Doctor and researcher, David Barbie, M.D. from the Department of Medical Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is one of the millions of people that has been indirectly impacted by cancer. During his time as a student at the National Institutes of Health, he received some life changing news: his uncle had been diagnosed with cancer.
After experiencing the impact that his uncle’s diagnosis had on his family, he made it his goal to one day work in a cancer research laboratory. Today, Dr. Barbie is living out his dream and making significant strides in cancer research at Dana-Farber as both a doctor and researcher.
Dr. Barbie recently took time from his busy schedule to tell us about his work towards finding a cure for cancer.
Q: Dr. Barbie, what are the advantages of being both a doctor and researcher?
A: As both a doctor and a researcher, I have experiences and exposures to things that very few pure doctors or pure researchers can relate to, and it motivates how I direct my research. For example, during my research I discovered an obscure compound, CYT387, was directly connected to the KRAS-driven lung cancers we were studying. I knew immediately from my experience practicing medicine to check if this drug was already in patients, and found that it was actually in a clinical trial at Dana-Farber for a disease called myelofibrosis. I connected with the head of the study for more information on how the drug had impacted patients. From that point on all of our efforts have been focused on characterizing this compound and discovering how it can benefit lung cancer. Since I am a doctor and a researcher, I knew it had a great chance of being repurposed, instead of having to start from scratch.
Q: Can you tell me about what brought you to Dana-Farber and how you became involved with translational lung cancer research?
A: I was an oncology fellow in the Dana-Farber Partners Cancer Program and had a number of great mentors who inspired me to focus on patients with lung cancer. There have been some major developments in targeted therapy over the past 10 years making it an exciting field to explore. Through our research, we can now identify specific genes that drive the major subtype of lung cancer in more than 50% of cancer patients . With time I am convinced we will continue to make progress, and I hope to play a role in this.
Q: Can you please explain the KRAS clinical trial that you are in charge of?
A: KRAS is the most commonly mutated driving gene in lung cancer (and as well as pancreatic and colorectal cancer). Through the KRAS clinic trials we found that if you combine the CYT387 drug (now known as momelotinib), with another KRAS-targeted drug known as a MEK inhibitor, that you see significant responses in a very aggressive model of lung cancer. We are working with Gilead to test this combination in cancer patients with KRAS mutant lung cancer to start, and hope to expand to pancreatic and colorectal cancer patients.
Q: What are your hopes for the clinical trial? Why is it so important?
A: My hope is that the studies we are conducting will help us safely understand how these drugs work and determine their limitations. If we can demonstrate that there is significant activity, then it will lead to the next phase of studies. From there, we will be able to figure out a 3 or potentially 4 drug regimen that may lead us towards the ultimate goal of a cure for cancer.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
A: We are very appreciative of the incredible fundraising efforts that people do for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Although I have focused on the research aspect and the collaboration between scientists and physicians, little of this would be possible without the research infrastructure, which is supported not only by grant support, but in large part through philanthropic efforts of generous donors and fundraisers.
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