Cancer center to expand clinical trials

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2007

By Staff
Designation opens options for doctors, patients
The cancer center at Beaufort County Hospital was one of seven sites selected last week to be included in a program that allows it to pick which clinical drug trials it conducts on its own.
The Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center has conducted trials before under the umbrella of larger research hospitals or drug companies. Twenty-nine hospitals applied to be added to the program, which falls under the National Cancer Institute. Among the seven sites selected nationwide, the Shepard center is among the smallest if not the smallest, according to Jenny Hopkins, the manager of the independent clinical research site committee. With the addition of the seven sites, there are now 51 hospitals in the national program.
By participating in clinical trials, patients get access to new treatments that are not available to the general population. The results of the studies may help other people in the future.
The breast cancer drug Herceptin was part of a recent clinical trial. Until it was FDA approved, doctors could not prescribe it unless the patient was involved in the clinical trial. The trial showed Herceptin in combination with chemotherapy not only battled the cancer but reduced the risk of recurrence by 50 percent in patients whose disease was detected early.
There are different levels of clinical trials. The first level deals with the toxicity of new drugs. The more advanced trials measure the value of drugs or a combination of treatments with traditional methods. The Shepard center will deal with the more advanced trials, said Dr. John Inzerillo, a medical oncologist at the Shepard center.
Patients who participate in clinical trials do so by choice and can drop out at any time. Along with normal treatment, patients in clinical trials get additional monitoring to learn about side effects and benefits of the drugs in question. In some cases, the drug themselves are free in trials.
The Shepard center is already participating in 20 clinical trials through programs by drug companies, Pitt County Memorial Hospital and Duke Medical Center. Now with the approval of the National Cancer Institute that figure could easily double, Crews said. New trials could be available at the local center in a matter of weeks and as many as 60 trials are offered through the Cancer Trials Support Unit program.
Other centers approved for the program are in Boston, Indianapolis, Washington D.C. and Fort Worth, Texas. Outside major medical centers, the drug trial program had been closed to new applicants since 2005, but the decision was made to open it back up this year. There are no immediate plans to expand the program further at this time.
The Shepard center opened in January 2006 and is in the process of building a radiation therapy center. When it is opened, the center will mean patients can be treated in Washington instead going to Greenville or New Bern.