Recent advances in targeted cancer treatments greatly bolster the prognosis for many types of lung cancer, but according to a University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator, "practically nothing has improved in squamous cell lung cancer in the last decades."
Fred R. Hirsch, MD, PhD, has received a multi-year, multimillion dollar award from the National Cancer Institute that aims to make progress against squamous cell lung cancer-about 85,000 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year-by creating a multi-center program to find targets and treatments for this tumor type.
Hirsch, associate director for international programs at the CU Cancer Center and professor of medical oncology at the CU medical school, will direct the Strategic Partnerships to Evaluate Cancer Signatures (SPECS) program from the center's Aurora, Colo. campus.
"First we hope to validate prognostic signatures for early stage cancer, which will tell us who will need additional treatment beyond surgery and who will not," Hirsch says. "Recent research has identified candidates but so far none of them have been proven." These are the genes or proteins that define a cancer's subtype, each with a different prognosis.
"Secondly, we hope to identify new treatable molecular targets and subgroups of patients, who will benefit from specific cancer drugs," Hirsch says.
This project encapsulates the push toward personalized cancer care, evident at the CU Cancer Center and elsewhere. In other cancers, but not yet in squamous lung cancer, knowing a cancer's genetic mutations - its biomarkers - allows doctors to target these and only these mutations, killing mutated cancer cells but leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Until now, squamous cell lung cancer has lagged behind the targeted care for these other cancers. The CU Cancer Center will be the coordinating center for the Squamous Lung Cancer Consortium, which so far includes eight additional US academic institutions.
University of Colorado Denver
Harvard University/Brigham and Women's Hospital
Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto
University of California Davis
University of Michigan
Washington University, St. Louis
The CU Cancer Center SPECS group includes Wilbur Franklin, MD, Paul Bunn, MD, Ross Camidge, MD, Celine Mascaux, PhD, and Murry Wines, PhD.