August 25, 2000

Sandler set to tackle lung cancer in the clinic and lab

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Dr. Alan Sandler

Sandler set to tackle lung cancer in the clinic and lab

Lung cancer expert Dr. Alan B. Sandler has joined the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center as associate professor of Medicine, medical director of Thoracic Oncology and director of Vanderbilt-Ingram’s Affiliate Network Program.

Sandler comes to Vanderbilt from Indiana University Medical Center, where he was associate professor of medicine in the division of hematology-oncology. He joined Vanderbilt’s division of hematology-oncology in June.

Sandler is a member of the Thoracic Oncology Committee of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, an organization sponsored by the National Cancer Institute to conduct multi-center trials of promising new therapies.

Through this group, he serves as principal investigator or co-principal investigator on several studies in small and non-small cell lung cancers. He also sees patients with sarcoma (malignancies of the bone or connecting tissue).

“In recent years, with new chemotherapies and new combinations of therapies, we’ve seen some modest strides in improved survival in patients with lung cancer,” Sandler said. “The next wave of improvement will be the novel, non-chemotherapy agents.”

These include angiogenesis inhibitors; which block development of tumor blood vessels; matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors, which block the spread of tumors to other organs; or signal transduction agents, which interrupt key signals that direct cell behavior.

Among the exciting new agents that Sandler and his Vanderbilt-Ingram colleagues will be evaluating is a drug previously known as ZD1839 but now given the name Irressa. The drug is a part of a new class of agents known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

These drugs, which are generating cautious excitement among cancer researchers and physicians, aim to stop a cell surface receptor from passing an abnormal growth instruction along the message chain toward the nucleus of the cell.

Sandler will be the principal investigator at Vanderbilt-Ingram in the multi-center Phase III study. In Phase III, new agents are tested against the standard therapy for a given disease in hundreds (or even thousands) of patients; it is the last hurdle a new drug must cross before being approved for widespread use.

Vanderbilt-Ingram also studied the drug in Phase I and, along with Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, in Phase II.

Irressa will be studied in patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, who will be randomly assigned to receive the standard chemotherapy combination of paclitaxel and carboplatin, or that combination plus the new drug.

The study will also be available through the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Affiliate Network, which includes more than a dozen hospitals in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama that participate in Vanderbilt-Ingram’s clinical trials program.

The network allows patients to receive some of the latest, most promising therapies in their own communities and helps increase enrollment in trials so that these agents can be thoroughly evaluated more quickly.

As medical director, Sandler oversees the trials conducted through the network and helps to develop and maintain relationships with the clinicians at those facilities.

Sandler is a graduate of Rush Medical College in Chicago, and did his post-graduate training, including his fellowshipin medical oncology, at Yale University School of Medicine.

Board certified in internal medicine and board-eligible in medical oncology, Sandler is author or co-author on more than 60 publications in the scientific literature.

He serves on the editorial board of Clinical Lung Cancer, and has served as a reviewer for Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Investigations, Cancer Therapeutics, Cancer, British Journal of Cancer and the European Respiratory Journal.