An oncology drug Riverside physician Alexander N. Starodub, M.D., was among the first in the nation to help trial has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a standard of care treatment for patients suffering from metastatic triple negative breast cancer, the most aggressive form of breast cancer that accounts for some 20% of all breast cancers.

The drug, Sacituzumab Govitecan (IMMU-132), “is still not a cure,” Starodub said. “However, it is a significant move forward. Every time we make an improvement in cancer treatment, we want to improve quality of life. We’ve done that here.”

Starodub joined the Riverside team in 2019 after earning his medical degree from the Ohio State University College. Starodub remained at the Ohio State University Medical Center for his internal medicine residency and then completed fellowship training in medical oncology, hematology, drug development and translational research at Duke University. He also holds a Ph.D. degree in biophysics from Ohio State University.

Board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine with additional sub-specialty certification in medical oncology and hematology, Starodub possesses a vast amount of clinical research experience and is widely published in national medical journals. With a special interest in gastrointestinal cancers and melanoma, he is highly knowledgeable about medical treatments for all types of cancer, including promising new developments in immuno-oncology.

Starodub’s clinical trial was completed before joining Riverside, but he brought that knowledge and experience with him to patients treated by the health system.

This new treatment is an incredibly important development, Starodub said, because before there was no biologic method of controlling triple negative breast cancer.

“Our best approach with triple negative breast cancer was to treat it with straight up chemotherapy,” Starodub said. “That brought very significant side effects. This very intense cancer was hard enough, but then the treatment even further deteriorated the patients’ quality of life.”

Enter the new treatment and recently approved drug.

“Think of it like this,” Starodub said. “The drug is an antibody designed to look for cancerous marker on a cell. It marks the cancerous cell like a guided missile. It’s guided by where it needs to go and dock. As soon as the antibody attaches to the cell it brings with it a specific payload. The payload is the poison that eventually gets right into the cancerous cell and kills that specific cell. It becomes a targeted treatment.”

Starodub’s first patient in the clinical trial had been heavily treated for her cancer with chemotherapy, and yet the cancer continued to progress.

“Her situation was hopeless,” Starobub said. “She decided to participate in the clinical trial and had a very positive response. She was in a lot of pain, and that all kind of disappeared. It far exceeded all of my expectations.”

Over the years of the trial, Starodub was among the physicians presenting the results that ultimately led to the recent approvals.

“Every medication has side effects,” Starodub said. “I’m not trying to present that it is side effect free. But we were able to generate the proper schedule early on and now it can be used as a standard of care. A lot went into this effort and I was proud to be a part of it.”

Now that the treatment is approved, Starodub said, it’s available for “patients in the right circumstances when they need it.”

Starodub is also working now on his latest clinical trial for HER2+ breast cancers using a novel approach of cell based immune therapy.

The Peninsula Cancer Institute - Newport News, where Starodub practices, is located at 12100 Warwick Boulevard in Newport News. For more information, call 757-534-5555.

Published: June 4, 2020