Dr. Pegram seeks new breast cancer challenges at Miami

October 1, 2007

After 16 years conducting breast cancer research at UCLA, Mark Pegram, MD, has joined the faculty at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine where he will collaborate with a stellar research team tackling new challenges in the field of breast cancer.

MIAMI, Florida—After 16 years conducting breast cancer research at UCLA, Mark Pegram, MD, has joined the faculty at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine where he will collaborate with a stellar research team tackling new challenges in the field of breast cancer.

In an interview with Oncology NEWS International, Dr. Pegram said he looks forward to working with Joyce Slingerland, MD, PhD, director of the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute, part of the University's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Stefan Gluck, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Braman Institute, among many others.

"Another attraction was that Dr. Marc Lippman had become the new chair of the Department of Medicine [formerly chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Michigan]. With his long-standing career in breast cancer research, I knew he would give breast cancer research some priority," said Dr. Pegram whose titles at Miami include professor of medicine, associate director of experimental therapeutics, and director of translational research for the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute.

The Braman Institute's interest in clinical trials was particularly attractive to Dr. Pegram, who was involved in the earliest efforts to define the HER2 pathway, conducted preclinical work on trastuzumab (Herceptin), and served as an investigator in phase I, II, and III trials of trastuzumab. He says he will continue his work on the HER2 pathway, but is particularly drawn to other emerging pathways in breast cancer.

"At the University of Miami, we have large tumor banks, the translational research component, and the ability to validate new targets," he said.

He noted that the University is building a new 30,000-square-foot breast cancer center that will have a phase I clinical trials unit. "We have a very large catchment area in terms of patient volume for clinical trials," he said. The University of Miami is the only large academic medical center in south Florida and is a magnet for the area's oncology patients.

Dr. Pegram's first close look at breast cancer research at Miami came when he was appointed by Joseph Rosenblatt, MD, chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology, to serve on an external advisory panel to evaluate the University's breast cancer program.

"Dr. Rosenblatt [who was attempting to recruit Dr. Pegram] wisely appointed me to the panel with the aim of critically evaluating the program, and I really liked it. It has lots of strengths and huge potential. They were already successful, and there was very little lacking there. I hope to add a spark in the translational research area," he said.

While stressing the value of his long experience at UCLA, he said, "I was getting to a point in my career where I began to value my independence highly. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

At Miami, Dr. Pegram will be involved in another area that concerns him: the disproportionate amount of locally advanced breast cancer seen in the Miami area population. "In West Los Angeles, we hardly ever saw this. Here, it's the opposite, and there is really no excuse," he said. Locally advanced breast cancer, particularly in young women, is an aggressive tumor, often the triple-negative breast cancer phenotype.

"Clearly, the disease biology is different. The high numbers also represent less access to medical care," he said. Dr. Pegram plans to obtain serial biopsies on these patients and enroll them in clinical trials. "Hopefully, we can get this situation under control," he said.