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VCU Massey Cancer Center receives $4.4 million NCI grant to support a statewide cancer clinical trials network, foster minority access to trials and focus research on cancer disparities

Aug 19, 2014


VCU Massey Cancer Center was awarded a $4.4 million, 5-year, renewable grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support a statewide network for cancer clinical research in Virginia that brings state-of-the-art clinical trials to patients in their own communities and emphasizes the inclusion of minorities in clinical trials and a focus on research that addresses cancer disparities. Massey is one of only 12 institutions in the nation to receive this type of grant that fosters access to cancer research for minority and medically underserved patients.

The grant positions Massey as the academic, lead component of a Minority/Underserved NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP-MU). The goal of the NCORP-MU is to provide cancer patients, particularly minority and underserved patients, access to prevention, early detection and treatment clinical trials as well as cancer care delivery research. The ability for patients to join research studies in their own community allows them to stay close to family, friends, support systems and their local physicians and health organizations while they undergo treatment. The inclusion of minorities in research is critical to broadening the applicability of the research and helping to reduce the health disparities prevalent in these populations. The NCORP-MU at Massey will be led by co-principal investigators Charles Geyer, Jr., M.D., associate director for clinical research at Massey, Harry Bear, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of Massey’s Clinical Trials Office, and Cathy Bradley, Ph.D., M.P.A., associate director for cancer prevention and control at Massey.

“The grant establishes VCU Massey Cancer Center as a NCI-sanctioned headquarters for what is essentially a statewide network for clinical trials here in Virginia,” explained Geyer, lead principal investigator of the grant. “It will extend innovative cancer clinical research to a large base of community sites, provide opportunities for minority and medically underserved individuals to participate in cancer research and enhance the focus on disparities within clinical trials and cancer care delivery research studies.”

Eight community hospitals and oncology practices joined with Massey on the grant application. Many of these affiliates have previously partnered with Massey through its Research Affiliation Network, formed in 2009 to enable health systems and oncology medical practices throughout Virginia to access Massey’s excellence in research and expertise in developing and managing clinical trials. The Research Affiliation Network is led by Khalid Matin, M.D., F.A.C.P., medical director of community oncology and clinical research affiliations at Massey, and it is supported, in part, by Commonwealth of Virginia general funds and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission Fund, and the NCI grant leverages these state funds. The affiliates include: Hematology Oncology Associates of Fredericksburg and Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg; Lynchburg Hematology-Oncology Clinic in Lynchburg; Henrico Doctor’s Hospital/Virginia Gynecologic Oncology, Virginia Cancer Institute and Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond; VCU Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill; and Shenandoah Oncology in Winchester.

The network serves a catchment area that encompasses 3.8 million residents of Virginia, representing 46.2 percent of the state’s population, according to 2013 estimates by the Census Bureau. Overall, 36 counties in Virginia and five counties in Northeastern West Virginia are included in the catchment area, along with the city of Richmond. The catchment area has a large minority population, particularly African American, with average household income well below the national median and a sizable percentage between 40 to 64 years of age, as well as increased cancer incidence and mortality rates relative to the entire state. In total, Massey’s NCORP-MU involves more than 90 physicians, 36 nurse practitioners and 21 clinics.

Another goal of the NCORP-MU is to better integrate cancer care delivery research (CCDR) into Massey’s overall clinical trials program and to advance CCDR discoveries intopatient-centered medical care.CCDR is research that studies how social factors, financing systems, organizational structures/processes, health technologies and provider/patient behaviors affect cancer outcomes. Massey’s Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC) research program has a strong history of conducting CCDR, and the NCORP-MU will leverage these strengths to focus on the potential drivers of cancer disparities and approaches to alleviating disparities.  

“This grant demonstrates NCI’s recognition of the value of VCU Massey Cancer Center’s clinical trials network in including minorities, addressing cancer disparities and advancing the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” said Massey Director Gordon D. Ginder, M.D. “This federal support combined with the state’s support helps enable Massey to lead a statewide pursuit of research advances that will ultimately alleviate suffering from cancer.”

Massey’s Minority/Underserved NCORP will build upon the success of Massey’s previous efforts in a similar NCI-funded program known as the Minority-based Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP) that has been in place since 1990. The CCOP was established by the NCI as a network for connecting academic medical centers, which served as research bases designing and conducting cancer prevention and treatment trials, with community physicians, who help accrue patients to those trials. CCOPs that were selected as minority based were required to have 40 percent of their cancer patients come from minority populations. The NCORP will work in a similar fashion under the NCI’s reorganized National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). As a Minority/Underserved Community Site, the Massey NCORP must have a patient population comprising at least 30 percent racial/ethnic minorities or rural residents.

Primary oversight of Massey’s NCORP-MU will be provided by Geyer, who is also Harrigan, Haw, Luck Families Chair in Cancer Research, medical oncologist and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey as well as professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care at the VCU School of Medicine. Management of the NCORP treatment trials will be led by Bear, who is also chair of the Protocol Review & Monitoring Committee, director of the Breast Health Center, Dr. Walter Lawrence, Jr. Chair in Surgical Oncology and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey as well as professor of surgery and professor of microbiology and immunology at the VCU School of Medicine. The CCDR component will be directed by Bradley, who is also RGC Professor for Cancer Research at Massey as well as professor and chair of the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research and interim chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Health at VCU School of Medicine. 

Written by: Jenny Owen

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