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Rare Sarcomas Pose Significant Hurdles, But Foster Collaboration

Laura Panjwani
Published: Monday, Apr 18, 2016

Damon Reed, MD

Damon Reed, MD

With advancements in molecular diagnostics continuing to demonstrate that cancers such as breast, lung, and melanoma are more heterogeneous than previously thought, individualized therapy may soon become the norm.

, Reed discusses the challenges associated with treating rare sarcomas, the importance of collaboration, advancements in the field, and the potential for immunotherapy in the disease.

OncLive: What are you most excited about in sarcoma right now?

Reed: I am hopeful that advances in sequencing trickle down to these rare tumors and, with better collaboration, I am definitely hoping that we will be able to make significant differences in these ultra-rare subtypes of sarcoma.

Epigenetic modifiers are being considered now in other areas, including malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors. This ever-growing list of translocation-derived sarcomas will eventually be treated much differently than they are now. We do give doxorubicin to a lot of patients, regardless of their biology, and so we will have more specific agents than that to offer patients.

What are the challenges with treating rare sarcomas?

There are a lot of different sarcomas and I wish we had 20 different studies. However, 20 different studies with 1 or 2 patients each are just unmanageable in every aspect. Models for improved collaboration or lowering barriers in cost are really things that I hope the sarcoma community will continue to work on.

There are wonderful opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to work with patients who have sarcoma. We don’t have tens of thousands of patients—that is for sure. However, for subtypes with 200 to 300 patients, the biology of their disease is much more homogeneous than breast cancer or lung cancer. I do think the way patients get very rare sarcomas is very similar, biologically.

Collaboration is also key. I have patients who have extremely rare types of sarcoma; however, the sarcoma community is so friendly and collaborative. I can send an email to someone at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center or another major institution, and I will hear back within 1 hour regarding the clinical trial I am trying to enroll the patient on.

In the sarcoma community, there is not that same inherent competition as there is in other cancers. When someone has a promising trial, we try not to open a competing study but, rather, just send the patient there. It is a forced collaboration because the disease is so rare, but it does draw a certain type of physician to it—one who enjoys sharing data and networking. I love that.

What are the biggest questions that you would like to see answered in sarcoma?

I think of it almost like an onion. I just hope we can peel off some sarcomas that we would like to make major differences in, 1 at a time. GIST is the best example of this. If you would have asked someone in 1998 what the outcomes are for patients with GIST, people would have said that it is a hopeless condition.

Then, in 2002, it becomes a chronic condition and imatinib (Gleevec) was the fix. We have all been waiting for that second, third, and fourth “GIST story.” This is one of the more common sarcomas; there are thousands of patients who have it. I can’t wait to see more successes in the rarer cancers.

The major problem is that we are faced with patients who have really large tumors and, if it’s metastatic, we don’t have curative options. We need better agents for metastatic disease.

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