One of the primary challenges oncologists face when treating mesothelioma is working around the cancer’s resistance to most drugs. For Bruce Johnson, M.D., the key to successfully treating this persistent cancer is using targeted genetic therapy, which can increase the potency and accuracy of mesothelioma medicines.
Johnson began researching genetic therapy in the 1980s as a clinical associate for the National Cancer Institute. Continuing in his investigations, he was later named the head of the NCI Lung Cancer Biology Section until he joined the team at the Dana-Farber Harvard Cancer Center.
At Dana-Farber, Johnson works on a laboratory team alongside fellow mesothelioma and lung cancer researcher Pasi Jänne, M.D., PhD., to reveal more mechanisms for the genetic treatment of solid tumors. At the Dana-Farber Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Lung Cancer, Johnson revealed cell lines and mutations that are central to developing newer, more effective cancer therapeutics.
Johnson also researches a patient’s potential response to a particular therapy based on their diagnosis and existing characteristics, like gender. For instance, one of his studies showed that female non-smoking lung cancer patients with a specific adenocarcinoma diagnosis responded favorably to the generic drugs gefitinib and erlotinib.
“By grouping patients based on tumor genomics and treating them with the appropriate targeted therapies, we aim to achieve 100 percent success,” Johnson said in a commentary for the NCI Center for Cancer Research.
These findings earned Johnson membership on the External Scientific Committee for the NCI as well as the American Society of Clinical Oncology Cancer Foundation’s Translational Research Professorship. The foundation Johnson built during more than 20 years of research is the basis for his approach to clinical mesothelioma treatment.
He joined the team at the Dana-Farber in 1999 as a thoracic surgeon and now directs its CancerCare Thoracic Oncology Program. This program coordinates the efforts of doctors from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology is the department at Dana-Farber where many mesothelioma patients receive treatment. Johnson and his team provide patients with a multidisciplinary array of treatments as well as access to the clinical trials offered by national partners such as the Cancer and Leukemia Group B.
Johnson has maintained active board certifications in internal medicine and medical oncology. He is a former Chair of the American Society for Clinical Oncology and still serves as a member of their Board of Directors.