Since Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven opened its gleaming glass doors in 2009, its primary goal has been to provide “personalized” care for patients. That’s a recognition of the latest medical findings which support the fact that each cancer patient—and his or her disease—is different and requires an individualized treatment program. Toward that bold objective, Roy Herbst, MD, PhD, Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Chief of Medical Oncology, is leading an innovative, genetic-based research program to ultimately develop personalized drug therapies for lung cancer patients.
“Several years ago, we began obtaining fresh tissue through tumor biopsies so we could identify genetic biomarkers that would allow each patient to be treated in the most effective way with a specific drug or combination of drugs,” Herbst explains. Before arriving at YNHH in March 2011, he was instrumental in launching this novel, federally funded research program while serving as a professor of medicine and chief of the Section of Thoracic Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Herbst is currently overseeing the second clinical trial
phase of the program at YNHH—known as the Biomarker-Based Approaches of Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer Elimination, or BATTLE 2—with a research team including Julie Boyer, PhD, Daniel Morgensztern, MD, Scott Gettinger, MD, Emily Duffield, APRN, and Peter (Ja Seok) Koo, PhD, who also was recruited from MD Anderson, plus many other dedicated individuals.
“We were very successful with the first BATTLE trials in helping a large number of lung cancer patients by developing new drugs,” Herbst says. “Now we want to take that to the next level by focusing on why tumors are resistant to some of those drugs. Then we can target that resistance with combinations of therapies.”
This cutting-edge type of therapeutic investigation is central to the new Translational Research Program at Yale Cancer Center, which is closely affiliated with YNHH, Yale School of Medicine and Smilow. In fact, Herbst is the center’s associate director of translational research, a field of inquiry that he’s pioneered throughout his career, as well as a cornerstone of Smilow’s personalized cancer care. The term refers to the collaboration between teams of scientists and physicians with expertise in a range of disciplines—including medicine, surgery, radiation and pharmacology—to quickly translate discoveries from the laboratory to clinical settings and patient therapies. Then, based on the results, researchers return to the lab to refine the processes.
“That’s the goal of and the innovation behind the BATTLE trials,” Herbst states, “to develop effective new drug therapies and quickly use them with patients diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.”
This modern, multidisciplinary approach is one of the reasons why Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven is a destination center for its unique brand of personalized, patient-centered cancer treatment.