Bermudian doctor in US in pitch for funds to aid cancer research
A doctor who researches cancer treatments hopes his fellow Bermudians will turn out when he battles to win funds for a clinical trial.
Sheldon Holder is one of four finalists in a virtual pitch competition run by Cures Within Reach, a global non-profit organisation focused on repurposing research to help patients.
He is an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Brown University in Rhode Island where he is also a medical oncologist at the university’s cancer centre.
Dr Holder said: “I’m a physician scientist: I run a cancer research lab and I see cancer patients.
“I do research trying to develop new therapies for cancer, developing them in the lab and then running clinical trials to see how well they work in people. There’s lots of steps in between, of course.”
He added: “This particular project is a project on bladder cancer that I’ve had an interest in but that is not funded yet, so we haven’t been able to run the clinical trial.
“It fits perfectly for this funding opportunity because we’re using a drug that we use for prostate cancer but I want to treat patients who have bladder cancer with it.
“The funding opportunity – they’re asking for people to present ideas for drug repurposing; so take a drug that’s already available, we already know it’s safe, we already know what the side effects are, it’s approved for use in one disease and we’re going to use it for a different disease.”
Dr Holder, originally from Pembroke, will record a seven-minute pitch to support his aim to trial degarelix as a treatment for bladder cancer.
The presentation will be played at the virtual competition on October 6 before he is subject to a live question-and-answer session by a panel of experts.
Dr Holder, who moved to the US to study after he graduated from the Bermuda Institute, added: “The winner is actually picked by the attendees of the event so it’s not just the panel.
“Attendance is open to everyone, there’s a link where you can go and register to attend the event.”
He added: “I’d really like it if our Bermudian contingent can get on and come and vote for whichever project they think is worthy of being funded.”
A grant that supports a $70,000 clinical trial will be awarded to the winner of the contest.
If Dr Holder is successful, he intends to use the money for a small study to show efficacy that would in turn support an application for funds to cover a much larger trial.
He said that degarelix was one of many agents that can be used to lower testosterone levels in the blood.
The researcher added: “It’s standard that most men who are being treated for prostate cancer will get some agent that lowers their testosterone.”
Dr Holder explained: “Right now, we do not treat bladder cancer by lowering testosterone in any way … but we do know some things about bladder cancer.
“Men develop bladder cancer three to four times more commonly than women and we don’t know why.”
He added: “Some people think that might have to do with the fact that men have higher testosterone levels than women.
“There have been some other studies that have looked at men who have bladder cancer and prostate cancer – there aren’t that many people but that does happen.
“If you look at those men, the men who are treated with the testosterone lowering agents for their prostate cancer – they do better with their bladder cancer than men who are not given something to lower their testosterone.”
He explained how his work kept him motivated.
Dr Holder said: “I really think I have the perfect mix of responsibilities that keeps me going.
“Because I’m a physician scientist, I see patients on a weekly basis in the clinic and I see patients who have genitourinary cancers, which include prostate, bladder and kidney.”
He added: “I always tell people cancer patients are the greatest patients to have because they’re always so appreciative of what you’re doing for them.
“Seeing patients is always inspiring, to see that you’re actually making a difference for somebody, but it also fuels the drive for research - because there are patients that you see and you know and you have to tell the patient, ‘I’ve used up all the drugs we have, I don’t have anything else that’s likely to work, we’ve used everything that’s on the list’.
“That’s always a tough conversation and that’s frequently the case in bladder cancer because we actually need more drugs in bladder cancer.”
* Cures Within Reach will hold CureAccelerator Live! for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – its philanthropic pitch competition – virtually, on October 6, in collaboration with DIA [Drug Information Association]. To register, visit https://bit.ly/cwrcal22.