Personalized Care

Pharmacy Students Donate Time and Skills

They come from diverse places, with different stories and varying circumstances, but all who arrive here—at two churches and two elementary schools—come with the same shared needs.

The UC San Diego Student-Run Free Clinics provide health, social, and legal assistance to some two thousand people a year who are unable to afford or obtain services through more traditional means.

Ellen Beck, MD, clinical professor of family and preventive medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, founded the program in 1997. Although she and a team of School of Medicine faculty members act as advisers, the clinics are largely run by students from the medical school and from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, with help from local doctors, dentists, legal advisers, social workers, and interpreters—all of whom volunteer their time and expertise.

The clinics’ good work has served as a model for similar endeavors at other medical schools. More than 107 faculty members from educational institutions in thirty states have visited San Diego to learn the mechanics of creating and operating a student-run free clinic. At last count, there were more than two dozen similar clinics in operation around the country.

Closer to home, UC San Diego medical students have started a free clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, in collaboration with the medical school at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California. Farther away, Skaggs students are helping to launch a free clinic in Awka, Nigeria, by partnering with Nnamdi Azikiwe University.

Jacobs Leadership Gift

A leadership gift of $1 million in 2013 from San Diego philanthropists Joan and Irwin Jacobs will help UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center change how cancer is treated by supporting the new Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy. The gift jumpstarts an initiative to create a world-class center for clinical trials in cancer at Moores Cancer Center. The contribution is the most recent in a series of generous gifts from the Jacobses who are key supporters of UC San Diego health care, education, and research programs.

The Future of Cancer Therapy

No two cancers are alike, just as no two people are. Based on genetic testing results, a patient’s options might include a new treatment being studied in a clinical trial. The newly created Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center aims to transform cancer treatment by matching identified mutations or abnormalities in each patient’s genetic profile with specifically tailored therapies. The purpose is to produce the optimal benefit with the least adverse effect for the individual patient. Every person, in effect, becomes his or her own clinical trial.

Every year, scores of compounds and molecules with suspected anticancer properties are tested in lengthy, complex clinical trials—in an effort to narrow down the field of new-drug candidates to those with a therapeutic effect, however small, on a significantly large number of patients. The benefits may be marginal, but no matter. In the process, countless drug candidates that might greatly benefit the few are ignored, perhaps lost forever.

Over time, physicians and cancer researchers have learned one lesson again and again: it’s never the same enemy. Mutations and causative factors vary by cancer type and patient, and a therapy that works wonders in one person may be ineffective or worse in another. With the rise of translational medicine, advances in diagnostic technologies, and the prospect of rapid and inexpensive genome sequencing for patients, the need to account for individual variation is becoming paramount.

Trailblazer for Personalized Medicine

There are plenty of hurdles in the personalized treatment approach, such as how to achieve drug approvals if each patient effectively receives a different treatment. Razelle Kurzrock, MD, senior deputy director for clinical science at Moores Cancer Center and director of its Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy, believes that these obstacles can and must be overcome.

Before arriving in San Diego in 2012, she developed a hugely successful Phase 1 clinical trials program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that emphasized targeted, personalized medicine. Next up for Moores Cancer Center and Kurzrock is to create a world-class center for clinical trials at UC San Diego. As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moores Cancer Center currently participates in more than two hundred clinical trials for novel therapies.

Partnership for Success

Crafting a business plan for the UC San Diego Center for Personalized Therapy was a collaborative effort between Kurzrock and Prithwish Pal, MBA ’14, a Rady Innovation Fellow at the UC San Diego Rady School of Management. For Pal, it was a chance to apply and consolidate his business knowledge to benefit the local community and global health care. For Kurzrock, the partnership underscored the powerful link between science and entrepreneurship at UC San Diego. Rady Innovation Fellows are MBA students who support commercialization of new technologies and deployment of new initiatives and programs by assisting with technology evaluation, strategic planning, product development, and business expansion.