The future of cancer care: strategies from 20 years of research and patient care

Over the past two decades, SCCA has grown into one of the nation’s leading centers for cancer research and clinical care. It is a critical resource for providers whose patients need access to studies and specialized therapies. The future of cancer care will build on this solid foundation and define new levels of treatment success.

Nancy Davidson, MD, Executive Director and President of SCCA
Nancy Davidson, MD, Executive Director and President of SCCA

As one of the nation's top cancer centers, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) focuses on translating scientific discoveries into cancer prevention, treatment and potential cures. Nearly 40,000 of its patients have participated in more than 1,700 clinical trials to test new therapies and techniques. SCCA’s pioneering work promises to help patients enjoy longer and healthier lives.

“Not only do we offer the most advanced cancer care, but we’re also defining it,” says Nancy Davidson, MD, SCCA's president and executive director. “Future breakthroughs will build upon advances we've made in research and patient care, helping cancer mortality rates continue their slow but steady decline.”

It’s been two decades since SCCA first opened its doors in South Lake Union. Today, its research teams and cancer specialists continue to propel cancer science forward and lay the groundwork for future breakthroughs with:

  • Leading-edge treatments such as CAR-T therapy
  • New drug therapies, like one recently approved for treating advanced bladder cancer
  • Molecular techniques that improve diagnosis and treatment options
  • Agile responses to emerging threats

Driving innovation

SCCA leads the field in CAR-T therapy. This novel treatment genetically engineers synthetic chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) that reprogram a patient’s own T cells to identify and destroy cancer cells expressing the target ligand. SCCA physicians and researchers helped lay the groundwork for CAR-T therapy development and approval for clinical use.

The Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic at SCCA, one of the first CAR-T therapy clinics in the U.S., opened in 2016. The clinic regularly pilots the latest clinical trials for new CAR-T therapies and is among the first clinics to offer these therapies once they are approved by the FDA. Currently, SCCA offers all five FDA-approved cellular immunotherapies for patients living with certain types of hematologic malignancies. 

“CAR-T therapy has been revolutionary, eliciting effective responses in patients who don’t have other options,” says Dr. Davidson. “Our experts continue to push the science forward. We are currently involved in numerous clinical trials seeking to reduce the severity and frequency of adverse effects and expand CAR-T treatment to solid tumors.”

Establishing the standard of care

SCCA is helping transform cancer care around the world. Recently, SCCA researchers helped secure FDA approval of a new targeted therapy for patients with advanced bladder cancer. 

Many patients with bladder cancer cannot receive first-line platinum-based chemotherapy and do not respond to second-line immunotherapy. SCCA researchers helped confirm the efficacy of a new drug called enfortumab vedotin (EV) as a third-line treatment. EV is an antibody-drug conjugate that delivers a disrupting agent to urothelial tumors. Based on this trial, the FDA granted regular approval to EV.

“The results were considered so impactful that they have reshaped international guidelines and treatment recommendations for this patient group,” says Dr. Davidson.

Ensuring access to the latest emerging technologies

Molecular testing has created a paradigm shift in cancer care, and SCCA is at the forefront. SCCA researchers have helped uncover molecular biomarkers that predict a patient’s risk for many cancers, including:

  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Hematologic malignancies
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Sarcomas

SCCA’s Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service offers biomarker testing to patients and their families who are considered high risk for developing cancer because of their personal history or family medical history. Additionally, SCCA has two specialized clinics that focus on the role of genetics in cancer diagnosis and treatment: the Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic and Hematologic Malignancy Genetics Clinic.

At SCCA, physicians use genetic testing to develop plans for screening, early detection and individualized treatment options.

Responding to new challenges

During COVID-19, the greatest public health challenge of our time, SCCA has been a leader in providing care while keeping patients safe. In March 2020, SCCA researchers published recommendations for managing cancer care during COVID-19. They include:

  • Infection control strategies
  • Guidance for making treatment decisions
  • Considerations for healthcare workers’ emotional well-being

“Our leaders led the development of NCCN® guidelines for the COVID vaccine for cancer patients  and participated in FDA advisory committees for approval of COVID vaccines,” says Dr. Davidson. “By quickly recognizing the challenges of providing safe cancer treatment, our response demonstrated the ability to act with speed and deliberation during a time of change and uncertainty.  We are at the forefront of providing vaccination for immunocompromised cancer patients in our region, and incorporated administration of monocolonal antibodies to both prevent and treat COVID-19 in immunosuppressed cancer patients.”

What the next 20 years holds

Looking ahead, SCCA physicians will continue to leverage new technology, from artificial intelligence and advanced imaging to molecular testing. “Our progress depends on the power of science and the strength of collaboration,” says Dr. Davidson.

“The importance of scientific study and putting research and data first have never been more apparent,” she says. “We need strong support for empirical knowledge within and outside the scientific community.”

Everyday, SCCA partners with referring providers to allow research to go farther and faster. This collaboration also drives SCCA’s treatment approach that personalizes patient care.

“We were founded with a single-minded pursuit — helping patients lead better, longer, richer lives. We’re proud of our success in achieving this, but more work is needed,” says Dr. Davidson. “As we embark upon the next 20 years, we look to a future where the fear and pain of cancer are no longer a burden.”

Explore SCCA’s provider resources

 

Acknowledgement: the original article was published by the Seattle Times

Antibody A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood. Antibodies defend the body against foreign substances, such as bacteria. Antibody A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood. Antibodies defend the body against foreign substances, such as bacteria. Antigen A foreign substance, such as bacteria, that causes the body’s immune system to respond by making antibodies. Antibodies defend the body against antigens. Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Genetic testing Tests that can be done to see if a person has certain gene changes known to increase cancer risk. Imaging In medicine, a process that makes pictures of areas inside the body. Imaging uses methods such as X-rays (high-energy radiation), ultrasound (high-energy sound waves) and radio waves. Immunotherapy A type of therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. A therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. Some immunotherapies only target certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the immune system in a general way. Types of immunotherapy include cytokines, vaccines, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and some monoclonal antibodies. Screening Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (for breast cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer) and Pap and HPV tests (for cervical cancer). Screening can also include a genetic test to check for a person’s risk of developing an inherited disease. T cell A type of white blood cell. T cells are part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. They help protect the body from infection and may help fight cancer. A type of white blood cell. T cells are part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. They help protect the body from infection and may help fight cancer. Also called T lymphocyte and thymocyte. Targeted therapy A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells while causing less harm to normal cells. A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells while causing less harm to normal cells. Some targeted therapies block the action of certain enzymes, proteins or other molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Other types of targeted therapies help the immune system kill cancer cells, or they deliver toxic substances directly to cancer cells and kill them. Targeted therapy may have fewer side effects than other types of cancer treatment. Most targeted therapies are either small molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.