Cancer: The Hunt for a Cure
Our Chief Medical Editor checks in with Stand Up to Cancer's dream team researchers.
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 you studying?
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 disease.
We are designing clinical trials to test that idea in multiple types of breast cancers. We're looking at endometrial and ovarian cancer, too. We know, for example, that the enzyme is frequently mutated in endometrial cancer and in estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Q: What are you hoping will ultimately be the outcome of your ongoing research?
Dr. Cantley: The outcome, I think, will be accelerated approval of these drugs, and teasing out which drugs should go forward in clinical trials and which people ought to be in those trials. If we could actually predict with some 90% probability who is likely to respond, the phase III stage [final trials designed to lead to a drug's approval] could be very rapid, and we could get drugs out onto the market in four or five years. Currently, these drugs are only in phase I trials to evaluate toxicity and optimal doses.
Q: Dr. Jones, your group is studying "epigenetics," which looks at how certain genes are used by certain cells and then how and why the genes get turned on and off. Sometimes these processes go awry and cause cancer. What does your research entail?