Get to Know: GI Oncologist Matthew Reilley, MD

At a Glance

  • Title: Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology
  • Fellowship: MD Anderson Cancer Center, Chief Fellow, Houston, TX, Hematology/Oncology
  • Residency: Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Internal Medicine
  • Medical Degree: Brown Medical School, Providence, RI

A recipient of the 2016 Rising Star in Oncology award from the Society for Translational Medicine and a participant in the 2016 American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Cancer Research Workshop, oncologist Matthew Reilley, MD, has set his sights on improving the future of cancer care through clinical trials.

“I believe we have made incredible advances in treating cancer, but for many patients we still need to do better,” he says. “From these experiences, I learned that the best way to help patients is to invest a lot of time making sure a clinical trial is asking the right questions: is there a strong scientific rationale and evidence that the therapy is going to work, and is the right patient being targeted? For example, while immunotherapy has had limited success in gastrointestinal cancer to date, there are many emerging therapies that will (hopefully) change this. I am excited to use these experiences along with my training at MD Anderson to build on the trial program here at UVA Cancer Center.”

Learn more about Reilley’s research efforts and clinical focus in the Q&A below:

How has your introduction to UVA Cancer Center been thus far?
I received a very warm welcome from team members and it’s going well so far. I am a gastrointestinal-focused medical oncologist, and I love working as part of a multidisciplinary GI oncology team with specialized surgeons, radiation oncology, endoscopy, pathology and radiology. This GI oncology program was one of the big draws for me coming to UVA. This is a very well-established program recognized nationally and regionally for our surgery and gastroenterology teams. There are many longtime members of the team who have helped this program grow and seen big changes happening at the Cancer Center. I’m excited and proud to be a part of the team.

What is your clinical focus?
I see a wide variety of GI cancer patients, from the esophagus on down, including gastric, pancreatic, liver and colorectal cancers, in addition to gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) and neuroendocrine tumors (NET).

What are some of the challenges of treating these patients?
We depend on the digestive system so much, not just to keep us alive but also for the enjoyment of eating. Until someone is facing cancer, they don’t realize how important it really is, so it can be challenging to help patients manage the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments that impact the digestive system.

How do you and your team help patients overcome these challenges?
Almost all of our patients require a multidisciplinary approach, so our GI-focused tumor board is the ideal place to formally and informally discuss individual patients. By preplanning the treatment as much as possible, we can anticipate foreseeable challenges that will arise with therapy and address them early.

What will be your research focus at UVA?
I have spent a lot of time and training at MD Anderson developing my knowledge base and my skills in early clinical trials that focus on making immunotherapy more effective in GI cancers. I’m working hard to develop and open more of these trials for advanced GI cancers at UVA. To do this, a key parallel component of my research is a translational effort to better understand the immune microenvironment in colorectal cancers. We’ve not seen a lot of benefit from immunotherapies in GI cancers to date, and I think it is because we lack a good understanding of how to make the immune system work at the level of the tumor. However, I think with a growing understanding of how GI cancers are different from other cancers, there is good reason to be hopefully that newer immunotherapies trials will work.

We have a couple of immunotherapy trials open now. One is using an engineered T cell for pancreatic cancer. It is exciting because it is one of the only cellular engineering trials in the country and this is the only place patients can come for that.

We also have phase II/III immunotherapy studies for colon and pancreatic cancer and several more opening in the next few months, including a novel immunotherapy trial for NET/GIST patients, and a trial for advanced biliary tract cancer.

How do you prefer to communicate with referring providers?
To me, working hand in hand with referring providers is essential, particularly with community oncologists I share patients with. I like to get on the phone to discuss a plan of action, especially if a second opinion is needed. To be able to answer questions and give guidance is useful. And as our trial program grows, I want to be able to communicate with referring physicians to answer their questions about trials, and discuss good options for their patients at UVA.

To contact Dr. Reilley, email MR7DB@hscmail.mcc.virginia.edu.

To refer a patient to UVA Cancer Center, call UVA Physician Direct at 800.552.3723.