This year, more than 158,000 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer. That's a staggering number: it's more than all the deaths expected from breast, prostate, colon, rectum, bladder and skin cancers combined. But this grim statistic only spurs Yanis Boumber, MD, PhD, to work harder toward a cure. Boumber, a lung cancer doctor and scientist, recently joined the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center. "What excites me the most is that [this] work can bring hope for long-term remissions, if not cures, for patients with advanced lung cancer," he says.
Boumber is pioneering new approaches to treating lung cancer. He is running four clinical trials in lung cancer and is planning to bring many more to New Mexico. "Clinical trials should be a priority," he says, "because these days, that's how we advance the field." Cancer clinical trials are unlike most other clinical trials because they don't use placebos. Every person in a cancer clinical trial is treated with the standard of care and new treatments are combined with and compared to that standard. People in a cancer clinical trial may receive additional treatment at no additional cost, depending upon the clinical trial.
Cancer clinical trials involve some risk; the treatment, after all, hasn't received approval from the Food and Drug Administration. But those risks are greatly reduced by the amount of research and testing needed to even begin a clinical trial in people. "We need patients who are kind enough to participate," Boumber says, "so that we can change the landscape of treatment and perhaps have long-term survivors."
The people who join a clinical trial may benefit immensely. "The first patient who was treated with immunotherapy in 2000 with advanced melanoma is still alive after receiving one dose," says Boumber. "That is mind-boggling, but we expect those same things with lung cancer."
Lung cancer, Boumber explains, can be many different diseases. Small-cell lung cancer affects mostly smokers. "It's a highly aggressive disease," Boumber says, "and there were no major breakthroughs until this year." Non-small cell lung cancer affects smokers and non-smokers, but each group responds differently to different treatments. Boumber plans to bring new clinical trials to UNM Cancer Center soon. The trials include treatments using immunotherapy, targeted therapies and brand new drugs and also include promising treatments for small-cell lung cancer. "Even now the landscape has changed," Boumber explains. "It's really based on your personalized medicine profile, your smoking status and other factors."
To understand why different people with lung cancer respond differently to treatments, Boumber studies the biology of lung cancer in his lab. He and his team discovered and study the 'musashi' protein, which plays a large role in lung cancer. Boumber plans to work on several scientific projects with other researchers in New Mexico to learn more about this protein. "We want to understand the biology of lung metastases and what signaling pathways musashi regulates," he says.
As the lung cancer team co-leader, Boumber also plans to expand the lung cancer programs at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. Bringing the research into clinical trials is a big part of that plan, but working with other healthcare providers throughout the state is also important, he says. In the end, Boumber hopes to shift lung cancer from a deadly disease to a treatable condition. He says, "The goal is to improve outcomes in lung cancer, cure patients and bring hope to patients and their families."
UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center