2015 was a year of many milestones for cancer research. 2016 brings even more opportunities and exciting advancements for the future of cancer care, many of which are already well underway. Sarah Cannon’s President of Clinical Operations and Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of the Drug Development Program at Sarah Cannon Research Institute, Howard A. “Skip” Burris III , MD, discusses the developments he foresees in the coming year.
What developments in cancer care are you excited about this year?
Dr. Burris: This year, we will see further developments in the field of immunotherapy, as we continue to better understand which patients will benefit most from different treatment approaches. The use of Next Generation Sequencing in the study of small molecule biologics will also continue to evolve, including blood-based testing. The initiation of broad basket or molecularly-matched clinical trials will shed light on the potential of such agents to benefit individual patients. Additionally, we should see further work emerge in the area of antibody drug conjugates.
What were the top advancements from 2015?
Dr. Burris: The approval of the immunotherapy and checkpoint antibodies for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer and melanoma was the year’s biggest story. After decades of attempting to harness the immune system to fight cancer, the scientific breakthroughs leading to these reasonably well-tolerated and effective therapies have forever altered our perspective on what the future will bring. Blood-based genetic testing and molecular profiling offer great hope and a more practical approach for better understanding the effectiveness of cancer therapies.
What do you see as the top priorities in oncology?
Dr. Burris: Getting the right therapy to the right patient at the right time will move from being an aspiration to being a critical piece of quality care. With 85% of cancer patients being cared for in the community setting, education and awareness of treatment advances will remain a top priority. It is crucial that we continue to use multidisciplinary teams and conferences, and education tools around participation in clinical trials to ensure the highest quality care for cancer patients.
What is on the horizon for drug approvals?
Dr. Burris: A variety of new cancer therapies are making their way through the approval process. Almost every type of cancer has a promising therapy either in late-stage development or with remarkable early-phase results. We expect more indications will be added to the list of approved immunotherapies over the coming year. In addition, several mutationally-targeted small molecules will likely be on the fast track to approval, particularly in the field of blood cancers. The future has never been more promising for cancer patients, and my colleagues have never been more excited about the clinical results being observed.