Hirsch receives major award from National Cancer Institute

By Staff

Hirsch receives major award from National Cancer Institute

Fred R. Hirsch, M.D., Ph.D., has received a multi-year, multimillion-dollar award from the National Cancer Institute that will be used to help make progress against squamous cell lung cancer by creating a multi-center program to find targets and treatments for this tumor type.

Recent advances in targeted cancer treatments greatly bolster the prognosis for many types of lung cancer, but according to the University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator, "practically nothing has improved in squamous cell lung cancer in the last decades." About 85,000 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States this year.

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 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 said. "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 said.

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, Duke University, Mayo Clinic, Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, University of California Davis, University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis. The CU Cancer Center SPECS group includes Wilbur Franklin, M.D., Paul Bunn, M.D., Ross Camidge, M.D., Celine Mascaux, Ph.D., and Murry Wines, Ph.D.