Earlier this month, Dr. Steven Devine, a renowned blood and marrow transplant physician, joined Be The Match BioTherapies from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James). In the first installment of this two-part interview, we spoke with Dr. Devine about his experiences as a clinician, and asked him what the cell and gene therapy industry can learn from blood and marrow transplantation specialists.
Tell us about your background. How did you choose to specialize in blood and marrow transplants?
I am trained as a hematologist/oncologist and focused early in my career on patients with blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. I gravitated toward blood and marrow transplantation as the science and complexity fascinated me. For many of the diseases my patients developed, it was the most effective therapy, particularly for patients not responding to their initial treatments. I continue to be amazed by the progress being made in this field and all it has to offer patients, but realize we still need to do better so more patients can be helped.
What we have learned in blood and marrow transplantation has really been critical to informing the development of the cellular therapy field. CAR T-cell therapy was created to be a logical refinement of what we have learned in transplantation, particularly with respect to the influence of the immune system and its capacity to treat and control the growth of cancer cells.
How do you hope to contribute to the Be The Match BioTherapies Team? What aspects of your role are you most excited about?
I have spent the last 20 years of my career in the field of blood and marrow transplantation and this has taught me a lot about the successes and failures of our current treatments. We have made tremendous progress in just a short period. But, I think now we have the technology and knowledge to accelerate the pace of progress and bring better, safer treatments to our patients, and at a faster pace.
I think my background as a physician allows me to not only evaluate the strength of the science behind a form of cellular therapy, but also about the potential clinical impact it can have on improving the lives of the patients we serve. I hope to bring my experience and perspective to Be The Match BioTherapies so we can collectively team up with the most innovative companies and organizations – those that are poised to advance the best therapies for our patients.
As a clinician, you’ve worked with cancer patients for many years. Why is advancing new cell therapies so important for the patient population?
The one thing all of us who treat patients with cancer have learned the hard way is that it can be very difficult to completely eradicate. Patients with leukemia, for instance, may enter a remission, but all too often it is short lived and they relapse. Treatment options are often limited at that point. What we have learned from blood and marrow transplantation is that the immune system and, in particular, T-cells can have a powerful impact against cancer cells like leukemia and lymphoma.
I see cellular therapy in cancer as one way of harnessing this knowledge to bring safer and more effective therapies to our patients. Importantly, the effects of T-cells and other immune cells may not just be limited to blood cancer and there are now many studies being conducted in patients with solid tumors like breast and lung cancer, melanoma and sarcoma, just to name a few. It’s a very exciting time as cellular therapy is expanding treatment options for our patients.
Check back soon for Part Two of our interview to learn about Dr. Devine’s thoughts on the challenges and opportunities cell and gene therapy companies are facing.