National Cancer Institute Approves $10 Million Award for OHSU Cancer Institute

07/18/05    Portland, Ore.

OHSU Cancer Institute brings network of national experts to Oregon's cancer patients

PORTLAND, Ore. - A five-year, $10 million award recently approved by the National Cancer Institute for the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute will result in broader access for Oregonians to the NCI's vast national network of cancer expertise. The OHSU Cancer Institute is the first and only cancer research and care center in Oregon to earn a place in the prestigious NCI Cancer Centers Program.

"There is no reason for an Oregonian to leave the state to take advantage of the most current cancer care," said Grover Bagby, Jr., M.D., director of the OHSU Cancer Institute. "National and world leaders in cancer care and research, and the clinical trials they lead, are available right here at the OHSU Cancer Institute."

The NCI award is associated with the renewal of the university's membership in the NCI Cancer Centers Program.

"The National Cancer Institute's cancer center program review process is rigorous and thorough," said Peter Kohler, M.D., OHSU president. "Renewal of this designation cements OHSU's role as a center of excellence for cancer care and research in Oregon."

Membership in the NCI Cancer Centers Program means that OHSU patients get cutting-edge cancer care. It is a national connection through which Oregon patients benefit from the work of cancer experts throughout the country. Also, clinical trials conducted by the OHSU Cancer Institute bring life-saving techniques, drugs and treatments to Oregon patients. The region's cancer patients have access to more than 200 open clinical trials through the OHSU Cancer Institute.

The 60 institutions in NCI's Cancer Centers Program essentially are NCI's research arm. OHSU and the other member institutions investigate the potential causes of cancer and develop therapies aimed at ending cancer.

"Earning a place in the NCI cancer center program enhances our ability to move the newest cancer science into patient care. No one else in the state does that," said Craig Nichols, M.D., associate director for clinical research in the OHSU Cancer Institute; and professor of medicine and head of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Cancer is a complex array of different diseases, so the multidisciplinary attention and treatment each  OHSU patient receives is one unique feature of care at the OHSU Cancer Institute. Its members are researchers and physicians who are specialists in fields ranging from specific types of cancer-such as leukemia, prostate cancer and pediatric cancers-to epidemiology and bioinformatics.

The multidisciplinary approach also embraces the array of specialists involved in treating cancer: radiologists, surgeons, anesthesiologists, pathologists, nurses, nutritionists, statisticians and technicians, among others. OHSU offers all of their services and expertise under one umbrella.

Bagby championed the creation of the OHSU Cancer Institute in the early 1990s to foster close collaboration between cancer researchers and physicians in developing therapies. The OHSU Cancer Institute first received NCI designation in 1997.

"The OHSU Cancer Institute was founded on the principle of developing less toxic cancer treatments and new strategies for cancer prevention based on the molecular causes of the disease," Bagby said. "The Institute assures that the research  evolves rapidly to  benefit the patient and people at risk for cancer."

Today, about 120 clinical researchers, population scientists and basic scientists affiliated with the OHSU Cancer Institute are improving cancer care by translating scientific understanding into better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. Each year these researchers and scientists attract about $50 million in competitive research grants to Oregon.

"If it weren't for the OHSU Cancer Institute, there would be no Gleevec," said Nichols, who also is well known for treating six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong for testicular cancer.

OHSU Cancer Institute researchers developed Gleevec, one of the most celebrated advances in cancer medicine in a generation. In developing the pill for chronic myelogenous leukemia, researchers used their knowledge of the molecular defect at the heart of the disease to develop the first anti-cancer therapy that targets only abnormal cells while leaving healthy cells intact. Researchers then applied this model of molecular understanding to another cancer, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, for which Gleevec also proved effective.

"Through Gleevec, we have proved to the world that if you understand the underlying molecular mechanism behind cancer, you can do something about it," Bagby said. "Our goal now is to apply this model broadly across all cancers and focus on the molecular defects common among malignant tumors and molecular mechanisms that result in high risk for cancer.  These molecular principles will form the basis for new diagnostics, treatments, and preventions so that our children and grandchildren can live without fear of cancer."