Pitt Cancer Institute Receives Grants of Nearly $10 Million

Issue Date: 
May 5, 2014

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has been awarded two grants—totaling nearly $10 million—from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The money will help bring the latest research developments out of the lab and to patients, as well as accelerate research into such areas as rare tumors.

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute is one of only 12 centers in the country to receive the grant named the NCI Experimental Therapeutics-Clinical Trials Network with Phase I Emphasis. And it is the only center in Pennsylvania to receive a Lead Academic Participating Site grant under the NCI’s new clinical-trials network.

The awards reflect the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s status as one of the country’s premier academic cancer research centers. It is the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, and through the network of its clinical partner, UPMC CancerCenter, several thousand patients are able to participate in clinical trials each year.

“Participating in a clinical trial is the optimal form of therapy for patients who are willing and able—and it allows us to learn something for the future along the way. We are grateful for the support of our patients and providers who have been an integral part of our success and helped us attain these two very important awards,” said Nancy E. Davidson, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the UPMC CancerCenter.

One grant, the NCI Experimental Therapeutics-Clinical Trials Network with Phase I Emphasis, is led by Edward Chu, deputy director, University of Pittsburgh CancerCenter. This $4.25 million, five-year grant funds complex research into new drug therapies. 

“Our focus is on developing completely novel agents and combination regimens. We also are trying to understand how some of these new targeted therapies work and how we can apply science to individually tailor these new treatments to specific cancers,” Chu said.

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s team approach to research—comprising expertise in pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and basic science—makes it uniquely qualified to lead efforts in drug development, he noted. 

“We have a large patient base that allows us to do these novel first-in-man studies. The large majority of the patients who are referred to us have failed standard-of-care therapies, and they are looking for new treatments,” Chu said.

For the second grant, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has been named a Lead Academic Participating Site in the new National Clinical Trials Network. The network is designed to speed up the pace of getting research from the lab to patients through technological advances and enhanced cooperation. This award, valued at nearly $5 million, is led by Adam Brufsky, associate director for clinical investigation, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. The grant will fund the costs of maintaining a clinical trials infrastructure that permits patients to enroll in trials led by the National Clinical Trials Network at more than a dozen sites across the UPMC CancerCenter network.

“We’re excited to play a vital role in this new system and expand access to trials all over western Pennsylvania,” Brufsky said.

As part of the award, Brufsky will lead a group of physicians and researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute that includes Dwight E. Heron, Mark Socinski, John Kirkwood, and Robert P. Edwards.

The National Clinical Trials Network replaces earlier cooperative networks that were based on a model developed more than 50 years ago. NCI officials hope the new network will speed research by improving data management infrastructure, developing a standardized process for prioritizing new studies, consolidating research groups to improve efficiency, and implementing a unified system of research-participant protection at more than 3,000 clinical trials sites. 

One key feature of the new clinical trials network will be its ability to facilitate the conduct of trials regarding rare tumors—a type of trial where patient accrual has always been very difficult. The national network’s ability to locate and enroll patients with unusual cancers should enhance the feasibility of conducting such studies. Also, as more cancers are molecularly defined and classified into smaller subsets, the new network structure will support molecular screening studies, which are needed to define and locate smaller groups of patients who might be eligible for such studies.

“It has always been our mission at UPMC CancerCenter to provide the best care possible to patients in their own communities, and this grant enhances our ability to do that,” Davidson said.