Five Questions With: Dr. Steven C. Katz

Cancer surgeon Dr. Steven C. Katz joined Brown Surgical Associates in March, bringing with him surgical experience and research accomplishments. As a surgeon, Katz specializes in rare skin cancers, while his research work is focused on finding immunotherapy treatments for liver and pancreas tumors that are now considered incurable. 

Much of Katz’s research is done in tandem with TriSalus Life Sciences, where he is chief medical officer. The biotech company, with headquarters in Rhode Island and Colorado, is working toward developing treatments for complex liver and pancreas cancers. 

Katz’s other research projects, some of which have earned grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, include serving as principal investigator for five solid tumor CAR-T trials, the development of cell therapy products and methods for solid tumor immunotherapy. 

Katz discusses his role as a surgeon, long-term research goals and his thoughts on the opportunity to continue to work within the Lifespan Corp. health system on some cancer therapies that he has helped develop. 

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PBN: You have distinguished yourself in many areas of cancer treatment, but let’s start in the operating room. What are your surgical specialties?

KATZ: With respect to surgical care, I focus mainly on complex soft tissue tumors. This includes melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and other rare forms of skin cancer. In addition to having deep experience in managing these patients in the operating room, I am actively involved in multidisciplinary care decision-making.

Caring for patients with cancer means a lot more than doing a great operation. It is important to consider all the treatment options and recognize that many patients will need a combination of surgery and other forms of treatment. Making sound decisions as to how we sequence and integrate various forms of cancer treatment is a critical aspect to being an effective surgical oncologist.

As immune stimulating agents becomes increasingly common in the management of patients with advanced soft tissue tumors, immunotherapy research and drug development experience are becoming quite helpful in routine cancer care. I recently joined Brown Surgical Associates, as this exceptional group has incredibly strong leadership in place, with an impeccable reputation for putting the needs of patients ahead of all else.

PBN: You are also chief medical officer at TriSalus Life Sciences. How long have you been with the company, and what is the focus of your cancer research there? 

KATZ: I have been in the CMO role at TriSalus for almost two years. The company is deeply committed to developing new immunotherapy treatments for patients with liver or pancreatic cancer. Immunotherapy, or using a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, has achieved remarkable success in certain cancer types. Liver and pancreas cancer patients have not benefited as much.

Two reasons immunotherapy has not worked as well in the liver and pancreas are that the immune system is turned off to some extent at these sites and delivering drugs can be challenging due to high-pressure levels in the tumors. TriSalus is bringing together an FDA-cleared device that can modulate pressure, and an investigational drug that can stimulate the immune system in ways appropriate for the liver and pancreas.

PBN: Is there a specific goal that you are hoping to achieve through research? 

KATZ: The goal is to develop new immunotherapy treatment options for patients with liver and pancreas tumors. One of the amazing things about immunotherapy is its ability, in some patients, to provide long-term disease control and extend patients’ lives. We want to make these types of outcomes more common for liver and pancreatic cancer patients.

PBN: Your work has already led to the development of cancer treatment methods. What sort of therapies have you worked on, and what was the outcome?

KATZ: The teams I have been privileged to be part of have spent many years studying the barriers to more effective immunotherapy treatments in the liver and pancreas. We have learned how the immune system is turned off and how immunotherapies are largely ineffective in these organs. This knowledge, coupled with findings from other research groups, have led to our current treatment approach that we are investigating across several cancer types in the liver and pancreas. We are thrilled to be continuing our work at Lifespan and in Rhode Island, where the scientific talent and level of interest are quite high.

PBN: Does participating in clinical trials help guide you as a surgeon and researcher?

KATZ: Being able to participate in the entire spectrum of cancer research, from laboratory experiments to clinical trials and routine clinical care, provides a valuable perspective on where the greatest needs lie, and what potential solutions may be most worthy of in-depth study.

Caring for patients in the operating room and clinic allows me to keep my focus on what patients with cancer need most from those developing novel treatments. Working on clinical trials helps me understand when access to investigational treatments can be helpful for patients as part of their multidisciplinary cancer care.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.

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