“We need resources to be put towards lung cancer in a way that matches the burden in the community… It is critical to raise public awareness and put the money where the patients are.” –Robert Keith, MD
Early in his career when Dr. Robert Keith became a Pulmonary/Critical Care Fellow at the University of Colorado Medical School, researchers were beginning to see opportunities in lung cancer research. The National Cancer Institute had just formed a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) in lung cancer to fund research that would result in new approaches to prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment. With this SPORE, new federal funds were becoming available for lung cancer research, and Dr. Keith was encouraged to specialize in lung cancer by many nationally-recognized experts in the field.
Now as an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver and the Associate Chief of Staff for Research at the Denver VA Medical Center, Dr. Keith studies the disease through cutting-edge laboratory research and life-saving clinical trials.
Recently his team completed a six-year Phase II clinical trial testing the effects of iloprost, a drug commonly prescribed to treat pulmonary hypertension, in current and former smokers. Because it can take a long time for cancer to develop, researchers shortened the timeline of this study by measuring airway damage as a surrogate for developing lung cancer. The remarkable results showed that iloprost treatment reversed airway damage in former smokers.
The researchers are continuing this work in a Phase III clinical trial in which they will treat high-risk patients with iloprost to determine if it can reduce the incidence of lung cancer.
During the Phase II trial, Dr. Keith’s team also collected urine samples from the patients. Now his team is studying those samples to identify biomarkers that might indicate which patients would benefit from iloprost treatment.
Pulmonary hypertension, the symptom iloprost helps alleviate, is commonly found in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Because we know that COPD is a risk factor for lung cancer, it’d be an ideal situation to have a drug to give to COPD patients that also reduces their lung cancer risk,” he explains.
This type of promising research requires money, but federal funding for lung cancer research continues to be scarce. In fact, though lung cancer continues to kill more people than breast, prostate, pancreatic, and colon cancers combined, it receives a relatively small amount of federal research dollars.
“We need resources to be put towards lung cancer in a way that matches the burden in the community,” says Dr. Keith. “It is critical to raise public awareness and put the money where the patients are.”
His enthusiasm for increasing the investments in lung cancer research, fuels his dedication as a member of LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board. “It’s great to see an organization move to take the lead in raising public awareness and research dollars for lung cancer.”