A lot has changed since the Lung Cancer Foundation of America was founded around 10 years ago by two lung cancer survivors and a lung cancer widow. Today, the LCFA funds some of the most innovative research projects in the space, like the role of the microbiome in immunotherapy.

According to LCFA founder Kim Norris, awareness of lung cancer has improved since their founding, too, particularly the fact that not all lung cancer cases are linked to smoking.

Antidote is excited to partner with LCFA to continue raising awareness of the need for research and clinical trial volunteers for those studies. In honor of our new partnership, we sat down with Kim Norris and talked about the research she finds most promising, and where lung cancer research is heading next.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Antidote: What are some of the most promising lung cancer research projects you’re currently funding?

Kim Norris: Probably the one that I personally find fascinating is the role of the microbiome in immunotherapy and lung cancer. Basically the microbiome is the world of bacteria, fungi that reside in your body and that your body needs to function. There seems to be a correlation between the effectiveness of immunotherapy and the presence of certain bacteria, and whether that’s gut bacteria or bacteria in other parts of the body. One of the research grants we awarded was to someone who is doing a study to try to identify what that impact is, specifically what bacteria are involved, and can that affect treatment and the success of immunotherapy. I think that’s fascinating.

How does your organization decide which research projects to support?

We do a classic peer review process. We specifically have decided, at least currently, to support young investigators. We think it’s really important that we encourage the best and the brightest to get involved in lung cancer. For years, that wasn’t the case because there wasn’t any money in lung cancer, so young researchers went where the money was. We feel it’s important to get these young investigators and get them excited and interested in the world of lung cancer research. I think that’s happening, not just as a result of what we do, but in general. Some of the major discoveries in research for cancer are happening in the world of lung cancer, be it targeted therapies or immunotherapies. We’re leading the way in that.

What advice would you give a patient considering taking part in a lung cancer clinical trial?

What I like to tell patients is that if you’re presented with a clinical trial, don’t turn your back on it. A lot of the time these days, clinical trials are the gold standard of treatment in lung cancer. Gone are the days of placebos – you’re always going to get at least standard of care. Many of the trials have what they call a crossover. If you’re on standard of care and the new treatment is doing better, you can then crossover and start receiving the new treatment. Absolutely we support clinical trials. Because of the advent of immunotherapy, many of today’s clinical trials involve combination therapies, ie, clinical trials that are combining already FDA-approved treatment modalities and combining them together. This may mean combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy or surgery for early-stage disease. Do you give immunotherapy before or after the surgery and does that make a difference? Those are all various combinations that can happen in this research.

What are your predictions for lung cancer research in 2019?

There’s still 40-50% of the population that don’t respond to targeted therapy or immunotherapy. What are we doing for them? We need the researchers to think outside the box in that area.

I also think early detection and the determination of pre-malignant lesions is exciting. There’s a lot of working being done on that to catch the disease even earlier. We all know that if we get a lung scan done, we’ll have spots on our lungs. How do you determine without doing an invasive biopsy whether that spot will become malignant? How do we determine whether it’s premalignant? I think there’s a lot of work going on there that will make a big impact.