Skip to Main Content

New federally funded program energizes lung cancer research

Photo by Peter Baker
Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at Smilow Cancer Hospital, is the principal investigator on a new spore grant focused on non-small cell lung cancer. Research efforts will be heavily team-based in order “to combat this very common and all-too-fatal disease,” he says.

Armed with an $11 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven will launch a new research program in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), one of the world’s most prevalent and lethal forms of cancer.

Known as a Specialized Program of Research Excellence, or SPORE, the new research program harnesses the strengths of academic cancer centers by bringing together experts in oncology, immunobiology, pharmacology, molecular biology, pathology, epidemiology, and addiction science to collaborate on projects.

“The only way to approach a problem as big as lung cancer is to have experts in basic, translational, and clinical research working on several fronts taking the research from the lab to the clinic and back again to develop even newer insights,” said principal investigator Roy S. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, chief of medical oncology at Smilow Cancer Hospital, and associate director for the Translational Research Program at Yale Cancer Center. “This effort represents tremendous teamwork by investigators to combat this very common and all-too-fatal disease.”

Nearly 90 percent of lung cancers worldwide are NSCLC cases, which are largely incurable once they become metastatic. While most cases are linked to smoking, experts are increasingly identifying mutations in light smokers and non-smokers that are treatable.

“This is an exciting time to do cancer research in areas like immunotherapy,” said Lieping Chen, M.D., Ph.D., the United Technologies Corporation Professor in Cancer Research and professor of immunobiology, dermatology, and medicine. “With this award from the NCI, we hope to make a big difference in treating and preventing lung cancer.”

The Yale SPORE will conduct projects in immunotherapy, precision medicine, drug development, and smoking cessation. Teams will also work to identify new translational research avenues and train young physician-researchers for careers in lung cancer. Frank J. Slack, Ph.D., director of the Institute for RNA Medicine at the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will co-lead a project examining microRNAs as therapeutics for lung cancer. Slack was formerly on the faculty at Yale School of Medicine and retains an affiliation.

Yale is one of four institutions in the country with a SPORE devoted to lung cancer and one of 13 institutions to house more than one SPORE.

The other SPORE focuses on skin cancer, and the NCI originally awarded the grant in 2006. Ruth Halaban, Ph.D., senior research scientist in dermatology, is the principal investigator of the project. The research focuses primarily on the skin cancers basal cell carcinoma and melanoma.