Q&A with Laura Esserman, Principal Investigator, I-SPY 2, and Professor, UCSF School of Medicine
Q: How would you describe the goal of I-SPY 2 (and the upcoming I-SPY 3) to your mom?
A: We now understand that there are many different types of breast cancer. We need to find better treatment options and a way to test the exciting pipeline of new agents and get the right drugs to the right patients now. The I-SPY 2 TRIAL is a new model (using breast cancer) of drug development that allows us to test many agents simultaneously, to learn as we go, and test new agents earlier, at the time of new diagnosis, where disease may be curable. The goal is to identify the drugs that are most effective with I-SPY 2, and confirm and qualify them for early use with I-SPY 3. Together, I-SPY 2 and I-SPY 3 are designed to achieve the three-pronged goal of bringing highly targeted, effective drugs to market in one-fourth the amount of time at one-fourth the cost using one-fourth the number of patient volunteers to achieve the desired results.
Q: Involvement in I-SPY 2 goes beyond the scope of your regular day-job at UCSF. What keeps you motivated you to stay at it?
A: My patients motivate me. For over 20 years I have looked into the eyes of women of all ages with newly diagnosed breast cancer -- and they deserve better options. The women who have aggressive, life-threatening breast cancers do not have 10 years for us to figure out better treatment options. They need us to be working in ways that will dramatically accelerate the pace of finding the treatments that work for their particular cancers. Walking in the room of a patient who's on the trial whose tumor has completely disappeared ... It just doesn't get any better than that.
Q: What has surprised you the most about the findings of I-SPY 2? What weren’t you expecting?
A: What has surprised and reassured me most is the amazing response we have had from everyone in the trial -- from the patients, the investigators, and our pharma and diagnostic company trial partners. So many people have stepped up to make this model work -- the incredible team of working group chairs, the project management team, and the site investigators. People are really excited about a trial that is speeding up our ability to find new treatment options and test exciting new agent combinations. What I did not expect is how hard it would be to raise the money for the trial.
Q: If you could trade places with anyone in the world for one week, who would it be?
A: I think Idina Menzel (when she opened Wicked on Broadway), Tim Rice, Cole Porter, Marvin Hamlisch, Andrew Lloyd Weber. That crowd. (I think it would give me a creative resurgence!!)