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A partnership formed by UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Duke Cancer Institute and the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University in St. Louis will become part of a national network working to accelerate the pace of cancer drug development.

The new collaborative effort capitalizes on the scientific and clinical strengths of the comprehensive cancer centers at each of the three institutions, working within the National Cancer Institute’s Experimental Therapeutics Clinical Trials Network (ETCTN). A grant of $350,000 will foster the initiative the first year, with renewals possible for five years at similar amounts.

Together, the three institutions will conduct early phase cancer clinical trials sponsored by the NCI, which has established the experimental trials network to help speed the drug development process. More than 90 percent of new therapies don’t get past the first phase.

“Almost 1,600 people die from cancer every day in this country,” said Claire Dees, MD, co-leader of the Clinical Research Program at UNC Lineberger and the UNC Principal Investigator for the Duke-UNC- WUSTL partnership grant. “We need to rapidly develop new drugs, focusing on targeted therapies that address the genetics and biology of this disease. Bringing together the excellent science and clinical care of three great cancer centers, we hope to make oncology drug development smarter, faster and more successful.”

The three institutions collectively manage more than 18,000 new cancer cases each year and enroll more than 3,200 patients into early phase clinical trials. Through this partnership and membership in the ETCTN, the three institutions will combine their expertise in clinical care, basic science research, molecular genomic and proteomic profiling and biomarker development.

Their efforts will focus on five goals:

  • Establish a robust clinical trials infrastructure, relying on the expertise of each institution in organizing phase 1 studies and developing innovative strategies for new treatments.
  • Manage and enroll patients using established molecular profiling and large referral bases to include common and uncommon tumor types.
  • Develop and test novel biomarkers designed to identify potential predictors of treatment benefit for a broad spectrum of anti-cancer agents.
  • Rapidly analyze and extend the results of the partnership’s trials.
  • Train and foster the next generation of experts in oncology drug development.

In addition to Dees, principal investigators include Herbert I. Hurwitz, M.D., at Duke and A. Craig Lockhart, M.D., at Washington University in St. Louis.