Lung cancer is a disease that affects people: family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. It’s a disease that comes with in some stark figures about survival and research funding. But the numbers don’t lie, and they also show the amazing strides being made against the disease: increasing survival rates, incredible strides in treatment options, and ever-growing ranks of researchers dedicating their professional careers to improving the odds for people living with lung cancer. Join us for this episode of Hope With Answers: Living With Lung Cancer, where we talk about hope, by the numbers.
Kim Norris, Lung Cancer Foundation of America co-founder and president
Dr. Jessica Donington, professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
Dr. Triparna Sen, an assistant attending at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Kellie Smith, PhD, assistant professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins Medicine
BY THE NUMBERS: 20
The quickening pace of research the last 20 years
Twenty years ago, the lung cancer treatments available were surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Then came the discovery of treatable lung cancer biomarkers. The discovery that each lung cancer tumor is unique opened up a whole new world of discovery. After that, immunotherapy opened up even more ways to treat different types of lung cancer. And for many people, living with lung cancer it has become more like managing a chronic disease rather than the usually fatal diagnosis it was just a handful of years ago.
“… the entire landscape has changed for people diagnosed with lung cancer. I even wonder if my husband, who died 20 years ago, would still be alive if he had been able to take advantage of all the research that’s been happening in just the past five or ten years. We now know people living 8, 13, 15, and 19 years after diagnosis. And then we realized that these numbers are really powerful– they’re not just black and white numbers, they’re people.“ – Kim Norris
BY THE NUMBERS: Double Duty
LCFA Young Investigator Research Grants do double duty in the field of lung cancer research. Funding from foundations like the Lung Cancer Foundation of America is essential in building a pool of investigators. It takes a long time and a lot of money to go from a great idea and a bright star with a great mind to an NIH-funded investigator.
But as Dr. Triparna Sen points out, these grants also help to train young investigators.
“Like with this funding, we get postdocs and trainees and technicians into the lab. So we are essentially training the next generation of cancer investigators who will go on to become in independent investigators themselves. So you’re not only just providing resource to advanced research, but you’re also providing resource to train the next generation of cancer investigators. And I think that has a much more long term impact the next clinical trial. So I think overall, uh, the funding that I got from LCFA has been absolutely critical in developing me as a researcher. So thank you so much.”
BY THE NUMBERS: 17
LCFA has invested in 17 grants so far, and 10 of them have gone to women.
Women in science face many challenges. When Dr. Donington got into lung cancer 15 years ago, it was a very male-dominated field in terms of the doctors who treated it and the researchers who performed the research. And I always believe that a group of physicians and researchers that matches their patients provides the best care.
The Power Of The Patient Advocate Voice
Women advocates are making a difference in lung cancer research as well. As Dr. Donington discusses, “Lung cancer for a long time has had a stigma issue as being seen as a male disease, with people who have smoked for 100 years. And it’s just not, it’s not that disease. And I think that our advocates which are very heavily female like a lot of cancer advocates are, have really done so much to change the face of lung cancer…. I think they do more to change lung cancer than even us as investigators.”
Dr. Sen thinks that what the patient advocates do is they help bring system-wide issues to light that are required for clinical trial design for what is important for the actual patients who is the ultimate goal role for our researchers. And her goal is to work with patient advocates to make her scientific studies more relevant to the field, more timely, because she now understand by speaking to them the urgency of the situation, and so make it more timely.
“And I think patient advocates play a very important role to help researchers learn like myself move discoveries towards clinical use, but do that in a more sort of not only timely fashion, but also help us design studies that are more relevant to clinical use.” – Dr. Triparna Sen
In addition, patient advocates play an important role in bringing these disparities to light. Then these issues can be addressed by researchers and by clinicians and move them to incorporating equity in clinical trial.
“I think so they play a very important role at multiple levels and LCFA has done an incredible job in connecting researchers to patient advocates.” – Dr. Triparna Sen
The Pace of Research: Bench to Bedside
“And I didn’t think it was possible in my lifetime, but I suddenly think that, oh my gosh, we can double survival. We can get survival up to 25 and 30%. I feel like in a very short time, uh, with screening and the advancements in our current medications, it’s just so possible. It’s exciting.” – Dr. Jessica Donington
The time it takes for research to go from bench to bedside is getting faster all time. That’s the timeline: how long it takes for a discovery in the lab to make it to a patient who needs it. So, for example, when you’re in a laboratory you hear about using mice and discoveries, but that’s just in theory, then you have to bring it to the human and that takes time.
“Bench to bedside has never been as fast as it is now in lung cancer. It is incredible. Things we never considered as little as five years ago are just commonplace now. It was very funny I was working with one of my colleagues and she said, “Oh, yeah, I don’t treat one person the same way I did five years ago as a medical oncologist.” And then I sat down and go, “Oh, you know what? I don’t either.” Like none of us do. So there’s this whole synergy about the science too, as it advances in one area, it becomes easier to integrate it into others and it’s really exciting.” – Dr. Jessica Donington
Research breakthroughs discovered five, six years ago are already in clinical trials. So this bench to bedside medicine is a phenomenal thing to be a part of within the context of lung cancer.
“As a PhD scientist, we very rarely see the fruits of our labor actually pan out in the clinic. I mean, it’s very rare. But with lung cancer research, because it’s moving at such a rapid pace, we are able to see these discoveries making their way into the clinic in an accelerated timeframe.” – Dr. Kellie Smith
Research = Hope
The goal of LCFA’s Young Investigator grant program is to attract the best and brightest minds into lung cancer research early in their careers. This LCFA grant is big enough that they can set up their labs and gather that first big collection of data.Then, they can use this data to apply for even larger grants that may one day lead to clinical trials and hopefully new treatments.
BY THE NUMBERS: Investment in Grants $200,000 >> $4 Million
Kellie Smith is a shining example of LCFA’s mission. Using her LCFA grants, she was generated preliminary data, made these really impactful discoveries, and then to applied for additional funding.
“And, just based on my own personal experience, the LCFA Young Investigator award was the very first grant that I was ever awarded. I’ve been able to leverage that now into several million dollars worth of funding.”