University of Colorado Cancer Center is seeing an uptick in the enrollment of patients for cancer clinical trials thanks to a grant that allows participants to sign-up across the Front Range.

It’s complicated

First, the background. CU Cancer Center is Colorado’s only comprehensive cancer center as designated by the National Cancer Institute. That means oncology patients can enroll in a variety of clinical trials examining investigational therapeutic agents, lifestyle interventions and other treatment protocols through the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). These patients have access to treatments not available at every health care facility in the state. That’s where UCHealth enters the picture. UCHealth is a Front Range health system that provides extensive cancer treatments at University of Colorado Hospital, Memorial Hospital Central, Memorial Hospital North, Poudre Valley Hospital, and Medical Center of the Rockies, allowing oncology patients across the Front Range better access cancer clinical trials through the NCTN.

 Another acronym

Thirty academic institutions, including CU Cancer Center, receive funding through the NCTN as part of Lead Academic Participating Site (LAPS) grant. To receive the LAPS award, academic institutions have to demonstrate an ability to enroll high numbers of patients. The institutions also must demonstrate leadership in cancer science and in the design and administration of cancer clinical trials. The increased level of patient enrollment means more staff is required to manage research protocols and trial data. The LAPS grant supports this increased work load for the main member and it’s integrated component sites (see graphic). It also allows for some funding of scientific and administrative leadership.

What does it all mean?

Now you know that CU Cancer Center is a recipient of the NCI’s LAPS grant. You also know that means patients can enroll in cancer clinical trials at University of Colorado Hospital, Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, and Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins. That’s a great development for patients living outside the Denver metro area because for some patients that means less time travelling to clinical trial visits. CU Cancer Center affiliates at St Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, Shaw Center Center in Edwards, and Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, also can enroll in clinical trials offered at those sites.

How it works

CU Cancer Center monitors new clinical trials offered through NCTN. When a new trial is offered, research leadership at individual UCHealth hospitals take a look at whether they can realistically enroll patients in the trial. If the answer is yes, the LAPS committee then reviews this information and makes the decision whether to move forward based on existing and possibly competing clinical trials already enrolling patients. If the committee wants to move forward, CU Cancer Center support staff then provides the necessary regulatory support for consents, protocols and data management.

Why people with cancer benefit

CU Cancer Center was awarded the LAPS grant in 2014. The idea is to offer patients at UCHealth in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs the opportunity to go on a clinical trial close to home.

“When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, the last thing they want is to travel to participate in a clinical trial,” said Anthony Elias, MD, CU Cancer Center investigator and principal investigator for the LAPS grant. “This funding gives CU Cancer Center the chance to give more patients more options, closer to home that can potentially help them live longer with a better quality of life.”

The first year of the grant, 76 patients enrolled, The second year, 93 enrolled. At 67 participants so far in 2016, the LAPS team is confident there will be another increase in enrollment.

The trials offered through the grant include an investigator initiated trial to look at the effectiveness of a shorter course of radiation therapy for some breast cancer patients.

“When we first received the LAPS award, we were only able to offer clinical trials for investigational agents,” said Elias. “Now we are enrolling patients across UCHealth in the breast cancer radiation protocol which could change the way breast cancer is treated.”

The trial will help determine whether a much shorter course of radiation therapy is effective for certain breast cancer patients. The typical course of radiation therapy for breast cancer patients is 25-33 daily treatments, lasting a few minutes each weekday over  a period of five or six weeks.  Clinical trial participants with node-positive breast cancer will receive 15-19 treatments over three to four weeks. Such “hypofractionated radiation therapy” (fewer, larger radiation treatments) is already the new standard of care for node-negative lumpectomy patients.

“We want our patients to get the best care possible,” said Elias. “We also want them to receive it in the most efficient way. Trials like this help CU Cancer Center advance cancer protocols for our patients and patients all over the country. It would not be possible to gather the data we need without patients across UCHealth.”

Trials enrolling patients across the Front Range include  a phase II trial looking at how well treatment directed by genetic testing works in patients with solid tumors or lymphomas that have progressed following at least one line of standard treatment or for which no agreed upon treatment approach exists.

For more information about cancer clinical trials at CU Cancer Center, please call the Cancer Clinical Trials Office at 720-848-0650.