The Stephenson Cancer Center at OU Medicine announced that it has been awarded a $10.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to expand its nationally recognized clinical trials program.
The co-principal investigators for the grant are Kathleen Moore, M.D., Virginia Kerley Cade Endowed Chair in Cancer Developmental Therapeutics and Associate Director for Clinical Research at the Stephenson Cancer Center, and Joan Walker, M.D., Louise and Clay Bennett Endowed Chair in Cancer and Professor and Chief, Section of Gynecologic Oncology, at the OU College of Medicine.
For the past two years, the Stephenson Cancer Center has ranked No. 1 among all cancer centers in the nation for the number of patients participating in clinical trials sponsored through the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network. That distinction stands not only for the past two years, but for the last five years cumulatively. In addition, the Stephenson Cancer Center has been a top three site nationally for the number of patients participating in NCI-sponsored precision medicine trials.
Robert Mannel, M.D., director of the Stephenson Cancer Center, attributed the center’s success in clinical research to physician and staff commitment to each patient who receives care at the cancer center.
“The mission of the Stephenson Cancer Center is to improve patient outcomes and reduce the burden of cancer for all Oklahomans,” he said. “One of the most important ways we do that is by offering a large portfolio of early- and late-phase clinical trials for all types and stages of cancer. This provides our patients access to the newest and most promising treatment, screening and diagnosis options.”
With this multimillion-dollar NCI grant, the Stephenson Cancer Center continues its status as a Lead Academic Participating Site in the National Clinical Trials Network, which was established by the NCI in 2014. Comprised of 30 of the top cancer centers in the nation, the National Clinical Trials Network is the largest clinical trials infrastructure in the nation for establishing new standards of cancer care and setting the stage for the approval of new therapies by the Food and Drug Administration.
The new six-year NCI grant will allow the Stephenson Cancer Center to continue to expand its robust clinical trials portfolio and infrastructure. Specifically, it will support the addition of new clinical research staff with expertise in research nursing, study coordination, regulatory affairs and data management.
“This new grant also supports NCI clinical trial staff and other infrastructure at Oklahoma Cancer Specialists and Research Institute (OCSRI) in Tulsa,” Mannel explained. “Through its affiliate relationship with OCSRI, the Stephenson Cancer Center is able to provide Oklahomans in Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma with access to NCI-sponsored clinical trials.”
Since it was initially designated a Lead Academic Participating Site in 2014, the Stephenson Cancer Center has made several groundbreaking clinical trials available to Oklahoma patients. Among them was NCI-MATCH, a precision medicine treatment trial in which eligible patients were “matched” with state-of-the-art therapies based on the genetic changes found in their specific tumors. NCI-MATCH, which is ongoing, is one of the largest precision medicine trials being conducted in the world.
“This innovative trial offers personalized therapy to patients,” Moore said. “Each patient on the trial had their tumor biopsied and sequenced to see if they had a gene mutation that was known to respond to a specific drug. It didn’t matter what type of cancer they had – they received the drug treatments for which their molecular alteration matched.”
Another achievement was the Stephenson Cancer Center’s participation in an NCI-sponsored clinical trial that evaluated immunotherapy combinations for women whose ovarian cancer had been previously treated but recurred.
“That study showed that we doubled response rates with two immunotherapies instead of one, and it has opened the door to further drug development of combination immunotherapies in ovarian cancer,” Moore said. “We had several patients who participated in that trial and responded well to therapy.”
In May 2018, the Stephenson Cancer Center was awarded the prestigious “NCI Designation” status from the National Cancer Institute. This highly competitive distinction places the Stephenson Cancer Center among the top 70 cancer centers in the nation, and it culminates more than 15 years of effort to develop a world-class cancer center in Oklahoma.
During his visit to Oklahoma last spring for the NCI Designation announcement, former NCI Director Ned Sharpless, M.D., praised Stephenson Cancer Center’s commitment to clinical research: “Clinical trials are the way we change the standard of care, and they are absolutely important for progress against cancer. The Stephenson Cancer Center does that about as well as anybody in the country.”
Cancer research, with an emphasis in clinical trials and tobacco-related research, at the Stephenson Cancer Center receive funding from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET). An endowment created by the voters in 2000 to improve the health of Oklahomans, TSET is dedicated to reducing the state’s leading causes of preventable death – cancer and cardiovascular disease – caused by tobacco use and obesity.