Solid Tumor Therapeutics

Program Leadership

Gerard Blobe, MD, PhD
Jeffrey Crawford, MD

The Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program is led by Gerard Blobe, MD, PhD, and Jeffrey Crawford, MD, and is partitioned into three focus groups: Signal Transduction Pathways, also led by Dr. Blobe; Tumor Microenvironment/Immunotherapy, led by Dr. Smita Nair, and Preclinical Modeling, led by David Hsu, MD, PhD, and Dr. David Kirsch.

Dr. Blobe serves as Co-Leader of the Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program and of the Signal Transduction Pathways Focus Group. Dr. Blobe is a Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Cancer Biology and has an active NCI-funded lab that studies TGF-b superfamily signaling, which has published over 90 papers in the field of cancer biology. He has served on NIH study sections as well as editorial boards. Dr. Crawford is the other Co-Leader of the Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program.

Dr. Crawford is the George Barth Geller Professor for Research in Cancer and served as Chief of the Division of Medical Oncology for more than 10 years. He is vice-chair of the respiratory committee of the Alliance and site PI for DCI's participation, as well as lead PI for the DCI as a lead academic site for NCTN. Dr. Crawford has championed clinical research, particularly the use of hematopoietic growth factors and new agents in lung cancer, including being national PI for the trials leading to the approval of G-CSF (filgrastim) in chemotherapy related neutropenia, and for vinorelbine in lung cancer. His current research includes serving as PI for 2 phase III trials of selective androgen receptor modulators in the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia in lung cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

Dr. Smita Nair is leader of the Tumor Microenvironment/Immunotherapy Focus Group. Dr. Nair is an Associate Professor of Surgery. Her laboratory was instrumental in developing the RNA-transfected dendritic cell-based vaccination immunotherapy approach, and is currently focused on generating sustained effector and memory T cell immune responses that will translate to a therapeutic benefit for cancer patients. Dr. Nair has also helped establish the first GMP-production facility for dendritic cell-based cancer vaccines for Phase I clinical trials at the Duke Cancer Institute.

Drs. Hsu and Kirsch are co-leaders of the Preclinical Modeling/Parallel Clinical Trials in Animal Models Focus Group. Dr. Hsu is the William Dalton Family Assistant Professor in Cancer Genomics. Dr. Hsu's laboratory focuses on the application of high-throughput technologies to match the individual patient with the most optimal therapy to improve clinical outcomes in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer.

Along these lines, Dr. Hsu has been active in developing preclinical in vivo murine models to study new and novel therapeutic combinations, including patient derived human tumor xenografts. Dr. David Kirsch is a Professor of Radiation Oncology, Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, who has an active NCI-funded lab that studies sarcomogenesis and radiation biology using state of the art genetically engineered mouse models.Specific Goals

  • Promote synergy across the solid tumor research groups at Duke through a) regular meetings of the individual solid tumor research groups, b) quarterly thematic meetings of the signal transduction, tumor microenvironment and preclinical modeling focus groups and c) an annual retreat of the entire program membership.
  • Increase disease specific drug development with investigator initiated trials, including Phase I experimental therapeutics by a) promoting interactions with members of the Developmental Therapeutics Program to capitalize on their early stage drug discovery and lead development efforts b) providing support and infrastructure for clinical trials and c) leveraging the support of the NCI Experimental Therapeutics Clinical Trials Network with Phase I emphasis (ET-CTN) and National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) lead academic site grants, both of which are housed in this program.

Program Overview

The Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program focuses on the following disease groups: gastrointestinal cancers (esophageal, gastric, small intestine, colorectal, anal, hepatobiliary and pancreatic); genitourinary cancers (kidney, bladder, prostate, testicular); thoracic cancers (lung, mesothelioma), pediatric cancers, sarcoma, melanoma and head and neck cancers. Given the diversity of disease sites represented by the Program, as most solid tumors share (1) common alterations in the major signaling pathways regulating development and homeostasis, including the EGF, TGF-b, PDGF, VEGF, IGF, Hh, Wnt, Src and c-Met pathways, (2) conserved roles for the tumor microenvironment (immune system, angiogenesis), and (3) a need for more relevant pre-clinical or concurrent models, the program focuses on aligning the research efforts across these disease sites along these themes, promoting synergy across research groups at Duke and increasing disease specific drug development and testing with investigator initiated trials.

Focus Areas

  • Signal Transduction Pathways/Targeted Therapy Focus Group
  • Tumor Microenvironment/Immunotherapy Focus Group
  • Preclinical Modeling/Parallel Clinical Trials in Animal Models Focus Group

Scientific Highlights

Dr. Gerry Blobe working with Dr. Andy Nixon in the Developmental Therapeutics Program, interogated the tumor microenvironment of the pediatric tumor, neuroblastoma, to identify heparin sulfate proteoglycans as endogenous differntiating factors and modified heparins as potential differntiating therapies for these patients. 

Dr. Corinne Linardic working with Dr. Ashley Chi in the Cancer Genetic and Genomics Program, identify repression of the Hippo pathway as a mechanism of function of the PAX3-FOXO1 fusion protein in the pathogenesis of the pediatric cancer, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.

Drs. Neal Ready and Jeff Crawford, led a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II study which suggests an advantage of chemotherapy with maintenance sunitinib for untreated extensive-stage small-cell lung cancer patients. 

Dr. Herbert Hurwitz, led a randomized, double-blind phase II study which supports a survival advantage of capecitabine with the JAK inhibitor, ruxolitinib , in second line metastatic pancreatic cancer patients. 

Clinical Trials