Translational Research in Bladder Cancer, A BCAN Young Investigator - Phillip Abbosh

January 28, 2022

Urologic Oncologist Phillip Abbosh joins Alicia Morgans discussing the importance of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) Young Investigator Awards for early-career investigators to join the bladder cancer scientific community and those thinking about getting their projects and their careers off the ground in bladder cancer. Phillip Abbosh a BCAN YI Award recipient in 2018 shares details of his work using urine from patients with urothelial cancers to identify novel biomarkers. Dr. Abbosh shares how being a recipient has positively impacted his career.


Phillip Abbosh, MD, Ph.D., Urologic Oncologist, Assistant Professor, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, Genitourinary Medical Oncologist, Medical Director of Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

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Alicia Morgans: Hi, my name is Alicia Morgans and I'm a GU Medical Oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I am so excited to have here with me today, Dr. Phillip Abbosh who is an Assistant Professor at Fox Chase and Albert Einstein Medical Centers, as well as a Urologic Oncologist and a Translational Bladder Cancer Researcher. Thank you so much for being here with me today, Phil.

Phillip Abbosh: Thanks for inviting me.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. So I wanted to talk with you a little bit about the importance of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network or BCAN's Young Investigator Awards because these awards are being submitted right now. The deadline comes up sometime in February, and I really think that these are so important for folks as they are thinking about getting their projects and their careers off the ground in bladder cancer. Can you tell me a little bit about your perspective on how important these Young Investigator Awards are from BCAN?

Phillip Abbosh: Yeah, I mean, I was thankful and lucky to be selected as a recipient in 2018. I think it was maybe one of my proudest moments as an early investigator to be recognized by my peers and colleagues as someone who is up and coming. Yeah, I think, as I said, I was really honored. I think it certainly cements you in the BCAN family. BCAN is my favorite meeting to go to every year. I feel like I get the most out of that meeting in terms of all of the work. Honestly, almost all the work that we are doing right now has come from BCAN. And certainly, a lot of that traces back to the work that I did and am doing on my young investigator. So I think it was a real accelerant into launching my career.

Alicia Morgans: I could not agree more. I really think that the beautiful mesh of researchers and clinicians, patients, advocates, loved ones, and even folks who influence policy and members of the FDA come together at BCAN. And it is such an energizing experience and really brings out research and change in our bladder cancer community. So I could not agree more. Importantly, too, the Young Investigator Award type of grant, I think is so critical for people who are starting their career, whether in the lab or in clinical research and even in dry lab experiences, because it can support the investigator or the science or whatever is really needed to get that work off the ground. It's just so important. Now I'd love to hear a little bit from you, Phil, about your specific project. What did you investigate?

Phillip Abbosh: Yeah, sure. So our lab, our bread, and butter is actually using urine from patients with urothelial cancers to identify novel biomarkers. And the idea is that we can enhance our traditional clinical staging, which is done typically by cystoscopy, in the case of my YI Award, ureteroscopy, biopsy, TUR, et cetera. So what our lab does is collect urine from patients who are about to have either a cystectomy or a radical nephroureterectomy, we isolate DNA from the urine, and then we perform targeted sequencing of that DNA to identify mutations.

And what that potentially does is a couple of things. In the case of upper tract tumors, which is what my Young Investigator Award focused on is we think that we can use the window into the tumor genetics to improve and enhance staging and grading. As all of the people who are watching this probably know, a ureteroscopic biopsy is a sampling error waiting to happen. And so sometimes we just do not have very good intelligence on what a tumor's behavior is going to be in terms of its grade and stage.

There are certainly mutations and genetic alterations that are associated with grade and stage, not stuff that we've shown, that is stuff that other people have published. And so our idea is, if we can identify those variants that are associated with high grade or low grade or high stage or low stage in patients' urine samples, then we can have more information about what their tumor is, and how it might behave, and then potentially assign more appropriate therapies such as topical therapy, laser ablations, radical nephroureterectomy, neoadjuvant chemotherapy, et cetera.

The other thing that we could potentially use this assay for is to dynamically monitor a tumor as someone is going through therapy. So say someone gets neoadjuvant therapy and we monitor mutations. The idea would be that if there are residual mutations in the urine sample after chemotherapy, then maybe that suggests that the patient has residual disease. But if the patient has a complete response, then there wouldn't be that reservoir of the tumor to shed mutations into the urine that would not be detected. And maybe that suggests that the patient had a complete response. We think that potentially could be used for any therapy, not just neoadjuvant chemotherapy, but neoadjuvant immunotherapy, MitoGel, laser ablation, et cetera. Those are not things that were necessarily proposed or addressed in the Young Investigator Award that we were funded on, but those are all things that we are doing and thinking about now as a result of being funded.

Alicia Morgans: Wow. Well, clearly that is a hot topic, an area of clinical need. And I am so grateful that you and your team are tackling that problem, and grateful that BCAN has really been able to support you in those efforts. So, as we sum this up, could you tell us what has been the impact of the BCAN Young Investigator Award on you?

Phillip Abbosh: Yeah, sure. As I said, I think it was a real accelerant for my early career. I think being recognized by my peers, you sort of come into the inner circle and BCAN certainly is a very welcoming community. As I said, I love going to that meeting. It is always the most collaborative meeting we go to every year. Sometimes I go to meetings and there's a lot of talk about collaboration and then it fizzles out a month or two later.  But with BCAN, people really are committed. They really follow through with you. And being invited into that community, whether it's through the Young Investigator or through some other mechanism, I mean, it's been great to be part of that community. I am so grateful to have been invited into the big tent.

As an example of the wonderful collaborations that have fallen out after my being awarded the Young Investigator Award, the collaborators that we met, that I meet every year at the BCAN Think Tank have been now our PIs on a grant that we are really just so lucky to have received. So we applied to the NCI on a program project, which is basically RO1 level money for five years. And we got this really neat protocol together that's actually based on urine biomarkers, as we studied in our Young Investigator Award. And we are getting urine samples from five different clinical trials, and they are coming from all over the place, Seattle, New York, Boston, and also Fox Chase Cancer Center. And those collaborations were all, I can say, without any doubt, really fostered by coming to BCAN, being part of the Young Investigator Award family and it is a real success story. So I think, again, I am grateful BCAN invested in me and that I was able to return on their investment.

Alicia Morgans: I love your story. And I love the way you describe BCAN as being this big tent that really is so inclusive. And more than just being inclusive elevates all of its members to really investigate these questions that are so important in bladder cancer, bringing them together, giving them that seed money to get the work done, and launching them onto the next funding opportunity. So thank you so much for sharing this. And I look forward to hearing more from you and your team, that project that you just mentioned, of course, included, as well as those who apply to the BCAN Young Investigator Award. And that portal is open now, closing around the end of February. We really look forward to hearing from you and learning all that we can about bladder cancer. Thank you so much for your time today, Phil.

Phillip Abbosh: Thanks and good luck to all the applicants.