Medical oncologist Paul Sabbatini has dedicated his career to caring for women with gynecologic cancers, including those that affect the ovaries, uterus, and cervix. As a researcher, he has focused particularly on the evaluation of immunotherapies as potential strategies for women with ovarian cancer.
Now his expertise will have an impact on even more patients as he fills the newly created position of Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Clinical Research. In this role, he will be responsible for streamlining, accelerating, and expanding Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s clinical research program.
In an interview, he answered questions about this new leadership position and the vision for current and future clinical research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
What is clinical research?
Clinical research involves studying a new medical approach to make sure it is safe and effective in patients. Some clinical trials test a drug, a medical device, or a new way of performing surgery. Others study new ways to prevent disease, diagnose cancer, improve quality of life, or help people with cancer manage psychological and social issues. Some clinical trials are small, with just a few patients. Others are large and involve thousands of patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and other treatment centers.
Clinical research is the only scientific way to prove whether a new treatment works better than current treatments. Most of the approaches that doctors use to treat cancer today would never have become available without clinical trials.
How many clinical trials take place at Memorial Sloan-Kettering?
Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s patients and researchers are typically involved in more than 900 total clinical trials at any given time. We have more anticancer drugs than ever before to consider, and we are learning that specific drugs work better in tumors with certain characteristics. We spend a lot of time matching a particular patient and his or her tumor to appropriate clinical trials.
How would you describe your new position?
My new position supports a coordinated effort to expand clinical trial offerings to Memorial Sloan-Kettering patients, to increase the variety of studies that we take on, and to increase our efficiency so that we can offer novel treatments to more patients.
What are your goals for Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s clinical research program?
The short-term goal is to improve our clinical research process so that we can more quickly develop and launch high-quality studies for patients. We will also enhance systems to characterize tumors in patients early on, so that both the patient and physician are ready to participate when a suitable trial comes along.
Our long-term goal of improving outcomes for patients with cancer will be supported by offering a wider variety of trials personalized to individual patients, becoming involved earlier in drug development, and applying ever more powerful tools to investigate tumors and understand why they grow. We will seek more alliances with the biotechnology community so we can bring new therapies to the clinic more quickly. Also, by enhancing clinical trials at Memorial Sloan-Kettering's regional network sites, more patients will have the opportunity to participate in leading-edge clinical research and have access to treatments that may not be available elsewhere.
Will these initiatives have an impact on patient care at other institutions as well?
We believe these strategies will improve care not only for our patients, but also for patients being treated for cancer around the country and the world. Our mission is to share our clinical research findings with the larger community as quickly as possible. We also are enhancing our collaborations with researchers at other institutions, and these relationships will further accelerate the pace of beneficial developments for cancer care.
How do you see clinical research changing over the next few years?
The terms “personalized medicine” and “precision medicine” describe much of the next generation of therapies for patients with cancer. We know that specific tumor types that seem similar under the microscope may have very different molecular characteristics that support their growth. By understanding the pathways that cause tumors to grow, and by identifying agents that can interrupt these signals, we hope to bring more-effective therapies to more patients, with hopefully limited side effects.