lack of funding for clinical trials that include this specific subset of patients. Langley and her husband, Scott Rosenberg, both work in the film industry and are savvy about getting projects off the ground. They have applied this approach to philanthropically supporting the work of Langley’s doctor, Nancy Lin, MD, with a substantial $2 million commitment—the largest gift ever to LBM research at Dana-Farber. Lin serves as director of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Program and of the Program for Patients with Breast Cancer Brain Metastases at Dana-Farber, and is considered one of the foremost experts on LBM in the country.
“I learned from Nancy that there hasn’t been a change in the way we treat LBM in 30 years or so,” said Langley. “It’s not just about saving my life—if 5-10% of people with a breast cancer diagnosis have LBM, that is not a small number of people. There is a better way of treating this out there, and we can provide the resources to find it.”
This gift has enabled Lin to launch a groundbreaking clinical trial to test a class of drugs called antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), and for the first time ever, a sub-cohort of LBM patients will be eligible to participate. Often referred to as “smart bombs,” ADCs combine an antibody protein with chemotherapy. The protein enables the therapy to recognize and latch onto the cancer cells to deliver high doses of the drug. Unlike conventional chemotherapy, ADCs are extremely selective, thus sparing more healthy cells.
“Historically, due to its rarity, poor prognosis, and the assumption that most anticancer molecules were too large to pass through the blood brain barrier, patients with LBM have been excluded from nearly all clinical trials,” said Lin, who is also the associate chief of the Division of Breast Oncology within the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. “ADCs have strong potential to provide therapeutic benefits for many of these patients, and this gift from Langley and Scott fills a critical gap in funding for the clinical trials.”
In addition to pledging $2 million of their own money, and thanks to the generosity of some of their friends and family, Langley and Scott are also committed to raising further funds to support additional clinical trials and expand the team of researchers developing treatments for LBM.
“I’d like to believe there is a reason we’re facing this,” said Scott. “Because we have the means to help, and know a lot of others who wish to help, maybe there’s a good chance we can save a whole lot of people.”