As a surgeon, my mission is to honor the trust that my patients place in me. I take that trust seriously, working with my skilled team of physicians, pharmacists, nurses, social workers, and registered dietitians, among others, to respect every patient’s individual needs, goals, and beliefs as we navigate the process of diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Now as director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, I see a similar challenge and a similar opportunity.
The CU Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the state of Colorado. That recognition from the NCI is an accomplishment. It signals the confidence and trust placed in us by physicians, scientists, and the national system of cancer research that expects CU Cancer Center to continue pushing forward in our mission to discover, develop and deliver tomorrow’s innovative cancer treatments.
With new honors and new partnerships, including membership in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the ORIEN data-sharing network, as well as the potential to offer treatments that exceed the standard-of-care through our partnership with UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH), CU Cancer Center is poised at a nexus of discovery for Colorado and beyond. And with not only new therapies, but entirely new classes of therapies now providing real hope for patients who have been without options, it has never been a more exciting time for cancer research.
Here is how CU Cancer Center is contributing to a future in which many cancers are manageable conditions:
In the last 40 years, cancer science has evolved from looking for a single “cure” to the understanding that cancer is many different diseases, some of which will indeed someday be “cured” and many of which will be managed as chronic conditions. These strategies grow from our understanding of the basic science behind the disease. At CU Cancer Center, scientists are picking apart the genetic, genomic and epigenetic underpinnings that drive cancer on a molecular level. In turn, this new knowledge in biology, genetics, chemistry, pharmacology, immunology and more forms the building blocks for the development of treatments targeting anomalies in the ways various kinds of cancers work. Our robust programs in basic science ensure a continuing crop of discoveries that feed new ideas into the pipeline of tomorrow’s treatments.
Between basic research and clinical care is the stage called translational research. This is the stage in which new drugs or procedures or combinations are developed. For example, the drug tucatinib, which was first manufactured in Boulder, first tested at UCH, and is now in promising clinical trials to treat HER2+ breast cancer. Or the drug crizotinib, which targets ALK+ lung cancer, and was developed based on CU’s discovery that changes in the gene ALK do indeed cause cancer. Today, CU Cancer Center’s translational scientists are pushing forward with treatments against leukemia stem cells, “triple-positive” breast cancer, immunotherapies that teach the body’s T cells to fight tumors, new ways to drug “undruggable” targets in bladder cancer, and many, many more. We also are finding new uses for existing drugs and learning to better combine new strategies with existing techniques like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. This development of new treatment options takes place in a landscape in which doctors and researchers are learning to take into account not only a patient’s quantity of life, but also his or her quality of life, and in addition to improved effectiveness, many new treatments are less toxic, improving the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors here at home in Colorado and around the world.
Finally, it is our honor to deliver the world’s best care to patients who need it. Because CU Cancer Center doctors are also researchers, we are able to offer new treatments in the form of clinical trials years before these treatments are available outside academic research hospitals. And because our clinical care partners at UCH and Children’s Hospital Colorado are the hubs for cancer treatment in Colorado, our oncologists are able to specialize, becoming expert in treating very specific kinds of cancer. Our Young Women’s Breast Cancer Center is world-renowned; our Sarcoma Center hosts patients from around the world who come to be treated for this rare form of the disease; and our lung cancer team continues the tradition of CU Cancer Center’s founding director, Paul Bunn, MD, a former president of the American Society for Clinical Oncology who pioneered some of the first targeted treatments against cancer. Our dedicated multidisciplinary clinics that focus on pancreas, biliary, liver, esophagus, stomach, neuroendocrine, and colorectal diseases attract patients from all over the world and provide care not found in Colorado and many states around us.
Foremost in our goal to deliver world-class cancer care is our work to help patients live their best possible lives despite what can be a devastating diagnosis. Our patients are people (or, most of them are: We also deliver care to four-legged patients at CSU’s Flint Animal Cancer Center…). Our doctors and nurses and surgeons and oncologists and researchers are people, too. Together we are people united in a single goal: To Discover, Develop and Deliver treatments that save, extend, and enrich lives.