Aman Chauhan, M.D., who has devoted his career to neuroendocrine cancer research and clinical care, has joined Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as leader of the cancer center’s Neuroendocrine Tumor Program.
“Neuroendocrine cancer has long been under the radar because it is considered a rare cancer type. But the number of people diagnosed each year tells only part of the story,” Dr. Chauhan said. “Early in my career I realized a critical unmet medical need for this very cancer that took the lives of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, and singer Aretha Franklin.”
Sylvester offered Dr. Chauhan the opportunity to build a dedicated Neuroendocrine Tumor Program. Not only was the job ideal but also the location, which gives many international patients easy access to the cancer center, he said.
“My dream is to help advance the field, develop new treatments, and to see improvement of patients’ overall outcomes. I envision that we’ll do that with this dedicated program, which is hyper-focused on this disease, clinically and research-wise,” Dr. Chauhan said.
Unlike many other cancers that are named according to where they occur in the body, neuroendocrine cancer can afflict any body part.
“Neuroendocrine tumors may behave aggressively or become a chronic illness requiring sequential and newer treatments,” said Craig Moskowitz, M.D., physician-in-chief at Sylvester and professor of medicine at the Miller School. “International experts are uncommon, but with Dr. Chauhan’s arrival, Sylvester will be a destination site for patients seeking new and innovative treatments.”
Health Care Burden of Neuroendocrine Tumors
The reason statistics blur this cancer’s true toll is that many who have neuroendocrine tumors can live for years with chronic disease, so the burden on society is higher than the numbers suggest, according to Dr. Chauhan.
“Another thing that many don’t know is that while other cancer rates are remaining stagnant or declining, the incidence of neuroendocrine cancer has increased eight- to ninefold in the last 40 or 50 years,” Dr. Chauhan said.
National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers like Sylvester are recognized for their scientific leadership, resources, and the depth and breadth of their research, according to Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D.
“We have recruited an expert in neuroendocrine cancer who is one of the very best in the world,” Dr. Nimer said.
As an internationally recognized neuroendocrine expert, Dr. Chauhan will lead Sylvester’s research efforts in this cancer type, according to Jonathan Trent, M.D., Ph.D., director of sarcoma oncology at Sylvester.
“Dr. Chauhan is already building a portfolio of cutting-edge clinical trials for our patients in South Florida. Two of his trials will be open not only at Sylvester but also other select NCI-designated cancer centers around the U.S.,” Dr. Trent said.
New drug development is an important aspect of developing neuroendocrine cancer centers of excellence, according to Dr. Chauhan.
“That’s why we are focusing a lot of our energy on developing these trials. I’m currently leading two such trials nationally and will start two more this quarter,” Dr. Chauhan said.
Current Trials Using Radioactive, Radiation-Based Drugs
The current trials are first-in-human phase 1 studies. One is looking at adding a drug called triapine, a radiation sensitizer, to a standard of care radioactive drug, lutetium Lu 177 dotatate, also known as Lutathera, to manage neuroendocrine tumors. That trial is moving to an NCI-funded national randomized phase 2 study, on which Dr. Chauhan is co-PI.
The other phase 1 study is looking at combining a drug called peposertib, a DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK) inhibitor, with a radiation-based drug.
“These tumors almost always come back after treatment with a standard radiation-based treatment. That’s because cancer understands how to repair itself. We want to impair that process of cancer DNA repair by adding peposertib,” Dr. Chauhan said. “Our findings in animal models looked promising, and we will soon be announcing our results on humans.”
Advancing the Field of Neuroendocrine Cancers
Ola Landgren, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Sylvester’s Myeloma Division and leader of the Translational and Clinical Oncology Program, said Dr. Chauhan wants to advance the field of neuroendocrine cancers by looking at some of today’s most novel therapeutic approaches.
“Dr. Chauhan will also co-lead our radiopharmaceutical drug development program at Sylvester. Like immunotherapy changed the cancer treatment landscape, radiopharmaceuticals might be the next wave in oncology,” Dr. Landgren said. “These drugs are radiation based, but unlike conventional radiation, they are tailor-made for individual patients who have many different cancer types, including neuroendocrine cancer.”
Dr. Chauhan began to focus on neuroendocrine cancers during his residency training at Louisiana State University. He then completed specialized neuroendocrine training in a fellowship with well-known neuroendocrine specialist Lowell B. Anthony, M.D. Dr. Chauhan also spent time at the NCI gaining experience in understanding clinical trials and new drug development, then spent the next five years at the University of Kentucky, where he focused on neuroendocrine cancer as assistant professor of medicine in the university’s Division of Medical Oncology.