The long and tangled history of cancer treatment is, perhaps, the most obvious argument that defeating this Gordian knot of diseases will require every tool we have — and can imagine. No single act or epiphany can cure cancer. The effort requires the efforts of many, using every mind and means available.
That’s the thinking behind the new Center for Novel Therapeutics (CNT), which officially broke ground Tuesday and will open for business in 2019. Located just east of Moores Cancer Center (MCC) at UC San Diego Health on the east campus, the CNT would be a 135,000-square-foot home to MCC and UC San Diego School of Medicine scientists and physicians and perhaps dozens of local research organizations and biotech companies focused on finding new treatments and cures for cancer and related chronic diseases.
Indeed, more than half of the three-story building, which will include wet and dry labs, bioengineering facilities and research facilities including a biorepository, will be available to both UC San Diego and non-university investigators and enterprises. MCC will literally be just across the street, with our partner La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJIAI) also next door. MCC’s growing immunotherapy program will be based inside CNT.
This proximity and critical mass is important. MCC researchers and physicians possess an intimate, daily knowledge of the disease. They work at the leading edge. They have access to resources and services (and thus their patients) that are available only at a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. MCC and LJIAI investigators will always be close at hand to help private industry develop new treatments. CNT will be common ground for men and women with a common goal: conquering cancer.
The idea of such an “incubator” is not new, though this is the first UC San Diego-linked accelerator. It is largely the brainchild of two MCC physician-scientists who have steadfastly pursued and developed this dream over many years: Dennis Carson, M.D., who was MCC director from 2003 to 2011 and who still runs a lab, and Thomas Kipps, M.D., who served as interim director until my arrival in 2012 and who is currently deputy director for research and a Distinguished Professor of Medicine.
Both men have made their mark in cancer research and drug discovery. Carson is perhaps best known for his landmark work in developing a new agent called 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine, or 2-CdA, for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia. This drug, now marketed as Leustatin, is the treatment of choice for this disease and has resulted in long-term, complete remissions in about 75 percent of patients, often after just a single infusion. It is also effective in other lymphoid cancers, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis.
“We don’t often say ‘cure’ in cancer, but Dennis has accomplished that for people suffering from hairy cell leukemia,” Jack Dixon, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, cellular and molecular medicine, chemistry and biochemistry and himself an internationally recognized scientist once said.
Kipps may be on the cusp of another breakthrough. From the glimmerings of an idea through the hurdles of basic research, he has nurtured a first in-human stem cell-based therapy for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most common form of blood cancer in adults. Called cirmtuzumab, the drug therapy is currently in clinical trials and has shown potential for a variety of other cancers, including breast, pancreas, colon, lung and ovary.
Of course, neither Carson nor Kipps would claim to have worked alone. Cancer research and treatment requires the talents and resources of multiple collaborators, including those beyond the university. Carson, for example, has founded six biotechnology companies over his long and distinguished career to pursue his research and discoveries. Kipps and colleagues have been leaders in creating new academia-industry partnerships that have accelerated progress at MCC and beyond.
The CNT represents tangible evidence of this idea and purpose. It brings together faculty entrepreneurs with bold ideas, experienced managers in fundraising and drug development and others who will be critical to the process and to ultimate success.
“It’s an exciting new addition to the university’s Science Research Park,” said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, “a place where a diverse array of researchers from every sector can advance technology and medical science to benefit patients.”
Cancer is notorious for using every weapon it can muster to prevail. The CNT will work on the same prevailing principle.
— Scott M. Lippman, M.D., is director of UCSD Moores Cancer Center. His column on medical advances from the front lines of cancer research and care appears in La Jolla Light monthly. You can reach Dr. Lippman at email@example.com