Drug Delivery Devices
Dr. Pamela Munster, MD, Developmental Therapeutics
Dr. Pamela Munster is a professor, clinician, and research scientist at the University of California, San Francisco. She is currently co-leader of the UCSF Center for BRCA Research and leader of the experimental therapeutics program at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Munster’s unending list of accomplishments and accolades in the field of cancer research and treatment is complemented by the innovative work her lab has accomplished. In this interview, we explore some of her new and exciting research in local drug delivery systems. Dr. Munster meticulously explains a new device for local drug delivery to the breast of BRCA positive patients. These groundbreaking devices have the potential to lead the way in therapeutic prevention for patients with a high-risk of developing breast cancer. In the extended interview, Dr. Munster talks about her emotional journey in battling cancer as a BRCA mutation carrier, a story that was recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal. She goes on to explain how this experience motivated her to write a book titled, Twisting Fate. This recently published book is eye-opening for both patients and caregivers due to the fact that Dr. Munster has had the rare opportunity of experiencing both roles. Dr. Munster’s personal experience provides a unique perspective that she brings to her trailblazing work in both the clinic and research lab.
I’m Pamela Munster, I’m a professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco. I’m the program leader for experimental therapeutics with the main goal of bringing new drugs to patients with advanced cancer, and I’m co-leader of the BRCA Center for Research with the task to specifically treat and prevent cancers in those with hereditary cancer genes.
The Center for BRCA Research has one main mission: We want to care for patients with hereditary cancer. The goal is on several levels: we want to provide new drugs for patients with hereditary cancer or BRCA-related cancer, we want to prevent cancers from this mutation, and we ideally want to eliminate the mutation altogether.
What research is your lab pursuing?
In addition to bringing new drugs to patients with advanced cancer, the lab has been focused for the last 4 or 5 years on really finding new ways of preventing cancer, and among those, we have been focusing on how to develop local therapies to just the organ at risk. Now, with this in mind, we have developed a device that delivers an anti-cancer drug for breast cancer with drugs only being delivered to the breast, and not elsewhere. We can minimize side-effects that patients have who get this drug, and maximize the drug exposure to the breast.
Can you explain the design of the device?
When we set out on the device design we wanted to fulfill several criteria. We wanted this to be small so that the woman doesn’t feel it, it stays in the breast and doesn’t cause any local tissue reaction, and it delivers drugs steadily. And so we have a very ingenious device, that we think is ingenious that fosters exactly that.
What are the future applications of this device?
When a patient with a BRCA mutation or another high risk for breast cancer presents to us in clinic, the main question is, how do we deal with a 70% lifetime risk of breast cancer? And many young women are offered mastectomy as early as 25/30/35, that is really young to lose your breasts. So what we are hoping is that we can provide an intermediate solution to not have to do a double mastectomy this early. So we’re hoping is that we can offer a drug treatment that works for the breast, doesn’t cause women to have symptoms similar to menopause at the age of 25 or 30, and then as the risk gets up higher when someone is at a higher age, we then can make a decision whether someone does want to do a mastectomy or want to see whether our device actually reduces the risk to a degree that a mastectomy is not needed.
Currently, our research is supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, and also from many grateful patients. So this project would not have gotten so far unless we had strong supporters and people who believe in the in the need for preventive strategies.
What resources have you developed for cancer patients?
When I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer and I was going through some of my treatment, I really struggled with the thought: should I share this with my patients? I was not quite clear, should I talk about it, that I actually have seen cancer treatment from both sides, or should I not talk about it. The major impetus came when I learned that my father carried the mutation, and his approach to his pancreatic cancer was so significantly different because he had a mutation, and he’s now 5 years out with metastatic pancreatic cancer which is quite unusual. Many of my friends and colleagues said, well you really should put this together and disseminate this knowledge, how different it is when you know about the mutation, how different we approach family members, or even patients with this. And, so about a year and a half ago, I developed the courage and put the proposal together, and started writing a book.
About the Speaker
Her basic laboratory research interests are in the area of developing novel targeted therapy for the treatment of treatment resistant cancer and their integration into current treatment strategies.
Dr. Munster’s research interest involves basic research studies on epigenetic modification of DNA repair and therapy resistance. Her laboratory is involved in several projects testing HDAC inhibitors, reverse hormone therapy resistance in breast cancer, and to reengage the immune defense.
Dr. Munster’s clinical research interests are in the area of early anti-tumor drug development with focus on drugs that target the mTOR, P13k pathways and the epigenetic regulation of immune response to therapy. In addition to her interest in drug development, Dr. Munster has a special interest in germline cancer mutations.