Local cancer patient overcomes pandemic hurdle

Posted on May 22, 2020

A local man has received a lifeline from Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center in his fight against an advanced form of cancer, after fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic threw him a curve ball.

Fifty-two-year-old Oceanside resident Jim Gonzales, who is the director of student life and leadership at Mira Costa College, has been battling a rare and potentially lethal sarcoma in his abdomen — a mass that’s roughly the size of a volleyball. Gonzales had been traveling three times a month to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston since October 2019 for treatment in a Phase 1 clinical trial with an experimental drug. The drug, a targeted chemotherapy called ALRN-6924 that targets a specific genetic mutation, had successfully stabilized his disease by stopping the growth of the mass. The treatment is considered a sort of last hope, since the accepted treatments he had received earlier had only slowed the growth, and the mass is considered inoperable due to its location.

But in March 2020, he said he was devastated to learn that his treatment in Houston would be discontinued. First, there were concerns about Gonzales traveling with a compromised immune system and the possibility of contracting the coronavirus on commercial airlines. Then, his doctor in Houston informed him the drug company had halted his clinical trial, something not uncommon with experimental drugs since the pandemic’s arrival. Without ongoing treatment with the new drug, he faced daunting prospects — either undergo radical life-altering surgery, or without any intervention, a likelihood of not surviving the next 12 months.

Jim Gonzales

Fortunately, Gonzales’s doctor at MD Anderson in Houston, Dr. Funda Meric-Bernstam, quickly began collaborating with her physician counterpart in San Diego, Dr. Kathryn Bollin at partner institution Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center. With the help of their support teams, they collaborated during these challenging times to put the pieces in place to continue Gonzales’ care locally at Scripps MD Anderson. This included gaining compassionate use approval from the FDA to use the drug; the drug company agreeing to provide the drug for Gonzales’ therapy for free; as well as other institutional review processes to establish a new treatment site in San Diego. Gonzales says he was ecstatic to be able to continue his care, especially close to his Oceanside home and his wife Joanne and two teenage daughters.

Gonzales began his treatments at Scripps MD Anderson on May 5. This will include an ongoing cycle of once-a-week IV treatments (three weeks on, one week off). scripps.org