VARI cancer work could include GR patients

May 31, 2009
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Pancreatic cancer patients in Grand Rapids hospitals could be eligible for clinical trials related to a ground-breaking $18 million research project in conjunction with the Van Andel Research Institute’s new partner in Phoenix.

“We have begun work with clinical groups here to identify for collaboration, at Spectrum (Health) and Mark Campbell and his group, a framework for interaction” to recruit and select patients for the trial, said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, president and research director of Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix. As of July 1, Trent takes on the same roles at the VARI. Dr. Mark Campbell oversees Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan, Michigan’s largest group of chemotherapy specialists.

Some 100 patients per year undergo surgery for pancreatic cancer in Grand Rapids, Trent said.

“We quite literally are engaged in a set of deliverables associated with this initiative, and that includes enrolling patients on defined clinical trials, especially the one that would relate to profiling patients prospectively for genomic and protein profiling,” he said.

Those profiles would produce information that would allow for treatments to be chosen based on each patient’s specific genetic fingerprint, Trent explained. The research will involve one trial looking at existing chemotherapy used in new ways and another would combine a standard drug with a new one. The hope is that, for this study, some of the patients would be enrolled here in Grand Rapids,” he said.

“(VARI Scientific Investigator) Craig Webb is one of the key scientists here at the Van Andel Institute,” he added, noting that Webb, head of VARI’s Program for Translational Medicine, worked on a 50-patient profiling pilot study. “We’re going to actually leverage onto the work he’s done, and the infrastructure. We’ll begin to align the work that Craig is involved in rapidly.”

TGen is sharing the grant with the University of Pennsylvania for a project called “Cutting Off the Fuel Supply: A New Approach to the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer.”

The award is part of $73.6 million in grants handed out last week by Stand Up to Cancer, a nonprofit established by cancer scientists and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to back new treatments.

The money is going to five multi-disciplinary “Dream Teams” that encompass multiple researchers and institutions on each team. Those five were chosen from among 400 applications, Trent said.

In September, the three national television broadcast networks donated one hour of commercial-free time and joined forces to appeal to the public for donations for SU2C. The effort raised nearly $100 million.

“We wanted to do something dramatic,” said Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, TGen’s physician-in-chief. “It is going to take a tremendous amount of real thinking power to make that difference, so it is a dream come true to be able to put this team together to work toward this goal.”

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