Over a 37-year-career as a leading cancer researcher and practicing physician in Greenville, Dr. Larry Gluck built an innovative program at the Prisma Health Cancer Institute.
His work focused on cancer research and treatment with phase one clinical trials, first-in-human drug trials and a revolutionary long-term cancer prevention study. Now, as Gluck plans to retire May 12 from his clinical work and responsibilities leading the institute, Prisma with raise money to create a $3 million endowed chair to continue and expand on the advances in cancer treatment made during Gluck’s career.
The endowed chair will be called the W. Larry Gluck, MD Endowed Chair of Translational and Molecular Oncology Research, and it is designed to attract and fund a high-level physician-scientist to join a core team of cancer researchers in Greenville who study the cellular and molecular basis of cancer to find new treatments and work toward cancer prevention.
“Science has been more beneficial to (treating) cancer than anything else over the past 15 years,” Gluck said, “and I really see the need to keep that going and cultivate that, energize it, because in reality we’re doing research that’s contributed to the world literature, that’s not only getting us further along, but it’s supporting ideas and research projects of others. That’s really how we’re going to move forward until cancer is an uncommon disease.”
Gluck arrived in Greenville in 1986 at a cancer institute that now bears his indelible mark as a proponent of the dual roles of a doctor as a physician-scientist. He called it a rare pathway still in the field of cancer treatment but sees value in a cancer doctor whose work one-on-one with patients informs their laboratory research.
Over his tenure, the cancer institute grew to more than 30 physicians and 450 staff members across five campuses in the Upstate. It has earned more than $30 million in research and grant funding and has raised another $15 million from community support.
The institute in 2014 became one of 32 institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute as an NCI Community Oncology Research Program, which it was awarded again in 2020. The institute expanded from clinical trials to laboratory-based cancer research and has evolved into a sophisticated program with a team that now can bring therapies out of a lab and into initial clinical trials.
“We participate with more than 50 biotech and universities worldwide where we bring these to Greenville and make them available to appropriate patients,” Gluck said. “These are all FDA approved trials.”
The institute wanted to provide research options and clinical trials to cancer patients in South Carolina so they wouldn’t have to travel to Duke or Vanderbilt universities for similar programs, Gluck said. It now serves cancer patients for clinical trials from all over the world.
The institute has now participated in 18 first-in-human clinical trials and more than 1,000 clinical trials in coordination with other university and bio-tech researchers.
“Greenville has been able to move science forward,” Gluck said.
When Greenville’s Lisa Smith contracted a rare form of cancer called adnoid cyctic carcinoma in 2016, doctors at Duke University told her they had exhausted treatment options and sent her home with an expectation she would have six months to live.
A church connection led Smith to the cancer institute in Greenville where she became the first participant in a new clinical trial.
“She had 119 metastatic tumors in her lungs,” said her husband, Mark Smith. “In a matter of four months she was down to one.”
Over the next six years, Gluck and others at the institute continued to monitor Smith’s cancer. When it began to attack again and a previous therapy stopped working, they tried a new one. In all, she participated in eight or nine clinical trials before she died in October 2022.
The Smiths knew from the start her cancer would be terminal. They never expected to have seven more years together, and Mark Smith credited the doctors at the cancer institute with their prolonged years together.
“Dr. Gluck, he just played a vital role in it. He put together a team that always put my wife first,” Mark Smith said. “It’s the research facility but they always put the patient first.”
Mark O’Halla, president and CEO of Prisma Health, called Gluck a visionary in the field of cancer treatment and prevention and a hero to thousands of patients and families of those he cared for over his career.
“We will miss him personally, but his presence will be felt for decades to come through the system of premier cancer care that he spent his career assembling,” O’Halla said.
Gluck said he plans to continue teaching at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville and will continue his research work, including with a long-term project called Prevent Cancer-Greenville that studies the links between patient lifestyle and cancer development.