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David C. Linehan, MD

Meet The Scientist 

DAVID C. LINEHAN, MDDavid C. Linehan, MD

Director of Clinical Operations at the Wilmot Cancer Institute 
Chair of Surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center 
Seymour I. Schwartz Professor in Surgery 


Testing Immunotherapy Drug in Pancreatic Cancer Provides Tumor Control

Pancreatic cancer is one of the few types of cancer for which survival has not improved substantially in the last 40 years. Chemotherapy and combinations of other therapies are typically used to try to control the disease. Pancreatic cancer requires a challenging and technically demanding surgery, adding to the concern that new treatments are not coming fast enough. 

At Wilmot Cancer Institute (WCI), David C. Linehan, MD, is working toward doubling the survival rates for pancreatic cancer by 2020. “Since surgery currently provides the best chance for survival of pancreatic cancer, any research that helps to move more patients toward that goal is exciting,” said Linehan. 

In 2016, the national Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) granted its most competitive award for $2 million to Dr. Linehan to support a large, multicenter clinical trial testing an immunotherapy in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. When pancreatic cancer develops, a protein recruits immune cells to the tumor microenvironment and acts to protect cancer cells from being destroyed by the body’s own healthy immune system. In Linehan’s clinical trial, an experimental immune-stimulating drug blocked the signals of the recruiting protein and stimulated the immune system to attack cancer. It proved the drug can control tumors well enough to make some patients eligible for surgery. 

“It offers another target,” Linehan says. “It’s another way of thinking about cancer therapy — attack the cancer cells but also the supporting cells.” 

An internationally renowned researcher and clinician, Linehan has spent more than 20 years doing immunotherapy research. His experience bridges the clinic and the laboratory and continues building Wilmot’s strengths in solid tumor treatment and research. 

“You need scientists who think in terms of really trying to nail down the biological mechanisms of how things work, and the clinicians who know what the unmet clinical needs are,” Linehan says. “If you align the two, you get much better treatments for patients and an understanding of why things work and why they don’t work.”