U A B C O M P R E H E N S I V E C A N C E R C E N T E R 13

center profile

While he enjoyed the experience, he felt the need to be more involved with human disease. This led to his deci- sion to attend medical school, and he enrolled in the M.D.-Ph.D. program at Stanford University.

Although I considered myself a scientist, a strange thing happened while I was at Stanford, he recalls. I fell in love with medicine.

After receiving his M.D. and a Ph.D. in biophys- ics from Stanford, Dr. Erba returned to the Northeast where he completed his internships, residencies and fel- lowships in the Harvard medical system. Trying to bal- ance treating patients in the clinic with working in the laboratory proved to be a challenge for Dr. Erba, and it presented him with a difficult decision to make.

I was feeling uncomfortable trying to do both bench science and clinical work, he says. I felt I needed to decide, so I looked at my mentors who were 10 to 20 years older than me. My clinical mentors were on the front lines, active in clinical investigations. My laboratory mentors were in their offices, feverishly writing grant after grant hoping one of them would be funded. I loved being at the laboratory bench and designing my own experiments, but that s not always how it is for senior investigators. So I decided to leave the duel path and focus on clinical medicine.

Dr. Erba s love of clinical medicine led him to sub- specialize in hematology-oncology, as he felt it was an area of medicine where molecular biology, molecular genetics and clinical care all intersected. The reason I chose hematology was because of my desire to apply molecular genetic information to human disease and to take care of patients where I would be the primary phy- sician. I enjoy being in that role of the patient s central doctor and developing a bond with them and their fami- lies. It was a perfect fit for me. Making a Move

After several years in Boston, Dr. Erba was recruited by the University of Michigan to build upon and expand its clinical program in leukemia. He joined the faculty there in 1996 and spent the next 16 years building the leukemia clinical enterprise into a large, nationally recog-

nized program drawing patients from across Michigan, Ohio and upstate Indiana. Having accomplished his goal, Dr. Erba began thinking about his next career steps.

If I was going to make a move, I had better do it while I was still able to move, he says. It felt like the right time.

The timing was right, as UAB was looking for someone to direct the Cancer Center s hematologic malignancy program in leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. From his experience at Michigan, Dr. Erba was the ideal candidate for the position and joined the faculty in July 2012. In March 2013, he became the Cancer Center s associate director for clinical research where he ensures that the center s clinical investigations are conducted ethically and efficiently and always with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes for cancer patients.

I meet with my Cancer Center colleagues weekly to discuss those items that prevent efficient conduct of clinical research and how we can improve this by interfacing with other parts of UAB, Dr. Erba says. We are now doing not only excellent clinical care on our inpatient unit, but we are also offering a number of clinical trials from early discovery, first-in-man studies to pivotal phase 3 trials.

Dr. Erba is extremely enthusiastic about the Cancer Center s work in antibody-directed therapies, something UAB has long been recognized for across the world. In particular, he is excited about a study with Seattle Genetics involving an antibody called SGN33a, which binds to a molecule on the surface of leukemia cells known as CD33 and triggers that molecule to kill the cell.

We actually treated the first person with this drug, and although we didn t see a response in that first person, it was very well-tolerated, Dr. Erba says. We ve moved through dose escalation, and we re now seeing complete remissions with a single dose of this treatment. We re very excited about that. Because of the Cancer Center s involvement in that phase 1 study, Dr. Erba is now work- ing on the next phase of studies combining the drug with chemotherapy and examining alternative dosing schedules.

Dr. Erba is also studying using small molecules to target pathways that appear to be over-activated or

I enjoy being

in that role of

the patient s

central doctor

and developing

a bond with

them and their

families.