September 17, 1999

Genitourinary Cancer Program poised for success

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Dr. Bruce Roth is the new co-director of the Genitourinary Cancer Program. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Genitourinary Cancer Program poised for success

Dr. Bruce J. Roth has joined the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center as the Dr. Paul V. Hamilton and Virginia E. Howd Professor of Urologic Oncology.

Along with Dr. Joseph A. Smith Jr., William L. Bray Professor and Chair of Urologic Surgery, Roth will serve as co-director of the Genitourinary Cancer Program. He also is section chief of solid tumor oncology.

Roth comes to Vanderbilt from Indiana University, home of one of the nation's leading centers in the treatment of genitourinary malignancies. (The center is where recent Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong received his treatment for testicular cancer).

At the VICC, Roth will work with Smith to lead efforts to build a multi-disciplinary program to provide the latest therapies and advance research in prostate, bladder, testicular, and renal cancers.

"Our goal is to provide a true multi-disciplinary approach, involving surgery, medical oncology, and radiation oncology to develop clinical trials of promising new therapies, and to foster basic research in these diseases," Roth said. "We want to be not just a regional referral center but a national referral center in genitourinary oncology."

Smith agreed.

"We have developed one of the most active and successful programs for the surgical treatment of urologic cancers, but surgery cannot cure all patients," Smith said.

"We want to expand our treatment options and develop new opportunities to combine treatment approaches. Dr. Roth's experience and clinical capabilities are exactly what we need to further establish a comprehensive program for managing patients with urologic cancer and to develop new treatment strategies."

Roth earned his medical degree at St. Louis University in 1980 and received his post-doctoral training in internal medicine and hematology-oncology at Indiana University, where he joined the faculty as assistant professor of Medicine in 1986. He was named director of Indiana's genitourinary oncology program in 1992 and was promoted to full professor in 1997.

A strong foundation of basic research, a nationally recognized Urology Department and a commitment to developing new therapies through the Phase I Drug Development Program all contributed to his decision to leave Indiana after 19 years to join the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Roth said.

"Dr. Roth has a wealth of experience in the development of novel therapies for urologic cancers," said Dr. Mace L. Rothenberg, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and director of the VICC's Phase I Drug Development Program.

"This experience will be invaluable in facilitating the rapid transition of new therapies from Phase I trials to Phase II and III trials. I believe that this kind of coordinated approach will ensure that the greatest progress is made in the shortest time possible."

A phase I trial is the first study of new treatments in patients and is designed to identify the maximum tolerated dose and pharmacologic behavior of new drugs. Phase II and III trials are designed to evaluate the effectiveness of therapies against specific cancers and compare their effectiveness against standard approaches.

Also important in Roth's decision was the endowed chair to which he has been appointed, established by a bequest from Dr. Paul V. Hamilton, a 1929 graduate of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, and a gift from Hamilton's longtime friend, Virginia Howd.

The cancers that Roth treats vary in their incidence and the treatments available. Prostate cancer is by far the most common, affecting nearly 180,000 men each year, according to American Cancer Society estimates. More than 54,000 cases of bladder cancer occur each year in the United States, while renal cancer affects about 30,000 annually. Testicular cancer is rare, with only about 8,000 new cases occurring each year, and is very curable even in advanced stages.

While most people tend to think of the specialty of urology when they think of prostate cancer, a strong collaboration between urologists and medical oncologists is important, Roth said.

"Treatment options are evolving rapidly in this area. For example, 10 years ago, we routinely quoted chemotherapy response rates of 5 percent to patients, while today, modern combination regimens can produce response rates of 50 percent or higher."

Roth's goals include education of community physicians that chemotherapy is a viable option for genitourinary cancers in general – and prostate cancer in particular – and the development of trials of new agents that Vanderbilt can play a leading role in taking from Phase I through multi-center Phase III.