Moving Oncology Care Forward through Leading-edge Research

By Kaitlin Gunter
Friday, March 24, 2017

WellSpan Health’s nationally recognized oncology clinical research program is at the forefront of emerging cancer therapies, extending additional options and a continued sense of hope to patients for whom standard treatments do not perform as anticipated.

Partnering with the National Cancer Institute, other cooperative organizations and respected healthcare facilities around the country, the program’s multidisciplinary team of experts connects local patients with promising treatments, sparing them the burden of traveling to major academic centers or metropolitan areas to gain advance access to state-of-the-art care.

A Pioneer in Breast Cancer Research

WellSpan’s York Cancer Center was the first of 200 sites nationwide to participate in the KATE2 trial. This double-targeted trial is for women whose HER2-positive locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer reoccurs within six months of treatment and who have not had success with standard first- and second-line treatments.

“One of the arms of this trial uses ado-trastuzumab emtansine, which is a standard of care,” says Giridhar Adiga, MD, FACP, medical oncologist, WellSpan Medical Oncology & Hematology in Ephrata. “The other arm uses this medicine as well as a trial medicine, atezolizumab.”

Atezolizumab targets the PD-L1 protein checkpoint that renders the immune response ineffective, enabling cancer to spread. Patients participating in the trial receive ado-trastuzumab emtansine targeting the HER2 growth pathway, ado-trastuzumab emtansine plus a placebo, or ado-trastuzumab emtansine plus atezolizumab, targeting PD-L1 expression.

By using atezolizumab to unleash T-cells that attack the cancer, the trial musters the body’s defenses as part of a multipronged approach to the disease, says L. Eamonn Boyle, MD, FACP, a medical hematologist/oncologist who cares for patients at WellSpan’s York Cancer Center.

“In the second arm of the trial, we have ado-trastuzumab emtansine directly attaching to the cancer cell and destroying it, but we also utilize atezolizumab, a drug from an entirely different family,” Dr. Boyle explains. “Atezolizumab kills the cancer cells not by itself, but by stimulating the patient’s own immune system to combat the cancer. It’s a direct and indirect way of destroying cancer.”

“WellSpan has been deeply involved in clinical trials for the past 20 years. We could not do this work without a health system that firmly supports it.”
— L. Eamonn Boyle, MD, FACP, a medical hematologist/oncologist who cares for patients at WellSpan’s York Cancer Center

Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer

Another leading-edge oncology trial in which WellSpan researchers participate is the ALCHEMIST trial. It provides patients who have early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with personalized, targeted immunotherapy that seeks to inhibit cancer from returning after patients undergo surgery and standard therapies.

This trial employs nivolumab. Approved for second-line treatment, nivolumab may eventually become a first-line treatment, depending on the drug’s ability to release the immune system to work on its own, uninhibited by PD-L1 proteins.

Slightly fewer than half of people with early-stage NSCLC survive five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Participation in this and other groundbreaking trials exemplifies WellSpan’s commitment to providing the best care possible.

“Our clinical research program is comprehensive and state-of-the-art, and our staff is single-mindedly focused on patients,” Dr. Adiga says. “We have affiliations with all major cooperative groups as well as the pharmaceutical industry in order to bring the best clinical trials to our population.”

Whether you live in Gettysburg, Hanover, Ephrata, York or Lebanon, WellSpan’s regional network of cancer care offers residents across Central Pennsylvania comprehensive treatment – without leaving the community. Through its regional network of cancer centers, WellSpan offers a team of highly trained oncology specialists and clinical staff committed to providing clinically excellent, patient-focused, state-of-the-art care and comprehensive support services for patients with cancer. For more information about WellSpan’s approach to cancer care, visit