Moderator: Michael W. Smith, MD
Roundtable participants: Lewis C. Cantley, PhD (Harvard Medical School); Peter
Jones, PhD (University of Southern California); Dennis J. Slamon, MD (UCLA’s
Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center).
Read more about the researchers and their teams’ work.
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That is the mantra and the mission of Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), the
powerhouse advocacy organization founded last fall to raise money to kick-start
cancer research. SU2C got off to a splashy, star-studded start with a primetime
TV show and fundraiser. Then, just nine months later in May, SU2C had raised
enough money to award nearly $74 million to five U.S. cancer research teams
(dubbed "dream teams") involving more than 200 researchers from 20 leading
institutions. The goal? To work together in a more collaborative way to speed
effective new treatments from labs to patients as quickly as possible.
Cancer is still a formidable foe, despite decades of research. The cancer
death rate has decreased over the last 15 years, but cancer still claims
entirely too many lives: According to the American Cancer Society, more than
560,000 people will die of cancer in 2009.
Taking a multidisciplinary, integrated approach, SU2C proposes to reduce
some of these numbers by changing how cancer is researched. To find out more,
WebMD talked to three dream team leaders -- find out more about them below --
about their projects, how they plan to use the grant money, and what their work
will mean for cancer patients -- with luck, sooner rather than later.
Q: What makes the SU2C research model so different for cancer
Cantley: This new approach to funding as well as the researchers'
collaborative approach [means] there is sufficient money to put together teams
across institutions and still have enough so people can actually reach their
goals. We can bring in people who have very strong expertise in different
fields to share the money and their expertise.
Dr. Jones: In addition, it allows people to draw up collaborative
arrangements with their colleagues and competitors much more quickly than is
usually the case. With this initiative, there was a clear urgency to get the
right people together as quickly as possible.
Dr. Slamon: We all believe in this model, and I agree that it is
unique in demanding a multi-institutional approach of experts. Also, the team
leaders will be interacting among teams where there is obvious overlap, sharing
information across teams, not just within teams.
Q: Dr. Cantley, your area of research is the PI3K "pathway," a
process that leads to cancerous cells growing and surviving. What exactly are
Dr. Cantley: As you note, the pathway itself controls cell
growth and survival. "PI3K" is actually an enzyme that is the central player in
that pathway. Research has confirmed that the P13K pathway is perhaps the most
mutated pathway in all of cancer, and especially in women's cancers. So what's
exciting is that [it may be] possible to make a small molecule that you can
take as a pill orally that would turn off the enzyme's function and thereby
stop the growth of the cancer. That could be potentially useful in treating the