Razelle Kurzrock sees real progress in the war against cancer, though the speed isn’t nearly fast enough.
In fact, at the current rate of discovery, “cancer will be cured in 1,200 years.” That’s what the UC San Diego cancer researcher told her audience at the Fleet Science Center on Dec. 4.
“Fortunately,” she added, “new technology is going to allow us to do that much faster. We’re at the cutting edge, the forefront now.”
Kurzrock, a physician/scientist who came to UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center in November 2012, launched an innovative clinical trials program aimed at applying molecular profiling technologies to each individualized case.
“What we’re learning is, lung cancer is not just one disease,” said Kurzrock, formerly of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “It’s multiple diseases, many small subsets of multiple diseases, with several different underlying aberrations.”
Despite recent advances in technology, she concedes the prognosis remains grim for today’s cancer patients. “Very few patients gain a complete remission,” she said. “Even more shocking are the survival rates. Most of them are in the range of two months.”
So why haven’t there been more breakthroughs toward an eventual cure?
“One of the fundamental problems we had in treating cancer was, we thought a single diagnosis was good enough,” she said. “If it came from the breast, it was breast cancer. Same with lung cancer, colon cancer and so on. That just didn’t tell us enough about the tumor to give adequate therapy.”
Her innovative approach matches a patient’s molecular make-up with drug therapies.
“It doesn’t matter how good your drugs are,” she said. “If they’re given to the wrong patient for the wrong reasons, they’re not going to work.”
Kurzrock, whose appearance was co-presented by UC San Diego Extension and the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology, said the relatively slow progress is no reason to “throw up our hands” because no cure is imminent.
“Ultimately, molecular profiling will be used to prevent cancer,” she predicted, “but it’s a very high-hanging fruit right now.”
As a relative newcomer, Kurzrock praised San Diego as “an incredible city where people really embrace science, research and energy.”
Kurzrock’s presentation was part of the 2013-14 Exploring Ethics series based on “The Emperor of All Maladies,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee highlighting historical, social, medical and scientific views on cancer.