WASHINGTON – The only cancer center in the Rocky Mountain region will use its share of a $5.7 million grant to focus on increasing the involvement of elderly patients in drug tests.
The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Aurora was among six research hospitals chosen Wednesday to receive grants given by the National Cancer Institute and five pharmaceutical companies.
“We were the one center that was selected in providing access to clinical trials of older people,” said Dr. Michele Basche of the CU Health Sciences Center after a press conference to announce the grants.
“We need more clinical volunteers of all shapes and sizes,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thomson.
Many of the advances made in cancer research are found through clinical trials,and the experience of volunteers is usually positive,said Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach,director of the National Cancer Institute. However,the NCI estimates that just 3 percent of cancer patients participate in clinical trials,von Eschenbach said.
The grant to the CU center will focus on increasing the number of Phase I patients over 65,Basche said. Phase I trials test a drug’s safety and toxicity.
“Over half of the people diagnosed with cancer are over age 65,” Basche said. “Very few actually participate in clinical trials.”
She said the cancer center will begin interviewing patients about the barriers they face in participating in clinical trials,such as transportation and anxiety.
To combat the transportation problem,Basche said CU would use some of the money so that patients from outside Denver can participate through their own doctors instead of needing to travel to the CU center. CU will also look into providing transportation to its new cancer center at the Fitzsimons campus in Aurora.
Other cancer centers selected for the grant will focus on getting more minority cancer patients into clinical trials. Several types of cancer rates are much higher in ethnic minorities,according the Friends of Cancer Research.
“Secretary Thomson,please hear the cries of African Americans,” said Charlene Wallace,a 42-year-old breast cancer patient from Washington.
While the focus of CU's grant will be on the elderly,Basche said elderly minorities will be sought for clinical testing,and Spanish interpreters will be made available.
Colorado Republican Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell praised the CU center and the grant.
“I'm very proud to see the University of Colorado center receive such a prestigious award,” Allard said.
Campbell said the grant money will help find a cure to a disease that can be cured.
“It's a tragedy in all of our lives when you lose a family member to a disease we know there's a cure for,” he said.
The pharmaceutical companies Aventis,Bristol-Myers Squibb,Eli Lilly and Co.,GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis donated $2.7 million,and the National Cancer Institute provided the other $3 million for the grant.
The non-profit groups Friends of Cancer Research and the Foundation of the National Institutes of Health helped create the public-private partnership last year.
The University of California-Davis Cancer Center,Massachusetts General Hospital,Washington University – St. Louis,the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute are the other institutions receiving grants.