Yay! It’s November again and I get to write the first science blog for Lung Cancer Awareness Month. And what’s more interesting and important than early detection of lung cancer?
I was thrilled to witness the announcement of the first Stand Up To Cancer-LUNGevity Foundation-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception and Lung Cancer Translational Research Award teams at this year’s AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Philadelphia on October 26. With funding of over $7 million, these collaborative teams will be continuing LUNGevity’s commitment to funding early detection projects.
You may be wondering what interception is and why it’s important. Cancer develops in a sequential process—normal cells acquire changes in their DNA and progress to form pre-cancerous cells, then cancer cells. Intercepting cancer can mean either catching the pre-cancerous cells and blocking them from turning into cancer cells or catching newly formed cancer cells before they develop ways to evade drugs or the immune system. Simply put, interception will increase survival rates.
Both of the winning teams are led by members of LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Avrum Spira from Boston University will head the Interception Dream Team. The team will develop non-invasive technologies, such as nasal swabs, blood tests, and radiological imaging, to confirm whether lung abnormalities found on chest imaging are benign lung disease or lung cancer. The team will also develop new blood tests that will help identify patients at the earliest stages of recurrence, so that the cancer can be stopped from coming back with new treatment approaches such as immunotherapies.
Dr. Lecia Sequist from Massachusetts General Hospital will head the Interception Translational Research Team will be. This team will develop a Lung Cancer Interception Assay (LCIA) that can be used to complement low-dose CT scans. The LCIA is a simple blood-based assay that will examine multiple components of the cancer–such as circulating tumor cells and circulating tumor DNA–to get a comprehensive picture of the lung cancer. After completing pilot testing as part of this research grant, the team plans to move the LCIA forward to larger, prospective clinical trials.
I am thrilled for another reason, too. We held our annual LUNGevity Science Meeting on October 25. It’s one of MY annual event highlights, for sure, when all of our awardees present their research findings to members of our Scientific Advisory Board and each other. This year, seven of our awardees presented their progress on early-detection projects, which included developing non-invasive tests that can complement CT screening to developing biomarker signatures for predicting who is at high risk for developing lung cancer.
Early detection of lung cancer is a highly complex problem, and we need as much research as possible in this area to keep the field evolving. In 2003, we didn’t have a single targeted therapy for lung cancer, and in 2017, we have approved targeted therapies for four different driver mutations in lung cancer. We see our investment in early detection as movement in the right direction to be able to celebrate the same extraordinary successes in early detection that we have achieved in lung cancer treatment.
I will end this blog with a simple quote that says it all from Dr. Pierre Massion, an international expert on the early detection of lung cancer (and also a member of LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board): “Early detection saves lives!” The more progress we make toward understanding the black box of early detection, the more lives we can save.
(In my next blog, I will get into the nitty-gritty’s of CT screening and advances in early detection. Stay tuned!)
Dr. Basu Roy is LUNGevity's Director of Translational Research Programs/Director of Patient FoRCe.