THROUGH DR. ALEXANDER SPIRA, DIRECTOR OF THE VIRGINIA CANCER SPECIALISTS CLINICAL RESEARCH PROGRAM, WE EXPERIENCE THE CHALLENGES CLINICAL TRIAL RESEARCHERS FACE, AND LEARN WHAT KEEPS THEM EVER-SEARCHING FOR THE NEXT BREAKTHROUGH
What motivates a lung cancer clinical researcher? What inspires them to show up unremittingly to the front lines of research in hopes of developing the next lifesaving treatment? For physician-scientists like Dr. Alexander Spira, that answer lies with the patients they are driven to save.
Dr. Spira spends almost two-thirds of his time working with patients, mostly those facing a lung cancer diagnosis. “These patients, especially when part of a clinical trial, become part of the family. They make me want to do better for them and find better, safer treatment options,” he explains.
When he first started his career in the early 2000s, Dr. Spira met a patient who continues to drive his work today. The young man was close in age to Spira, with a beautiful family and facing advanced stage lung cancer. An EGFR mutation meant he was eligible to be part of one of the earliest EGFR targeted therapy studies.
Over 90 percent of patients in their test group did well on the treatment. “Unfortunately, he was the first one in the entire study to not respond to this new therapy, and one of a very few,” says Spira.
The reality is not all those diagnosed with lung cancer will do well on the same treatment plan. Innovative research and clinical trials are the only ways to ensure multiple treatment options become available to those who don’t respond to other methods. And it’s the constant desire to expand research and do better for their patients that keeps researchers like Dr. Spira excited for ongoing improvements in the field.
Getting treatment options into the hands of those who need them most has been steering Dr. Spira’s career since day one. “When I started, most (lung cancer) patients were written off as too sick to treat. The last 13 years have proven that lung cancer, when given adequate time, money and resources, can become one of the most treatable cancers we have.” While he knows there’s still a way to go, he appreciates the strides that have been made so far.
Within the lung cancer community, researchers like Dr. Spira aren’t as visible. Perhaps, it’s easy to forget these researchers are as dedicated to doubling survival as the rest of us. But making a difference for their patients is what keeps lung cancer researchers steadfast in their work. Through those like Dr. Spira, we are reminded that all of us belong to the same family that wants surviving lung cancer to be the expectation, not the exception.
Accelerate Clinical Trials Grant
Free to Breathe has launched a new grant funding opportunity focused on research to investigate ways to increase accrual to therapeutic cancer clinical trials, with an emphasis on lung cancer clinical trials.
The intent of this award is to support two-year pilot research projects that will systematically investigate interventions or strategies that address one or more of the known barriers to clinical trial accrual.
Applications are currently being accepted! Learn more at freetobreathe.org/trialsgrant
Originally posted at INSPIRING RESEARCH – WHAT DRIVES A CLINICAL TRIALS RESEARCHER