Lung cancer has many forms, depending on which particular gene functions incorrectly. Our moon shot’s GEMINI project is on a mission to find these cancer-driving mutations for every subset of lung cancer patients — even those seen in only 1 or 2 percent of lung cancers. Using the latest technologies for tumor profiling, the team is finding targets and then identifying a drug that shuts down each one. One of our recent discoveries, made possible through private philanthropy and federal funding, focuses on a trio of lung cancer subsets characterized by mutations in a gene called KRAS. These findings have led to MD Anderson’s participation in a national research collaboration propelled by major funding from the Stand Up to Cancer organization.
Other lifesaving research involves combining targeted treatments and immunotherapies that hinder DNA repair mechanisms in cancer cells damaged by treatments. We’re using this approach in our studies of small cell lung cancer. While uncommon among lung cancers (accounting for fewer than 15%), small cell malignancies are diagnosed in more than 33,000 people in the U.S. alone each year.
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Finding answers in therapies for other cancers
As the Lung Cancer Moon Shot aims to find drugs that target every cancer-driving molecular aberration, using agents already approved for other cancers may significantly speed the process. For example, we’ve identified two existing drugs that show striking results in preclinical studies of non-small cell lung cancers (NSLC) with mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor Exon 20. To date, there has been no drug effective against this rare cancer subtype which strikes about 3,400 patients annually. The moon shot team is working with drug companies to move these findings to patients via clinical trials.