Bringing Breakthroughs in Cancer from the Lab to the Bedside

When Steve Slipich was diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer in 2019, his life expectancy was a year. Three years later, the 74-year-old recently returned from another road trip with his wife, this one through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. For Steve, the miracle of more years with his children and grandchildren is the result of groundbreaking research at Providence St. Jude Medical Center. The hospital is one of only five sites in the nation to offer a pioneering new immunotherapy called PRL3-zumab, and oncologists here are discovering that, while the novel therapy is not universally beneficial, for certain patients like Steve, life expectancies are being extended by years.

The innovative therapy combines the two most promising areas within cancer treatment: immunotherapies, which help the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells, and targeted therapies, which kill tumor-specific proteins. PRL3-zumab, a laboratory-made monoclonal antibody, serves as bait for tumor cells while also recruiting immune-system antibodies to attack.

“This evolution in cancer treatment holds enormous hope and promise,” explains David Park, MD, medical director of Providence St. Jude Crosson Cancer Institute and a board-certified medical oncologist. “It’s the next frontier, and we’re at the forefront for one reason: to give our patients as many birthdays, anniversaries and family dinners as possible.”

Unlike chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which target cellular mechanisms common to both healthy and cancerous cells, targeted immunotherapies like PRL3-zumab attack cancer cells based on their molecular blueprint—a precision that can often eliminate treatment side effects. “Targeting the specific cellular expression of a tumor dramatically lowers the toxicity of treatment,” explains Dr. Park, “allowing us to not only add years to a patient’s life but preserve the quality of those years.”

Once viewed as a last resort, clinical trials are now often the first choice in treatment, allowing patients to benefit from therapies before they become widely available. A national leader in research and clinical trials, the Crosson Cancer Institute is currently involved in more than 50 trials for cancers ranging from breast, lung, esophageal and brain to leukemia and melanoma— attracting patients from all over Southern California.

“We’re advancing treatment at a remarkable pace,” says Dr. Park, pointing to a growing number of cancers now considered curable as well as rising survival rates for even advanced and aggressive cancers. “For incurable stage 4 cancers, adding quality years to a patient’s life is a win, even as new therapies allow more patients to hear the word ‘remission.’”

To learn more about current clinical trials, call our Clinical Research Department at 714-446-5177.