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Checking in with Past YIA and CDA Recipient Anne S. Tsao, MD

Jun 19, 2012

ASCO Connection recently followed up with Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO grant recipient Anne S. Tsao, MD, of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Tsao was recipient of a 2003 Young Investigator Award (YIA) and a 2007 Career Development Award (CDA). The YIA provides research funding to young oncologists who are completing their training in order to help them transition to a faculty appointment. The Career Development Award provides funding to clinical investigators who have received their initial faculty appointment to establish an independent clinical cancer research program. Currently, she is a participant in the 2012-2013 class of ASCO’s Leadership Development Program.

AC: What were the outcomes of your YIA research, “Elucidating the Role of ErbB in Lung Tumorigenesis and as a Target for Lung Cancer Prevention and Therapy”?

Dr. Tsao: The YIA jump-started my clinical and translational research in thoracic oncology. With my Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO YIA mentor, Dr. Jonathan Kurie, I started looking at biomarkers relevant to the EGFR and AKT pathways and demonstrated in a first-authored paper that upregulation of AKT was an early event in lung carcinogenesis and a potential target for both therapy and chemoprevention. We were the first group to identify AKT as an important target in lung cancer prevention and therapy, and this work has now led to several clinical trials with novel agents targeting AKT in lung cancer. I also conducted clinical/translational work on the EGFR pathway by serving as the Co-Principal Investigator (PI) at our institution of a multicenter phase II trial of erlotinib in patients with bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC) and also published a paper on clinical characteristics of patients with EGFR mutations. Afterward, I continued my efforts by writing and serving as a PI on one of the ongoing Department of Defense (DOD)-sponsored clinical trials of the Biomarker-based Approach of Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer Elimination (BATTLE) program [2005-0825, phase II trial of vandetanib (the dual EGFR/VEGFR inhibitor) in refractory NSCLC] and by contributing to the BATTLE-II clinical trial in development, focused on EGFR inhibitor resistant disease.

AC: What were the outcomes of your CDA research, “Src kinase is a new therapeutic target in malignant pleural mesothelioma”?

Dr. Tsao: The CDA has funded the translational studies on a novel clinical trial looking at neoadjuvant dasatinib in patients with resectable malignant pleural mesothelioma. We were the first to show in our preclinical studies that Src kinase and PDGFR are both relevant in this population of patients. With support from the DOD and CDA, we are able to conduct this unique trial, which to date has collected pre and post-neoadjuvant dasatinib tissue and serum. The primary endpoint is the assessment of biomarker modulation of activated Src kinase (phosphorylated Src kinase Tyr419).

In this study, multiple biopsies will be performed at the two time points and paired to evaluate tumor heterogeneity. If a clinical response (radiographic) or molecular response (biomarker modulation) is seen after the four weeks of dasatinib therapy, the patients will receive maintenance dasatinib for two years after definitive surgical resection.

The trial has completed accrual and we are actively conducting the additional translational studies and are anticipating having the manuscript out later this year. It will be a first effort in mesothelioma to adopt the strategy of personalized medicine with multiple tissue biopsies and successfully complete a neoadjuvant novel-targeted agent trial in mesothelioma.

AC: How has receiving a YIA and CDA impacted your career?

Dr. Tsao: The Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO YIA and CDA have enabled me to establish a robust clinical and translational program in both mesothelioma research and thoracic oncology. These award programs not only provided the seed money to create novel and innovative research studies, but also lent a note of credibility to my work, as these are peer-reviewed grants. I credit the Conquer Cancer Foundation and ASCO in helping to support my career in an extremely positive way.   

AC: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Tsao: Currently, I lead the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center multidisciplinary Mesothelioma Program and have been building a comprehensive clinical and translational program. Since mesothelioma is often fatal and our best treatment options still fail to provide significant clinical outcomes, I am very committed to changing the paradigm for this population of patients through basic science and clinical research. I am also expanding my research efforts for mesothelioma into the global arena via a collaborative effort through SWOG and Central/Latin America.  

AC: Do you have any advice for an early-career oncologist selecting a track or specialty?

Dr. Tsao: Find your passion and then focus on developing it. Also, stay balanced and remember that developing good relationships with others will always be your strength in academics.

AC: Why did you pick research over practice?

Dr. Tsao: Personal fulfillment—there is truly no better feeling than seeing a patient do well on a clinical trial that you were instrumental in developing or had the original idea to do.
The Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Career Development Award (CDA) and Young Investigator Award (YIA) programs will be accepting applications July 1-September 27. Read the Request for Proposals (RFP) and learn how to apply online at conquercancerfoundation.org/YIA or conquercancerfoundation.org/CDA.
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