Hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the U.S. each year. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Thankfully, researchers are making great strides in understanding this disease and how to more effectively treat it.
- In the U.S., an estimated 228,820 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020.
- Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women and expects to claim 135,720 lives in 2020 in the U.S.
- While cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, almost 20% of lung cancer cases occur in non-smokers.
- Only 16% of people with lung cancer will be diagnosed at the earliest stage, when the disease is most treatable. The five-year survival for early stage, localized lung cancer is 57%.
- Currently, a low-dose CT scan is the only proven effective way to screen for lung cancer.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2020
Lung Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack lung cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
NFCR-funded scientists are working around-the-clock on projects that can help us attack lung cancer. For example, in July 2016, the FDA approved the drug Iressa® as a front-line treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – and the approval is only extended to patients with specific tumor mutations, which were originally identified by Dr. Daniel Haber.
Also, thanks to NFCR-funded research by Dr. Alice Shaw, a new and better way to treat cancer resistance is emerging. By successfully identifying drug combinations that halted the growth of resistant cells in tumor models, her research will hopefully lead to the development of effective therapeutic strategies for patients with ALK-positive NSCLC (mutations in the ALK gene). A new treatment is currently in clinical trials.
Dr. Susan Horwitz’s work has been instrumental in the development of Taxol®, a natural product used to treat over 1.5 million cancer patients with lung, breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Dr. Horwitz is collaborating with organic chemist Dr. Amos B. Smith, III to develop similar natural product drugs to overcome resistance to Taxol that patients experience. They have synthesized analogues of discodermolide, a natural product from a Caribbean Sea sponge that works similar to Taxol. In lung cancer models, the leading compounds show promising results in their ability to kill ovarian cancer cells with reduced toxicity. Further research continues towards developing the lead candidate as a new treatment for cancer patients.
NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Michael Sporn, conducted research on fenrentinide, a drug with similar structure to Vitamin A and proved its safety for use in humans. It was subsequently shown to be both safe and effective in treating several cancers. However, fenretinide is poorly soluble in water (our bodies are composed of 60% water) and as a drug, it faced the challenge of delivering adequate doses to tumor cells. With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, a novel delivery system has been designed to solve this problem. The unique delivery agent and fenrentinide have gained approval to treat T cell-non Hodgkin lymphoma patients who have relapsed or stopped responding to their current therapy. Enrollment in the Phase 1 trial begins in 2020. The next cancer to enter clinical trials will be small cell lung cancer (SCLC) which represents 13% of lung cancers. Patients with this difficult-to-treat cancer may soon benefit from this innovative treatment.
Dr. Wei Zhang’s precision oncology research aims to reduce the survival disparity between non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) African American patients (low survival) and Caucasian American patients (higher survival). NSCLC makes up 87% of lung cancers. His clinical data show African American patients respond better to the newer immune checkpoint therapy suggesting it has an important role in increasing their survival. Results from cutting-edge single cell RNA sequencing indicate their tumors have more of the cell components which this therapy reactivates to fight cancer. Dr. Zhang is identifying mutations in their tumors and this will be the largest dataset for the African American NSCLC population. The dataset will be available to the research community with the hope that results will lead to a reduction in the health care disparity.
Dr. Daniel Von Hoff is conducting translational research to develop a strategic antibody treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The antibodies target a key molecule in the cells surrounding tumors that are known to cause tumor aggressiveness and resistance to treatment. Dr. Von Hoff has personally been involved in over 200 clinical trials. With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, antibodies are being tested in the final preclinical studies necessary for the next steps to gain approval for clinical trials to treat colorectal cancer patients. Lung cancer is the next goal for clinical trial treatment and funds are needed to expand these targeted antibodies to these patients.