SAN ANTONIO (August 4, 2009) — The National Cancer Institute, the nation’s top cancer research organization, has renewed the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio as one of its NCI-designated Cancer Centers for three years. The distinction comes with $5.4 million in new federal funding through 2012 to sustain and grow the cancer center’s rapidly expanding research programs, now consisting of 140 scientists at work on a multitude of cancer projects.
Designation benefits patients, cancer research, regional economy
“Keeping the words ‘NCI-designated Cancer Center’ next to our name is the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from the NCI,” said Tyler Curiel, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of the CTRC at the UT Health Science Center and an internationally known ovarian cancer researcher. “We are enormously proud that the quality of our programs has merited this highly competitive designation without interruption since 1991.”
The successful renewal follows a rigorous -ten month scientific and administrative evaluation of CTRC programs by a 16-member NCI-appointed review panel made up of directors and scientists from top cancer centers around the country.
“San Antonio and South Texas patients are the winners today, because an NCI-designated Cancer Center gives patients access to the latest, best and potentially most effective drugs and clinical trials to treat their disease,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., M.A.C.P., president of the Health Science Center. “The close association with the NCI allows NCI-designated Cancer Centers access to information and discoveries, including a pipeline of new treatment possibilities. That’s why patients travel long distances to receive care here.”
Texas has three NCI-designated Cancer Centers. The CTRC is the only one in South Texas and serves 4.4 million people in the high-growth corridor of Central and South Texas that includes Austin, San Antonio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. The other two are in Houston: the U.T. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor.
Besides driving cancer research, an NCI-designated Cancer Center is an engine for regional economic growth, said Henry Cisneros, chairman of the executive committee of BioMed SA, a non-profit organization that promotes San Antonio as a city of science and health. “This designation, with its funding, is an indication of San Antonio’s strength as a biomedical hub and its increasing prominence in the nation’s health care and science industry,” he said.
But the impact of NCI designation is greatest on the patients who depend on the CTRC for the best available treatment and access to clinical trials.
Elizabeth Boyer, 52, from San Antonio, has advanced, metastatic ovarian cancer that resisted all standard therapies. She was referred to Dr. Curiel at the CTRC, where she agreed to enroll in a clinical trial of a novel immunotherapy for cancer. Boyer agreed to become the first patient to try this treatment after seeing its very promising response rates in mice. Today Boyer’s cancer is stable and she is enjoying a new granddaughter whom she thought she might never see.
“I’m alive today because CTRC gave me the chance to try something new — and it worked,” Boyer said.
The CTRC also offers many other investigational treatments for a variety of cancers. Many such treatments promise to be more selective in targeting cancer cells while causing less damage to healthy tissue. CTRC investigators are leaders in developing many of these new classes of treatments. For example, Susan Mooberry, Ph.D., studies natural products for leads and has found an agent that might work when standard treatments fail. LuZhe Sun, Ph.D., and colleagues have identified drugs that block critical growth signal pathways in cancer cells.
CTRC is testing more than 100 new drugs in pre-clinical and clinical studies. Each year, more than 700 patients from around the country come to the CTRC’s Institute for Drug Development (IDD) to participate in clinical trials. Many of the most important and effective cancer drugs currently in use today were either developed or first tested at the IDD. The IDD, led by Francis Giles, M.D., M.B, deputy director of the CTRC at the UT Health Science Center, partners with the NCI, academic collaborators, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies around the world to identify promising new cancer approaches. The IDD is among the world’s largest Phase I clinical research studies programs for evaluating new cancer drugs. Phase I clinical research studies involve early examination of a new compound or approach and are important initial steps toward approval from regulatory authorities, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In addition to caring for individual patients, it is the mission and obligation of NCI-designated Cancer Centers to improve the health of communities. NCI funding has allowed the CTRC, through the Institute for Health Promotion Research in the Health Science Center’s School of Medicine, to be part of a new multi-group partnership, the San Antonio Tobacco Prevention & Control Coalition, to create a cigarette smoke-free city. The CTRC also helps promote cancer screening programs, particularly in Latino neighborhoods.
Community partnerships permit access to novel and beneficial treatments for patients throughout San Antonio. Affiliations exist with the University Health System, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care, the Cancer Care Centers of South Texas, the Baptist Health System, Brooke Army Medical Center, and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System’s Audie L. Murphy Division.
Funds from the grant that accompanies NCI designation renewal are earmarked to strengthen the cancer center’s infrastructure, and provide the financial flexibility necessary for investigators to pursue new scientific opportunities as they arise.
The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the nation’s leading academic research and treatment centers, serving more than 4.4 million people in the high-growth corridor of Central and South Texas including Austin, San Antonio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. CTRC is one of the elite cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center, and is one of only three in Texas. A world leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) is internationally recognized for conducting one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in the clinical and/or preclinical development of many of the cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit our Web site at www.ctrc.net.