Daniel P. Silver, MD, PhD, Director of Basic Science and Research in Medical Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University and Leader of the Breast Program at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, answers several questions discussing what brought him to Jefferson and how his research is working to improve patient outcomes and achieve .Susan G. Komen’s Bold Goal to reduce breast cancer deaths by 50 percent over the next decade.
What is your personal vision and how are you fulfilling that vision at Jefferson?
As a physician scientist, it has been my personal goal to do more for my patients both in the clinic and in the lab. Ever since I finished my residency and accepted a fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I’ve been living and breathing breast cancer medicine and science. I think cancer medicine in general has lagged behind other fields of medicine and doesn’t offer our patients the kind of alternatives that we really want to be able to offer them. So, I’ve dedicated my career to trying to use the tools of modern molecular biology to make scientific progress leading to better treatments for patients, and doing my best in the clinic for those who have entrusted me with their care.
When I assumed my current role at Jefferson, I did so because I saw an opportunity to make an even greater impact for patients living with cancer. The breast cancer clinical community here is completely dedicated to providing the best, highest quality care for our patients, and the opportunities to do research and bring ideas into clinical trials are tremendous. I have been really impressed by the diverse array of skills and talents of my colleagues, and I love the spirit that motivates them. We all are working hard every day to meet the bold goal that Komen has set to reduce breast cancer deaths by 50 percent in a decade.
What role does basic science research play in providing better treatments for cancer patients?
Excellent patient care is only a part of the equation. To continue to reduce breast cancer mortality, basic and translational research must provide insights leading to better treatment and prevention options. My lab is focused in part on discovering new and better treatment options for patients with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer with no targeted treatment options. We have developed a test to determine which chemotherapy might work best for an individual’s tumor. This is the subject of a large multi-institutional clinical trial, and we are hopeful that it may help personalize treatment.
Looking at the basic biology of cancer and trying to figure out what propels tumor growth is a very important step to identifying the best methods to treat our patients. We are currently engaged in studies that seek to identify new oncogenes that contribute to the growth of cancers with hopes of then targeting those oncogenes with new treatments and therapies. Most recently, we discovered a gene that is involved in one third of TNBC cases. We believe this discovery may offer promising new therapeutic options to TNBC patients.
Should there be more focus on creating new cancer treatments or using current cancer treatment in better and more creative ways?
Both approaches are equally important. We’re taking our basic science findings from the lab to clinical trials with hopes of devising better therapies. But we’re also looking at ways to make use of pre-existing drugs in better and more effective ways.
In fact, some of the progress we’ve seen in TNBC care has been fueled by physician scientists and clinicians who are committed to using the resources we already have at our disposal in better ways. In one of our clinical trials, a drug that fell out of favor in breast cancer care, Cisplatin, proved to be effective in 40 percent of TNBC patients. This trial has had a significant impact on the way we approach TNBC therapy. A number of new clinical trials underway now are exploring the use of the platinum drugs for TNBC in new and creative ways, and we hope that these trials will pave the way to better outcomes.
How do you think your work ties in to Komen’s goal of significantly reducing breast cancer mortality over the next decade?
Komen’s goal of reducing the breast cancer mortality rate by 50 percent in the next decade is ambitious, but certainly attainable. If we combine basic science, translational science and first-rate breast cancer care and screening, I believe we can achieve Komen’s goal of decreasing breast cancer mortality. Komen’s commitment to all aspects of this effort, breast cancer screening, community outreach, and support of science will be critical in this effort, and I am thrilled to support this goal.