Doctor Fernando Santini explains the side-effects of immunotherapy in patients with lung cancer

As the clinic oncologist at the Hospital Sírio-Libanês in São Paulo and a former thoracic oncologist sub-specialist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York, Dr. Fernando Santini has contributed immensely in the development of new cancer treatments.  

Along with Dr. Matthew Hellman, one of today’s main scientists working with immunotherapy, he’s published an important work in a renowned international journal about the side-effects of immunotherapy in patients with lung cancer. 

“Our main concern was the safety and viability of the retreatment in these cases, since immunotherapy represents a new paradigm of oncology treatments,” he says.

When he was in New York, Dr. Fernando Santini split his time between services of thoracic oncology headed by Dr. Charles Rudin and the DTC (Developmental Therapeutics Core), a service dedicated to the development of clinical drugs and studies in their beginning stages. It was there that he attested to the creation and consolidation of precision oncology. Through Dr. Alexander Drilon, another great mentor, Dr. Fernando Santini was able to participate in the development of a diverse number of drugs, including an inhibitor by way of NTRK:

“In November of 2018, this was the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for agnostic therapy. That is, a patient whose tumor hosts this specific genetic alteration can receive this new treatment. It presents long lasting responses with few side-effects when compared to chemotherapy.”

When asked about the parallels between his research work on new cancer therapy treatments in Brazil and the ones completed in more developed countries, Dr. Fernando Santini pointed out that to finance clinical studies through sponsorship still presents a big obstacle to national research centers.

“While in the majority of other countries the sponsoring company needs to handle the costs of the experimental drugs and eventual tests related to it, in Brazil the means of financing, by law, deals with all costs involved in the medical care of the patient, from the consultations to the exams, which would still be part of the patient’s treatment regardless of their participation in clinical studies. For this reason, companies don’t have a lot of interest in bringing these clinical studies to Brazil. A collective effort is needed, which depends on the medical association, oncology groups and the support of foundations to develop the research and science of oncology in Brazil. In this scenario, means of financing that are non-conventional, such as donations, are crucial,” he says, remembering the Cycle for Survival, one of the main events at MSKCC, which last year raised $39 million and counted with great national support.

“Because of this, foundations like ARD have important roles in this journey. Their goals should, basically, be simplified into a triad: defend the patient, defend the patient and awareness,” he concluded.