The Pelotonia Anniversary Journal is a commemorative piece highlighting the impact that the Pelotonia community is making on life-saving cancer research. The journal featured an interview between Doug Ulman, President & CEO of Pelotonia, and Dr. Raphael Pollock, Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, who discuss progress, the future, and our ever-important partnership.
Did you get the opportunity to read it? We have pulled this interview for you to read, share and learn about the relationship between Pelotonia and the Comprehensive Cancer Center. You can also read the full Anniversary Journal
Doug Ulman (DU): You have worked at several preeminent cancer institutions across the country. What was it about Ohio State and the OSUCCC–James that made you come here in 2013?
Raphael Pollack (RP): I visited Ohio State and the cancer program several times as a visiting professor, and each time I was struck by the culture and the collaboration. That collaborative culture wasn’t just within the cancer program; it reached into the clinics, other colleges and disciplines at Ohio State and even other cancer institutions. I also had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help plan the entire surgical environment in the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. Helping plan, build and open a new surgical floor in the third-largest cancer hospital in the United States was a very exciting opportunity. Finally, I am from the Midwest and was excited to come back to this part of the country.
DU: How is the Pelotonia community helping to reach our collective goal of a cancer-free world?
RP: There are three very important ways that Pelotonia brings us closer to a cancer-free world.
First, the Pelotonia community provides a remarkable opportunity to elevate and bring attention to the challenges and importance of cancer research.
Second, the dollars from the Pelotonia community are directed to areas of cancer research that traditional funding sources, such as the National Cancer Institute, don’t cover. For example, Pelotonia dollars support research involving novel ideas presented by young up-and-coming scientists. Currently, it is difficult for young scientists to compete for funding dollars from the federal government. They are new to the process, have less data and are competing with seasoned, published researchers for a smaller and smaller pool of money. We need smart, passionate, innovative young minds to keep coming up with new ideas so we can continue to move research forward.
Finally, Pelotonia dollars give us the flexibility to fund areas of importance to the cancer program, such as the Drug Development Institute, immunotherapy, and digital pathology. These are areas that would be difficult to
DU: How close are we to seeing more major cancer breakthroughs and possible cures?
RP: It is an exciting time in cancer research, and we are seeing more breakthroughs and more patients free of disease. Over the course of my career I have seen several great examples, and I expect even better outcomes in the years to come. I have seen testicular cancer go from a 10 percent survival rate to a 95 percent survival rate. In the early ’90s, I wrote a paper about gastrointestinal stromal tumors and the difficulties in treating them. Today, most are curable. It is hard to predict exactly when and in what type of cancer the next great breakthrough will take place. That’s why it is so important to pursue prevention, research, and treatment on multiple fronts with many different disciplines engaged in the pursuit of breakthroughs and cures. We are seeing remarkable results with immunotherapy, and the more we understand about the genetic makeup of a cancer tumor, the better the treatments will become.
DU: You and I have discussed the promise of immunotherapy. Can you tell us a little more about it?
RP: Simply put, immunotherapy is using a person’s immune system to fight his or her cancer. There are several types of immunotherapy. Cell therapy is a treatment where we retrieve certain cells from a patient’s body, manipulate them to recognize that person’s cancer, amplify them and then return those cells to the patient’s body to fight the cancer. We are developing a robust cell therapy program in conjunction with Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that take the “brakes” off the immune system so it can recognize and attack a cancer tumor. Monoclonal antibodies are man-made immune system proteins designed to attack a specific part of a person’s cancer. Finally, there are cancer vaccines that stimulate or teach the immune system to recognize and defeat cancer cells. Immunotherapy is the next frontier in cancer treatment, and the OSUCCC–James aims to be a leader in immunotherapeutics. These immune-based treatments are better targeted and more specific to each person’s tumor, causing fewer toxic effects while being more effective than traditional types of treatment. Traditional treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery), in combination with one of the above forms of immunotherapy, may be found to be an even better approach to successful cancer treatment.
DU: Where do you believe cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are heading?
RP: Our increased understanding of the molecular makeup of cancer tumors is leading to better prevention strategies, more precise diagnosis and less toxic treatments. Until recently we didn’t understand how cancer tumors are able to grow and thrive in our highly regulated DNA. We are learning how cells multiply unchecked and why genes intended to suppress uncontrolled growth sometimes fail. The more we understand, the more targeted our treatments will become. The ultimate goal is to understand how to prevent cancer based on molecular information.
DU: How can Pelotonia be a part of making all of this happen?
RP: Pelotonia will be instrumental in generating funds to continue the growth of our cancer research and expand treatment options in Ohio and around the world. The dollars make it possible to recruit expert faculty who build strong, well-funded, innovative programs that find better ways to prevent, treat and cure all types of cancer. We also know it is inspiring for Pelotonia riders to see our researchers out on the road with them, but what many may not realize is how inspiring it also is for all of us to meet, talk with and ride with so many passionate members of the community. It reignites our passion for what we do and reinforces the importance of our work to cancer patients everywhere. We are grateful and dependent on the success of Pelotonia to make what we do possible.