Avera Cancer Institute

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Vice President of Molecular and Experimental Research, Avera Cancer Institute
Director, The Darwin Foundation

Research

Dr. Leyland-Jones is best known for leading major changes in breast cancer clinical trials and treatments, as well as his ongoing focus on how genomics plays a vital role in the fight against breast cancer.

When conducting genomics research and developing personalized treatments for cancer patients, biomarkers are key. Because these distinct biological indicators are so important, there is a growing and urgent need for biomarker profiling and validation in the cancer research community. As the Director of the Darwin Foundation (formerly the Consortium for Clinical Diagnostics), Dr. Leyland-Jones is partnering with scientists at research institutions and biopharmaceutical companies who are dedicated to facilitating genomic research and diagnostics. The Darwin Foundation provides a centralized infrastructure where disease genes and genetic signatures can be identified and validated. The Darwin Foundation also develops medical response tests, as well as new and improved diagnostic tests for a variety of diseases, including cancers.

Throughout his career, Dr. Leyland-Jones helped develop drugs that are now mainstays of oncologic breast cancer treatment (such as the anthracycline, antimetabolite and platin families), as well as the targeted therapies trastuzumab (Herceptin®) and bevacizumab (Avastin®). He also helped disprove some theories about how to best treat breast cancer patients. For example, he demonstrated that two years of adjuvant trastuzumab was no better than the standard one year of treatment for women with HER2-positive, early-stage breast cancer.
Additionally, Dr. Leyland-Jones helped drive global collaboration and material collections as a member of the Executive Steering Committee of the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia that was founded and operated by NFCR.

Bio

Brian Leyland-Jones, BSc (Ist class Hons), MB BS, PhD, FRACP, FRCPC is the Chief Medical Officer and Scientific Advisory Board Member for the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) and Chief Scientific Officer of The Darwin Foundation.   He also serves as the Chief Medical Officer of OTraces, Xylonix and the N OF 1 Mission, collectively devoted to the implementation of prevention and cure of malignancy globally.  He sits on several national and international boards including the Asian Foundation for Cancer Research (AFCR), NED Biosystems, Non-Pareil, Ratio and is Director Emeritus for the WIN Consortium.  He founded Xanthus, AKESOgen and Viviphi.

Dr.  Leyland-Jones holds biochemistry, medical, and doctoral degrees from the University of London. Following residency training at Hammersmith, Brompton, St. Bartholomew’s and London hospitals, he completed a clinical pharmacology fellowship at Cornell University and a medical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He then joined the academic staff at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and New York Hospitals with a special research interest in Early Phase clinical, clinical pharmacological and biomarker evaluation of many anticancer compounds, including the platinums and anthracycline analogs in use today. In 1983, he moved to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to head the Developmental Chemotherapy section. During his time with the NCI, he was responsible for the overall development of approximately 70 anti-cancer compounds in various stages of transition from in-vitro screening to Phase III clinical trials, including overseeing the early development of paclitaxel in Phase 1 and 2 trials. From 1990 to 2000, he served as founding chair of Oncology and director of the McGill University Comprehensive Cancer Centre. He recruited and built a broad multifaceted cancer centre, including a robust cross-hospital clinical trials enterprise, with deep clinical pharmacologic and biomarker support. Dr. Leyland-Jones continued as the Minda de Gunzberg Chair in Oncology and professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, Canada for 7 additional years, focusing on the development and biomarker strategies of several of the new targeted oncologic agents.

He joined Emory University in 2007. As Director of the Winship Cancer Centre and Associate Vice-President of Health Sciences, Dr. Leyland-Jones lead the Centre to obtain National Cancer Institute Cancer Centre Designation, the first in the State of Georgia, and for the first time in 30 years.  Dr. Leyland-Jones was instrumental in building the Genomics Medicine Program at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, SD where he was the Vice President of Molecular and Experimental Medicine from 2014-2019.   Dr. Leyland-Jones’ principal academic contributions have been in the fields of anticancer therapy development, the pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacogenetics of oncological clinical trials, the translation of preclinical models into the clinic, biomarker endpoints in Phase I/II clinical trials, and screening and mechanistic studies of novel targeted and chemotherapeutic anticancer agents.

Dr. Leyland-Jones is the recipient of numerous research grants, and has served as principal, co-principal and co-investigator on more than 100 clinical studies. He has authored and co-authored more than 210 peer-reviewed articles and book contributions, 25 books and book chapters, 425 abstracts and 35 patents.  He has a robust speaking and private consulting practice that takes him all over the world.

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Don’t Delay: Skipping One Mammogram Can Significantly Increase Risk of Death from Breast Cancer

One mammogram every two years doesn’t sound so bad – but what happens if a woman skips one? A recent study warns that missing just one mammogram before being diagnosed with cancer significantly increases a woman’s probability of dying from the disease.  The Importance of Mammograms Mammograms allow medical professionals to examine an x-ray of the breast tissue and look for any abnormalities or hints of cancer that other methods may not be able to detect. Having regularly scheduled mammograms presents an opportunity for early diagnosis, which significantly increases the ability to administer successful treatment. As signs and symptoms are often difficult to observe at early stages, mammograms have been the gold standard used for cancer detection and may reduce mortality by up to 40%. Because of this, the United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends that women aged 50-74 undergo a mammography every two years. Alarming Study Results In this ground-breaking study, a research team led by Stephen W. Duffy and Laszlo Tabar analyzed data from nearly 550,000 women with access to mammograms between 1992 and 2016. This data was divided into two groups – women who attended the two of the most recent mammograms before being diagnosed with breast cancer and those who did not.  The team discovered that the group who did not attend the two most recent mammograms before their diagnosis were more likely to have died within ten years of being diagnosed. The significant findings showed that 50% more of these group members had died than those who attended both most recent appointments. Overall, women who attended only one of the two breast cancer screenings had 29% higher mortality than those who attended both. While the research team anticipated a higher mortality rate among women who missed even one mammogram before their diagnosis, the disparity was astounding. As researchers unveil more evidence to highlight the importance of mammograms, however, medical professionals continue to identify a decrease in the number of women who undertake regular screenings. Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused a significant decline in the number of women attending their regular mammograms.  What Next? Duffy, Laszlo, and their team hope their recent findings will inspire women to keep up-to-date with their mammogram appointments and plan to continue further prognostic research into the mechanisms of this effect. The team will explore to what extent regular attendance improves the prognosis of interval cancers and screen-detected cancers.  While the world eagerly awaits the following report, women must continue adhering to the current mammogram recommendations. Those with questions regarding their personal situation and recommendations should speak to their general practitioner.  For more information regarding breast cancer, please visit NFCR’s breast cancer page.  Note: The third Friday in October we recognize National Mammography Day. This year it will be celebrated on October 15, 2021. Please take this opportunity to schedule your mammogram or share important information with loved ones. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: Let’s talk about Mammograms with Dr. Alexia Matheson National Mammography Day 5 Ways You Can Show Support for Breast Cancer Patients Stay connected with the cancer community! Receive NFCR’s monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more. Sign up here.

Controlling the Uncontrollable: HER2 Breast Cancer

It’s that time of year when pink ribbons begin appearing everywhere – from shopfronts to social media. These ribbons are known to be Breast Cancer Awareness ribbons. It’s no coincidence that pink ribbons are the most easily recognized as breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. In fact, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Tragically, the likelihood of experiencing metastasis, or cancer that spreads to other parts of the body, is high amongst these patients. Understanding and preventing metastasis is crucial to increasing the survival rates of this disease. Thankfully, National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR)-funded researcher Dr. Rakesh K. Jain and his team are dedicated to exploring this phenomenon and recently unearthed a game-changing discovery.  Their mission: HER2 Dr. Jain and his team knew that genes contain the recipes for various proteins required for healthy cells to function properly and that some genes and proteins can influence how breast cancer behaves and responds to treatment. They were particularly interested in exploring how to control and inhibit metastasis in one particular gene related to breast cancer, the HER2 gene.  The HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) gene makes HER2 proteins, which are receptors on breast cells. Typically, HER2 receptors help control how a healthy breast cell grows, divides, and repairs itself. But in about 10% to 20% of breast cancers, the HER2 gene doesn’t work correctly and makes too many copies of itself (known as HER2 gene amplification). These extra HER2 genes tell breast cells to make too many HER2 receptors which makes breast cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. Patients with metastatic HER2+ breast cancer often experience treatment resistance, disease recurrences, and metastases. Dr. Jain and his team believed that by modifying the tumor framework and increasing oxygenation in the tumor, it might be possible for an existing medication to improve the outcome of radiotherapy and inhibit disease progression in a highly metastatic HER2+ breast cancer. Their findings The team established a metastatic HER2+ breast cancer line and used it to generate a similar environment in mice. Three days after tumor implantation, Dr. Jain and his team administered seven days of Losartan, a drug mainly used to treat high blood pressure. In some mice, the research team followed the seven days of Losartan with 20 Gy single dose local irradiation on day 10. In a third group, they followed the seven days of Losartan with 20 Gy fractionated irradiation on days 10-14. For each group, the researchers analyzed the tumor-growth delay, development of metastases, survival rates, tumor density, and oxygen levels in the tumor.  Much to the excitement of cancer researchers worldwide, the combination of Losartan and local irradiation significantly enhanced tumor response. The tumors were deprived of oxygen, whereas healthy cells remained oxygen-rich. This finding suggests that combining Losartan with radiotherapy is a potential new treatment strategy for controlling and inhibiting metastasis in HER2+ breast cancer – a potentially life-saving discovery. Other exciting HER2 discoveries  HER2 has been a hot topic in the cancer world for years. In fact, Dr. Jain is just one of the NFCR-funded researchers paving the way to better treatment options related to HER2. Dr. […]

Exploring the Mechanisms of Breast Cancer Metastasis: NFCR-Supported Research Update