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Pathways to Discovery: Winter 2012

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Targeted Therapies Improve Prognosis for Lung Cancer Patients

Lung cancer is still a very difficult disease for many of our patients, but we are coming up with innovative ways of treating it.
Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD

Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer and has an overall 5-year survival rate of only 16%, according to the American Cancer Society.

The UChicago lung cancer program offers hope to many lung cancer patients because of the state-of-the-art, individualized therapies offered in clinical trials.

"We find innovative therapies that are more effective and less toxic," said Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, vice chair for translational research, director of the thoracic oncology program, and UCCCC associate director for translational sciences.

"What's nice about the lung cancer program here is that we're an incredibly cohesive, collaborative group," said Dr. Salgia, who regularly collaborates with thoracic surgeons, pathologists, pulmonologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists, and others to ensure patients quickly receive quality care from a multidisciplinary team.

Leaders in Innovation
Teaching plays a large part in the lung cancer program's success. UChicago regularly hosts lung cancer symposia and participates in national cooperative groups, such as The Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology.

Teaching and collaborating are further enhanced by technology––another of the lung cancer program's strengths. Recently, Dr. Salgia worked with the company CollabRx to develop a web application, the Targeted Therapy Finder–Lung Cancer (collabrx.com/lung), that allows doctors and patients to search for available therapies and clinical trials based on the patient's unique case.

Dr. Salgia's group has also engineered an informatics program with a single database that merges clinical and research data. The information helps physicians apply discoveries made in the laboratory at the patient's bedside, and it helps researchers make meaningful analyses of tumor specimens.

The lung cancer program also shares knowledge and resources with affiliate institutions in the Chicago area–– including NorthShore University Health System and Ingalls Health System.

"Through our network, our expertise in clinical medicine, as well as translational and basic research, is unparalleled," said Dr. Salgia.

Improved Survival through Clinical Trials
Although the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is lower than for many other cancers, Dr. Salgia said he is optimistic."Previously, if somebody had advancedstage lung cancer, we wouldn't have any other therapies available beyond first-line treatment," he said. "Now, I can think of a fifth, sixth, or seventh-line therapy, which is phenomenal."

Improved survival rates are primarily due to molecularly targeted therapies, such as the breakthrough drug crizotinib (Xalkori®), which targets the translocated anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene. UChicago was one of the first sites to offer clinical trials for crizotinib, which has helped a large number of lung cancer patients with minimal side effects.

"Lung cancer is still a very difficult disease for many of our patients, but we are coming up with innovative ways of treating it," Dr. Salgia said. "I see the light at the end of the tunnel."

lung cancer patient Dr Salgia