A Journey Through Prostate Cancer Research: Perspective on the Prostate Cancer Foundation's Impact - Philip Kantoff

November 8, 2022

Alicia Morgans interviews Phil Kantoff to discuss the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s (PCF) evolution, significant achievements, and future directions. Dr. Kantoff recounts the early challenges of prostate cancer research, including the lack of funding and interest from the pharmaceutical industry. PCF's strategic initiatives, such as small grants and the Young Investigator Award, attracted a critical mass of scientists, fueling advances in prostate cancer research. Kantoff emphasizes the foundation's role in fostering community, collaboration, and innovation within the field, highlighting its influence on biotech and pharma engagement. He reflects on the Stand Up to Cancer award's impact and anticipates future breakthroughs, particularly in radiopharmaceuticals and immuno-oncology.


Philip Kantoff, MD, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Convergent, Therapeutics, Inc.

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, Genitourinary Medical Oncologist, Medical Director of Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

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Alicia Morgans: Hi, I'm so excited to be here with Dr. Phil Kantoff, who is a long-term mentor and certainly an appreciated participant in the Prostate Cancer Foundation activities. You have such a perspective. I'm really excited to talk with you today about where the PCF has been, where it is now, and where you see it going in the future. You've certainly been part of that entire history.

Phil Kantoff: Right. It's great to be here, Alicia Morgans. I'm happy to chat with you about PCF and mentorship and where we're going.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Well, give us a little perspective. You've been involved with the Prostate Cancer Foundation from basically the beginning, right?

Phil Kantoff: Almost. I didn't go to the first meeting, but I think I went to the second meeting and I was very involved early on in the grants program. And so I'm going to talk a little bit about what PCF has done, not only for prostate cancer, but for cancer in general. One of the interesting things that I remember back in, I guess the early 1990s, was that prostate cancer was really overlooked by pharma. There wasn't a lot of funding into prostate cancer research. Maybe, I think the number that was given out in the early nineties was about $3 million into prostate cancer research.

PCF was very clever at the beginning at saying, "We just need a critical mass of people working in prostate cancer." And in order to do that, they raised money and they gave out small grants to people, some involved in prostate cancer research, but a lot of people that were doing research in other fields. So by doing that, they attracted mid-career senior level scientists into the prostate cancer world, and some stuck with it, some didn't. But there was an increasing critical mass of people, junior to senior level people, who became interested because of funding in prostate cancer research.

The next really big move was creating the Young Investigator Award. And as I remember, I think you were a young investigator at PCF. And what that did was take people who were finishing their training fellowships like you were, or people finishing their postdoctoral fellowships and attracting them into the field. Once again, luring them in because of funding to get people's careers started and creating mentorship for them as well. And that I think, has been a fantastic program. I think there are hundreds of PCF young investigators, and I would say most of those people stuck to it because the grants were for three years. And as I look around at the group of people here right now, most of them came in through the Young Investigator Award.

So what was created was community around prostate cancer research. In addition, the foundation did a great job at luring biotech and pharma into the mix and saying, "Prostate cancer is an area that you should be interested in and doing research in with your drugs." And that was really not going on when I entered into the field years ago. And the PCF was absolutely instrumental in bringing biotech and pharma into the mix. And we've seen what's happened in the past 15 years, how many drugs have been developed in prostate cancer. And in addition to that, there were things that had a collateral effect on other cancers.

And I remember when there was a proteasome inhibitor that was developed by Julian Adams, and PCF was very interested in applying that in prostate cancer, and studies were done. Unfortunately, it didn't work, but it turned out that that was an enormous, huge advance in multiple myeloma. And if it weren't for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, who knows what would've happened with that drug. And so proteasome inhibition is a big part of multiple myeloma therapeutics.

To summarize, PCF has been instrumental in growing the prostate cancer community. It's contributed in a big way to many of the therapeutics, if not all of the therapeutics that have developed in prostate cancer and brought tremendous basic scientists to work in prostate cancer, brought pharma, biotech into the mix. So this is a fantastic community now of very collegial, very collaborative investigators. PCF has also moved from those smaller grants that brought people in more toward larger grants that develop team science. And I've been fortunate, and you have too, to be a part of these challenge awards, which have brought people together of different expertise to work together on a particular problem. I think those have been tremendous opportunities and have largely contributed to the field.

I was also a part of, I think, a very important endeavor, which was the Stand Up to Cancer award that was awarded in 2012. And I remember Ken Pienta and I put this group of people together led by Arul Chinnaiyan and a bunch of other investigators were involved in it. And our undertaking was to try to uncover the genomic landscape of prostate cancer. And it was a tough lift, because getting biopsies from patients with advanced prostate cancer was not part of the strategy at that time. So Mary Ellen Taplin was instrumental in developing the biopsy methodology to get tissue from patients with advanced prostate cancer. And we collected 500 specimens, now more, and we published the results, and there were some fantastic findings. Including the discovery that DNA repair abnormalities were extremely common in advanced prostate cancer.

So that was something that we never really thought of, although there was a little hint of BRCA mutations and associated with maybe more aggressive or more frequent prostate cancer. But seeing that 25% of patients with advanced prostate cancer had DNA repair abnormalities would not have happened without that funding from the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Stand Up To Cancer Grant that we were involved in.

Alicia Morgans: Well, certainly there's been no shortage of advances. And the human capital, as Mike Milken puts it, really came together around this issue and has just grown into a massive community of incredibly dedicated investigators. Where do you see that community going in the next few years or even beyond that?

Phil Kantoff: Well, I think we got to continue to discover new targets. There are tremendous opportunities for developing new drugs. An area that I'm involved in is the radiopharmaceutical area, not something that I was ever very involved in my academic career, but now I'm involved in, and I think it's one of the next horizons in prostate cancer. I think a lot of people are very interested in that area in the prostate cancer community, specifically targeting, amongst other targets in prostate cancer, PSMA, prostate specific membrane antigen. Another area that I think really needs to move forward and has been sluggish, I think is the area of immuno-oncology and prostate cancer. And I think we need a breakthrough there as well to make what we say, a cold tumor hot, as they say. And there are a lot of people working on that strategy right now, and I think that that's going to be a big advance sometime the next few years.

Alicia Morgans: Well, that's something you certainly have contributed to in multiple projects actually. And I remember young investigators who worked under you working on those kinds of things. So you've contributed a lot in that space, and we expect to see you to continue to contribute in the radiopharmaceutical world, perhaps even combining these agents and approaches at some point in time. But thank you so much for all that you've done, and thank you for running through the history of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. We appreciate your perspective.

Phil Kantoff: Thank you, Alicia Morgans. It's good to be here.