ASCO is pleased to present Matthew J. Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD, FRCP, director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center and professor of medicine and cellular and molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, with the 2015 Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture for his pioneering research into the clinical relevance of activating mutations in HER2 and in the deployment of patient-derived xenografts for the pharmacological annotation of breast cancer genomes. Dr. Ellis has been instrumental in developing a Genome Atlas and Therapeutic Road Map for ER-positive breast cancer.
“Receiving this award is a surprise,” Dr. Ellis said in an interview with the ASCO Daily News. “I just try to do the best work I can. Professional recognition is nice, but my thoughts immediately turn to those I collaborate with because this award reflects their efforts and support as well.”
Collaborators include Marc E. Lippman, MD, of the University of Miami Health System, who first brought Dr. Ellis to the United States from the United Kingdom; Elaine R. Mardis, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis, who worked alongside Dr. Ellis on the genomic analysis of ER-positive breast cancers; Charles Perou, PhD, of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with whom he worked on The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) breast project; and Clifford Hudis, MD, FACP, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, with whom Dr. Ellis has a longstanding partnership.
Dr. Matthew J. Ellis
An Early Interest in Oncology
Dr. Ellis became interested in oncology in the mid-1980s while working as an internal medicine trainee at the University of Oxford and in London hospitals. He was struck by the number of women in their 30s and 40s dying of metastatic breast cancer and sought to understand the biology behind the clinical phenotype of the disease. In search of answers, Dr. Ellis left clinical medicine for 4 years to pursue basic science research as a PhD student with Cancer Research UK.
“I wanted to build a career that married clinical medicine with fundamental cancer research,” he said. “Sometimes basic scientists focus too hard on model systems, and they do not apply the principles of laboratory research to humans. I have, therefore, tried to marry basic science with clinical investigation to make meaningful progress for patients.”
Analyzing TCGA Data
After completing a medical oncology fellowship at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Ellis served as an assistant professor there until moving to Duke University in 2000. He subsequently accepted a job with Washington University in St. Louis in 2003, where he served as professor of medicine and section head of medical oncology and breast oncology until 2014.
At Washington University, Dr. Ellis began analyzing the genomes of breast cancer samples accrued from a neoadjuvant endocrine therapy clinical trial he initiated with the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group in collaboration with Kelly Hunt, MD, FACS, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Subsequently, he worked with data from TCGA.
“It’s one thing to describe genomic changes and wonder what they mean from a basic science perspective, but my job as the clinician on the team is to ask, ‘How do these data drive our ability to improve patient outcomes?’” he said.
Dr. Ellis and colleagues eventually ascertained that breast cancer can be classified into different diseases.
“Throughout the 20th century, clinicians were designing clinical trials with breast cancer as a nonspecific diagnosis, particularly when considering chemotherapeutic approaches. Many of those clinical trials washed up on the rocks as failures because different breast cancer subtypes, with different pharmacological and biological properties, were being combined into one study,” Dr. Ellis said.
Different classifications of breast cancer derived from an analysis over the last decade of breast cancer transcriptomes include luminal A, luminal B, triple negative/basal-like, and HER2-enriched.
“These different subtypes of breast cancer have very different clinical outcomes, different responses to chemotherapy and targeted therapy, and the TCGA taught us that they have very different somatic mutation patterns and, therefore, etiologies. Thoughtful clinical trial development in the 21st century must respect these biological distinctions or risk failure,” Dr. Ellis said.
Dr. Ellis is the author or co-author of more than 180 papers. He is currently co-chair of the translational medicine committee for NRG Oncology, co-leader for TCGA Breast Project, and co-principal investigator for the Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium, a group endeavoring toward translating TCGA genomic discoveries into protein-based biomarkers with clinical utility.
Dr. Ellis has a successful track record in international clinical and translational research, with recent trainees from Brazil, Chile, Poland, and Turkey. He is a Susan G. Komen Scholar, a McNair Medical Institute Scholar, and a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar.
The Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award will be presented to Dr. Ellis during the 2015 Breast Cancer Symposium, to be held September 25-27. View more information on the Symposium, or to register.