Fighting stage IV cancer with precision medicine, molecular intelligence

Jul 18, 2019

Traditionally, cancer was looked upon as a death sentence. Over the decades, however, medicine has slowly turned that around, as cures evolved and patients could often beat the disease. Now, medicine is pushing back much harder through what's called "precision medicine."

Cancer is a mesh of different diseases in different patients with different issues and different potential treatments. The days of surgery and chemotherapy are being replaced by genetic medicine or, as David Spetzler calls it, "precision medicine."

Credit Caris Life Sciences

The prominent exponent is speaking Thursday at 4 p.m. at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Spetzler is President and Chief Scientific Officer of Caris Life Sciences, a biotechnology company in Dallas, specializing in precision medicine to help patients with cancer and other complex diseases.

The firm builds on genetic research to develop treatments for an individual patient, one often in late-stage cancer. Spetzler calls his work a "Hail Mary" for patients in Stage IV, the most lethal. The company starts with gene studies and goes from there.

"Come up with a customized treatment strategy for each patient," he said, "and so we aren't limiting ourselves to just genetic information. We can also look at proteins. We can look at all sorts of different sources of information, including demographics, age, sex, everything that we know about a patient to optimally select therapy."

Spetzler said this personal approach can also be used in an array of other medical problems because it is about one person and one situation. He said his company is well beyond web sites offering geneological history.

"Technology that we bring to bear is actually quite different," Spetzler said. "What they're doing is testing what is called 'germline mutation.' Those are hereditary features that define your family. What we're looking for is changes that occur through the course of your life that actually lead to the cancers."

Spetzler said it can often be hard to explain to the public how important the work is.

"Everybody gets that cancer is bad. I never run into anybody who thinks other than that," Spetzler said, "and so then it's a question of, 'Okay, how do we go about fighting it? How do we be intelligent about the application of our resources?' And that's where it gets challenging. You just have to do a good job of showing that what you do matters."

Spetzler said a sign of the value of what his company does is that it provides services to some of the great national cancer centers, as research and big data helps understand the human body and its subsystems, and how the immune system can be mobilized to protect the body.

He has 300 patent applications across 37 different patent families. This particular talk is part of UB Blast, an innovation boot camp with participation across the university and its different schools.