Treating all patients as individuals

Contrary to traditional thinking, cancer is not just one disease. In fact, it is multiple diseases, each defined by the genetic makeup of an individual patient and their tumor. In other words, cancers are different even if they affect the same organ. Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, of Moores Cancer Center, is using this knowledge to combat cancer with individualized care for patients with all types of cancer. As the Director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy, Dr. Kurzrock leads a multidisciplinary group of expert physicians and world-class scientists who meet regularly to discuss the best treatment for each patient. The aim of this personalized therapy is to understand the underlying genomic abnormalities in each patient’s tumor and to prosecute them by using customized therapies that target those abnormalities and/or harness the patient’s own immune system to do so. Prior to her work at Moores Cancer Center, Dr. Kurzrock developed one of the largest and best Phase 1 clinical trials programs in the nation. As a whole, her work has focused on cancer treatment that is more likely to work for individual tumors and thus sparks hope for patients with cancer and their families.

Perhaps at the heart of her current work is the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy which is an important initiative of the UC San Diego Health System and the Moores Cancer Center. With a goal of transforming cancer therapy by using advanced technological tools to predict who will respond to specific treatment and matching each patient with the best drugs for a particular tumor, the Center is at the heart of innovative treatments for cancer. Dr. Kurzrock describes her patients’ cancers as “malignant snowflakes” meaning that each one is unique and responds to different types of treatment; therefore, she will continue to strive towards novel therapeutics that can personalize their care. With the firm belief that “no boundaries exist when it comes to discovering new methods and technologies to cure cancer,” Dr. Kurzrock is likely to continue as a leader in innovative science and clinical practice in the treatment of cancer.

Current research includes:

  • Incorporating Genomics: The Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy works with patients with all types of cancer. Recent technological advances have made it possible to generate a profile of the abnormalities in the genetic code — commonly referred to as “DNA” — of a tumor. Thus, the decades-old war against cancer has found a new ally in the science of genomics.

  • Individualized Treatment: The “cure” for cancer may be multiple “cures” that are prescribed in combination to patients on an individual basis, rather than a generic, one size fits all model. Therefore, Dr. Kurzrock is working to identify the differences in each individual’s cancer to tailor treatment in order to better treat cancer diagnoses.

  • Access to Genetic Profiles: Research at the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy gives patients access to their genetic profile through molecular testing of their tumor. Thus, not only do patients receive world-renowned care but also have access to their profiles for future health needs.

  • Using the Immune System: Using the immune system, Dr. Kurzrock is working to fight cancer. Research supports that a patient’s own immune system can be galvanized to recognize the individual characteristic of their tumor and to eliminate it.

  • Fighting the Rarest Cancers: While Dr. Kurzrock’s research works towards combating all types of cancer, treatments have been especially promising for patients with rare forms of cancer that are often offered no other solutions. Therefore, for many patients, Dr. Kurzrock’s work is truly lifesaving.

Bio

Dr. Kurzrock received her M.D. degree from the University of Toronto and has more than 500 peer-reviewed publications in addition to a uniquely strong record of competitive grant funding within the setting of Phase I program building. She has been the principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute U01 Phase I Studies of Targeted Anti-Cancer Agents [2005 to 2012].

Dr. Kurzrock has four children and lives with her husband Dr. Philip Cohen, a dermatologist, in San Diego.

Dr. Razelle Kurzrock is known for developing the largest and best Phase 1 clinical trials programs in the world while at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. A central theme of that program was the personalized medicine strategy, embodied in a protocol called PREDICT standing for Profile-related Evidence Determining Individualized Cancer Therapy. This approach utilized advanced molecular technologies to match patients with targeted cancer treatment that is more likely to work for their individual tumors. Now at Moores Cancer Center, Dr. Kurzrock’s charge is broad, including not just growing and innovating the center’s clinical trials program, but also heading its newly established Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy. As a physician-scientist, she brings extraordinary expertise and experience in clinical research, business operations, regulatory operations, financial and budget planning, and administrative oversight, in addition to her world-recognized work in translational science. In addition, Dr. Kurzrock is the Chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and the Deputy Center Director for Clinical Science at Moores Cancer Center.

Dr. Kurzrock was always fascinated by science and the ability to use science to help change people’s lives. Therefore, she began studying cancer because it was a devastating disease with few treatments and she believed she could make a difference. During the last few years, research has snowballed into incredibly applicable science that is beginning to have an enormous impact on patients and their families. 

Awards

Best Doctors in America, 2011-2012

Mentorship Award (Best Mentor for Medical Oncology Fellows), 2010

Dr. Robert D. and Alma W. Moreton Original Research Award, 2005

Elected as a member of The University of Texas Academy of Health Science Education (Distinguished Teaching Professor): Based on excellence in education contributions, 2008

The Otis W. and Pearl L. Walters Faculty Achievement Award in Clinical Research, 2003