University of Colorado Cancer Center researcher recognized in quest to eradicate lung cancer

Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, recipient of Addario Lectureship Award

Ross Camidge, MD, PhD

Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center.

An investigator for the University of Colorado Cancer Center has been recognized as a luminary in the quest to eradicate lung cancer. The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (BJALCF) has announced D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, is the recipient of the 2012 Addario Lectureship Award.

“In order to treat any disease successfully, you have to know what you are really treating,” says Camidge. “It is only by understanding lung cancer better that we can hope to improve outcomes.”

Camidge understands that lung cancer is not just one disease and when it comes to treatment, he believes, “One size doesn’t fit all.”

He is a relentless advocate of molecular testing, redefining the standard of care for lung cancer and aligning lung cancer patients with targeted treatment regimens. Camidge works around-the-clock on breakthrough research projects striving to and making discoveries that change patient outcomes.

Bonnie J. Addario, founder of BJALCF and eight-year lung cancer survivor said, “I have admired Ross since the moment we met. For the fifth year in a row, I couldn’t be more proud to see someone so deserving of this award-just as the past recipients he now stands with. I am humbled when I hear our patients speak of the way Ross takes care of them, the extra miles he goes to treat each individual patient in his care, and their families. I am even more excited about his desire to bring lung cancer to an end through untiring research and the search for the cure.”

Camidge’s clinical research interests include optimizing the development of new agents through personalized medicine and a strong desire to increase the number of lung cancer patients getting access to the newest drugs within clinical trials. By spotting signs of any drug’s clinical activity or toxicity early on in a particular patient group, one goal is to accelerate the drug’s development as safely and efficiently as possible within the appropriate patient/molecular subtype population. In addition, by molecularly profiling patients, novel clinical patterns in terms of the natural history of different molecular subtypes of the disease and their response to specific therapies can be identified that might otherwise be missed when only looking at the broader lung cancer population.

Since 2009, the University of Colorado’s Thoracic Oncology Program has been recruiting 30-40% of its patients onto clinical trials, approximately 10 times the national average. Since 2008, routine molecular profiling of lung cancer patients has also allowed patients to be directed to more promising treatments based on the molecular biology of their cancer.

Notable recent successes include the early establishment of ALK gene rearranged lung cancer as a valid target for ALK inhibitors in the clinic; the detailed exploration of the FISH assay used to detect ALK positive patients to show that ALK gene rearrangements happen early in tumorigenesis; the discovery that ALK positive lung cancer is associated with a characteristic pattern of metastatic spread including the development of pericardial disease; the discovery that ALK positive lung cancer manifests exaggerated sensitivity to pemetrexed; the discovery that ALK positive patients manifest a broad array of different resistance mechanisms to crizotinib including switching to subclones driven by either KRAS or EGFR mutations and the discovery of rapid onset hypogonadism secondary to the use of crizotinib in men, driving the introduction of a simple routine blood test and testosterone replacement to improve the tolerability of this drug in everyday clinical practice.

According to Camidge, some of the surest paths to progress in lung cancer are going to be about changing the way we think. In 2012, Dr. Camidge co-authored with Jack West, MD, an opinion piece for the Journal of Thoracic Oncology entitled ‘Have Mutation, Will Travel’, highlighting multiple strategies to address the challenges that patients and physicians now face in getting access to/or conducting clinical research with the most promising experimental drugs in the era of increasingly diverse molecular oncology. With Adam Atherly, PhD, a health economist, he also published on the perils of pricing individual diagnostic tests too high when the abnormality looked for is very rare, and on the human cost of missing patients when clinical profiling is used to preselect who should be tested, or not tested, for specific molecular subtypes of any disease.

In the same year, at ASCO, the Colorado group showed that the first site of cancer progression on crizotinib occurs in the brain in nearly 50 percent of ALK positive patients. In addition to using this information to push for standardized brain imaging on treatment, Camidge’s team also showed that if you treat the cancer growing in the brain with radiotherapy and kept the drug going, you could maintain systemic control for months longer. They also showed that you could do the same thing in the body if only a few sites were growing on the drug, using close surveillance and focused radiation treatment to delete sites of so-called ‘oligoprogressive disease’ as if they were weeds in a garden. Utilizing the advances generated in understanding the molecular biology of drug sensitivity and resistance and combining them with advances in tumor imaging and radiation therapy to use a targeted agent to its full extent may change the way we view acquired resistance in the clinic and change the way we give many targeted treatments in the future.

Camidge received his medical degree from Oxford University, UK, and his PhD in molecular biology from Cambridge University, UK. He then dual-trained in both Medical Oncology and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. In November 2005, he was recruited as visiting faculty at the University of Colorado, becoming full-time faculty in October 2007. Camidge is an associate professor of medicine and the director of the thoracic oncology clinical program at University of Colorado.

He will be honored at the 13th International Lung Cancer Congress in Huntington Beach, Calif., to be held on July 19-22, 2012.

About the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation:

Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (BJALCF) is one of the largest philanthropies (patient-founded, patient-focused, patient-driven) devoted exclusively to eradicating Lung Cancer through research, early detection, education, and treatment. The Foundation works with a diverse group of physicians, organizations, industry partners, individuals, survivors, and their families to identify solutions and make timely and meaningful change. BJALCF was established on March 6, 2006 as a 501©(3) non-profit organization and has raised over nine million dollars for lung cancer research.

About the University of Colorado Cancer Center:

The University of Colorado Cancer Center is Colorado’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI has given only 41 cancer centers this designation, deeming membership as “the best of the best.” Headquartered on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the center is a consortium of three state universities, including the University of Colorado Boulder and University of Colorado Denver, and six institutions (Children’s Hospital Colorado, Denver Health, Denver VA Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, National Jewish Health and University of Colorado Hospital). Together, our 440-plus members are working to ease the cancer burden through cancer care, research, education and prevention and control.

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About the author: Erika Matich

Erika Matich is a news media specialist for the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Contact her at Erika.Matich [at] ucdenver.edu.

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