First Patient in San Diego Treated with Novel Cancer Therapy

Scripps MD Anderson now offers new targeted treatment

Marin Xavier, MD, and cancer patient William Apodaca at Scripps Mercy hospital

Cancer patient William Apodaca and Dr. Marin Xavier, a hematologist and medical oncologist at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Scripps MD Anderson now offers new targeted treatment

A 31-year-old local resident today became the first patient in San Diego County to receive a unique form of targeted therapy for a rare form of cancer when he received an infusion of the radioactive drug Lutathera by a team of Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center caregivers.


Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year, Lutathera treats gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs) of the digestive tract that are positive for the hormone receptor somatostatin. William Apodaca of Paradise Hills received the infusion in the nuclear medicine unit of Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.

Seek and attack approach

Lutathera uses radioactively charged proteins to seek and attack cancer cells from the inside out. It is administered in four doses, which are given approximately every other month until they are finished. Apodaca received his fourth and final intravenous dose today, after travelling to Los Angeles for the first three.


“The availability of Lutathera is a big advancement, because historically there have been limited options for patients with GEP-NETs who don’t respond to other treatments,” said Marin Xavier, MD, a hematologist and medical oncologist with Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center and Scripps Clinic Medical Group physician.


“This gives us a new treatment option that has the potential to delay the need for long-term chemotherapy or oral cancer therapy. And now that this therapy is available in San Diego, patients don’t need to travel out of town to receive it.”


Lutathera is the first radioactive drug approved to treat GEP-NETs, a rare category of tumors that can form in the pancreas or in other parts of the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum and appendix. The new treatment is geared toward patients with advanced metastatic disease, and whose initial treatments have not been effective in controlling tumor growth. It is designed to slow the progress of tumors and stabilize the disease, so that the need for subsequent therapy can be delayed.  


The new tumor-specific drug consists of a targeting molecule that carries a radioactive component, and works by binding to a part of a GEP-NET cell called a somatostatin receptor. After binding to the receptor, the drug enters the cell, allowing radiation to cause damage to the tumor cells.

Supported by clinical evidence

Results from a randomized clinical trial published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that GEP-NET patients treated with Lutathera in combination with the drug octreotide had a substantially higher rate of progression-free survival at 20 months (65.2 percent), compared to patients who received octreotide alone (10.8 percent).


Apodaca, a National City native, was originally diagnosed in late 2015 and underwent a variety of treatments, with varying degrees of success. He said he had known about Lutathera early in his cancer journey, and was just waiting for it to be approved for use in the U.S.


“I was pretty excited to hear that the therapy was available in San Diego in time for my final treatment,” Apodaca said. He is being treated for a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor that has spread to his liver and spine. Apodaca added that since starting on Lutathera last spring, his lab results have improved and his energy level has increased, giving him a second chance at life.

Looking ahead

After receiving his final treatment, Apodaca said he’s looking forward to enjoying traditions of the holiday season, such as spending quality time with his family and friends. Eventually, he looks forward to resuming his work as an intensive care unit nurse at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, from which he is currently taking a leave of absence.


The treatment is available to clinically appropriate Scripps MD Anderson patients and is being administered at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego. Joining Dr. Xavier as an ordering physician for Lutathera is Darren Sigal, MD, a Scripps MD Anderson hematologist and medical oncologist and Scripps Clinic Medical Group physician.


Scripps Health and MD Anderson have teamed up to create the Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center, a clinically integrated cancer care program in San Diego. The partnership brings together the expertise of doctors at Scripps and MD Anderson to offer patient-centered care, using some of the most advanced cancer treatments available today.


Through this partnership, Scripps MD Anderson is part of MD Anderson Cancer Network®, an international collaborative network of hospitals and health care systems dedicated to MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer globally. The collaboration allows Scripps to combine its expertise with MD Anderson’s knowledge and capabilities to serve patients in San Diego.


Learn more about Scripps Health, a nonprofit integrated health system in San Diego, Calif.

Media Contact

Stephen Carpowich
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