Affiliation with National Cancer Institute makes novel cancer treatments available to patients

Thomas George, M.D., at a weekly GI tumor board meeting, in which physicians gather to discuss their patients’ cases and determine treatment options. The University of Florida Health Cancer Center has been accepted into an exclusive national clinical trials network that will give UF Health cancer patients access to leading-edge clinical trials.

The UF Health Cancer Center joined the National Cancer Institute’s Experimental Therapeutics Clinical Trial Network, or ETCTN, in December under the leadership of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Membership is typically reserved for cancer centers that hold special designation by the NCI and account for only a fraction of centers nationwide; the UF Health Cancer Center is an exception.

“Being a member of the ETCTN, which was previously restricted to NCI-designated cancer centers, is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that we are ready for inclusion in this coveted group — as scientists, oncologists and as an institution,” said Thomas George, M.D., the associate director for clinical investigations at the Cancer Center.

As a member of the network, the UF Health Cancer Center can give patients access to early phase experimental therapeutic clinical trials — research studies that assess new treatments for efficacy and safety. Such novel treatments are developed by scientists across the NCI’s network of centers and conducted at ETCTN locations.

“Over the next few weeks we are selecting clinical trials of high priority to our patients here at the Cancer Center and beginning the process of bringing those therapies into clinics,” said George, also the director of the experimental therapeutics incubator at UF. “We anticipate having the first set of these trials to offer to patients in early spring 2018.”

Membership in the ETCTN provides UF Health Cancer Center researchers and clinicians funding to conduct these investigations and a platform to present their ideas for the development of new treatments as clinical trials — while allowing collaboration with other leading cancer centers, said George.

The ETCTN was launched in 2014 as part of an existing NCI program that partners pharmaceutical companies developing novel anticancer agents with a group of select cancer centers, now comprising the ETCTN, to conduct early phase clinical trials to test the efficacy and safety of these agents. Since its founding in 1998, the program has contributed to the development of numerous anticancer agents or combination therapies.

The ETCTN now has over 70 participating cancer centers across the nation. These centers have demonstrated a commitment to outstanding patient safeguards, infrastructure and expertise, according to the NCI website. Centers are grouped into teams to increase efficiency in bringing treatment therapies to patients, and each team is placed under one of 12 leading academic organizations.

As part of membership, representatives from the UF Health Cancer Center meet weekly with representatives from its ETCTN team, which includes the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, UPMC Montefiore Hospital and Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, to discuss the development of new studies, the progress of patients enrolled in trials and administrative efforts across the ETCTN. ETCTN membership is maintained for a minimum of 18 months.

“We are confident that our membership will be renewed thereafter, having demonstrated our scientific commitment to our cancer patients, their needs and our unique contributions to this internationally renowned group,” George said.