Dr. Frances Shepherd
Senior Staff Physician and Site Group Leader,
Lung Cancer

Dr. Frances Shepherd
Dr. Frances Shepherd


Even in a ‘well-oiled machine’ like The Princess Margaret, it takes plenty of determination and tenacity to get a clinical trial underway. 

Funding is the first hurdle. And a huge one!  Then there is documentation, regulatory approval, as well as finding appropriate and willing sites.  When that is taken care of, you have to find enough trial participants to produce statistically valid test results.  To do all of this on an international level (with significantly larger costs, multiple regulatory bodies, hospitals with different rules of operation, and multiple time zones and languages) requires the passion and experience of Dr. Frances Shepherd.

Lung cancer has never been a popular disease to focus on, and Dr. Shepherd began her career at a time when it was commonly believed that no therapy whatsoever should be offered to lung cancer patients.  In large part through her leadership of national and international clinical trials, such beliefs have been shattered. Now, in every stage of lung cancer, treatment has been shown to improve survival and patient quality of life.  

Lung cancer is still the most lethal of all cancers.  It kills more than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.

Dr. Shepherd has been an avid fundraiser, raising over $12 million in endowed funds to support five research chairs in lung cancer at The Princess Margaret.  Her team is a powerhouse of international expertise in clinical trials; medical, radiation and surgical oncology; as well as molecular epidemiology and translational research.  She also raised $2.5 million for a very important lung cancer and mesothelioma screening study.  This  amazing feat speaks to her leadership and vision.

Dr. Frances Shepherd
Thanks to this strong team, Princess Margaret Hospital, along with its academic partner, the University of Toronto, has been home to some of the most dramatic breakthroughs in the treatment of lung cancer over the past two decades. Dr. Shepherd and her team have systematically investigated the role of different treatment strategies, starting with the most advanced stage (where the disease has spread outside the lung) and moving to the early stage of the disease where the goal is to cure. 

 

In advanced stages, the gains are modest, but when the same treatments are applied in earlier stages, the results can be dramatic, prolonging survival by years and even improving cure rates. 

One of the most impactful clinical trials of Dr. Shepherd’s career is her study of the impact of chemotherapy treatment following lung cancer surgery.  The cure rates for stages I, II, and III lung cancer after surgical removal of the tumours are approximately 70, 45, and 25 percent respectively.  When relapse occurs after surgery, it is almost always in distant organs outside the chest, suggesting that spread had already taken place at the time of the diagnosis. This provided the rationale for offering post-operative treatment to deal with the possibility of this spread.  This National Cancer Institute of Canada Clinical Trials Group international trial resulted in an unprecedented 15 percent absolute improvement in the cure rate at 5 years.  As a result of this study, chemotherapy following lung cancer surgery has become a new standard of care around the world.

Dr. Shepherd also led an international clinical trial testing the effectiveness of a new class of drugs called epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors in treating advanced lung cancer.  Once again, this trial showed a survival advantage for those taking the drug, and this has become another ‘paradigm-shifting’ study for lung cancer.
 
A very important aspect of clinical trials is the dissemination of the results, and Dr. Shepherd has an impressive publication record.  She has over 300 publications, most of them in high impact journals.  In 2005, she was the lead or senior author of three articles published in the space of three weeks in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Frances Shepherd
Dr. Shepherd works hard at the national and international levels, leading decision-making bodies and presenting at conferences.  She was Chair of the National Cancer Institute of Canada Clinical Trials Group Lung Cancer site for nineteen years, and is past president of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer.

She has received numerous scientific awards including the O. Harold Warwick Prize for Cancer Research, the Premier’s Summit Award for Medical Research, and the Scientific Award from the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer.  In 2007 she was appointed to the Order of Ontario.

The Princess Margaret is proud of Dr. Shepherd, her team and their life-saving accomplishments.
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