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Erba Transitions to Director of Leukemia Program at Duke Cancer Institute

Audrey Sternberg
Published Online:2:38 PM, Tue September 4, 2018

Harry Erba, MD, PhD

An expert in hematologic malignancies, Harry Erba, MD, PhD, has been appointed director of both the Leukemia Program and Phase I Development in Hematologic Malignancies in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapy in the Department of Medicine at the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina.

Erba is a clinical investigator focused on the development of novel therapies for the treatment of diseases such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes, and myeloproliferative neoplasms. He is particularly interested in addressing the critically unmet need amongst older patients diagnosed with AML, since only a minority of these patients ever receive treatment. He is dedicated to improving outcomes for these patients by studying targeted therapies that effectively treat bone marrow failure and thereby improve quality of life and survival.

After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Yale University, Erba pursued a medical degree and PhD, both from Stanford University in California. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in hematology-oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He comes to his position at Duke following a 6-year stint at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center where he served as the associate director for Clinical Research.

An important aspect of his move has been integrating his position as the chair of the SWOG (formerly the Southwest Oncology Group) Leukemia Committee, a post he has held since 2012, into his clinical research at Duke. Group Chair of SWOG, Charles D. Blanke, MD, approved of Erba’s move to Duke, where he will continue to serve as Chair of the SWOG Leukemia Committee and be able to oversee SWOG leukemia trials.

“I am happy that I can continue my work with SWOG and still be here at Duke working with my colleagues in hematologic malignancy” said Erba.

Duke University is a Lead Academic Performing Site (LAPS) in the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). The executive committee of the LAPS grant at Duke is pleased to have an active SWOG clinical investigator within the institution and plans to pursue membership in SWOG under Erba’s leadership, while maintaining membership in the Alliance and other NCTN member groups.

An innovative aspect of Erba’s research is his part in developing a comprehensive clinical trial portfolio for patients with myeloid neoplasms. The collaborative arrangement between leukemia committees of the Alliance, ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group, SWOG, and the Canadian Clinical Trial Group is devoted to developing a screening and clinical trial portfolio for the various subpopulations of patients with AML. Each of the cooperative groups will lead clinical trials (sub-protocols) within this portfolio but agree to support the effort of the entire enterprise. Erba and the other chairs of the Leukemia Committees agree to identify promising junior investigators in each of their committees to lead these sub-protocols with appropriate mentorship from their more senior committee members. Erba and his colleagues are hopeful that pharmaceutical companies will see the benefit and value of this system for activating trials within specific population subsets and wish to collaborate with them.

“As we devise and develop therapies that target smaller and smaller subpopulations of patients with acute leukemia, any one drug company is going to have difficulty screening hundreds of patients to get to the 10% or even less that may have that biomarker,” Erba said, adding “we are hoping that such a national effort with this intergroup collaboration will provide exactly what the pharmaceutical industry needs to screen many people and have the appropriate patients enrolled to a specific targeted therapy protocol. We are hopeful that sites will see the value of this system; the majority of the site’s potential clinical trial subjects will be eligible for at least one sub-protocol in the single portfolio.”

Aside from a successful career in clinical research, Erba has served in several critical leadership positions within the oncology space. Prior credits include serving on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Practice Guidelines Committees for acute myeloid leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, and myeloid growth factors.

Erba’s work has been published in journals such as Nature, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Blood, and Cancer Research. In addition to his academic duties, Erba occasionally serves as an ad-hoc reviewer for peer-reviewed journal articles. He is also dedicated to education with much of his free time spent lecturing about myeloid neoplasms and the newly-approved therapies across North and South America and Europe.

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