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Six W.Va. hospitals form cancer trial network

ELKINS, W.Va. — The Davis Medical Center Cancer Care Center has joined five other West Virginia facilities to form the West Virginia Cancer Clinical Trials Network.

The goal of the network is to allow patients to participate in clinical trials of new cancer treatments.

Dr. Donald R. Fleming, MD, is the director of Oncology at the DMC Cancer Care Center and helped spearhead the formation of the network. Fleming is a board-certified medical oncologist and hematologist.

“Not many states have a real cohesive and well-organized oncology program,” Fleming explained. “Only a handful does, so it will be something unique for West Virginia to have. I’m excited about it because it’s going to give us access to clinical trials that we wouldn’t have had access to before because it’s just a lot of work for one small entity to get up and running.

“Its time-consuming if you do it with your own staff and don’t have someone else out there handling the legal issues and the data management and all these things that have to go into it, because we don’t do trials only for the purpose of the patient who’s on the trial, but to come up with new treatments in the future.

“This is important for any state,” Fleming said, “but the state of West Virginia has the highest mortality rate of cancer of any state in the country per capita for various reasons. Tobacco use and even obesity is a major factor in that. That is a very important issue to deal with.”

Fleming explained the network would be a consortium of six centers.

“It’s going to grow as time goes on but we’re kind of the founding members,” he said.

“Basically what we’re going to do is combine our resources to have a person organize all of this for us so they can bring us these clinical trials and it takes, instead of 50 steps, it takes 20 steps to get a clinical trial going,” Fleming said.

“This organization is going to be looking at prevention, treatment, diagnostics, interventions as well as supportive care for cancer patients.” Fleming explained. “So it’s the whole realm of activity that needs to be taking place to manage cancer patients or even prevent cancer, or to support them through cancer treatments. That’s what this organization is all about.”

Fleming said information about new trials would be made available to the members of the network who then decide if they have enough patients to put on the trial.

“If enough of us are interested in doing it then they go ahead with it. Its basically a democracy, if enough of us give a thumbs up, then they go ahead with it.

“Breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, those are probably the ones I’ll open up trials to apply to as many people as possible,” Fleming said. “If they need to go on a trial that I don’t offer, I would refer that patient if there were a trial they needed to be on elsewhere.

Fleming explained there are basically two types of trials.

“There are inter-group trials in which a major cancer research group sponsors the clinical trial. There are also pharmaceutical company driven trials sponsored by major companies such as Bristol Myers, Celgene, Amgen and Genentech,” he said. “We’ll be looking at both of those.”

Fleming added, “Only about 5 percent of adults go on clinical trials when they have cancer. The reason is we come with excess baggage, as we get older. We don’t all qualify for all these studies. If you look at children, a big majority of children go on clinical trials. Children are basically a clean slate, they don’t have anything problem wise other than the cancer.”

“A lot of patients say, ‘I’m not interested in clinical trials, I just want what’s established,'” Fleming explained. “They don’t realize the things they’re getting today depended on someone doing a clinical trial in the past.”

Fleming said clinical trials for a new treatment are generally divided into three phases. The first phase is used to determine if a drug is safe to use with humans.

“We probably won’t do a lot of those but it’s possible,” Fleming said.

In phase two, everyone gets the treatment to look at how efficacious or effective it is.

Phase three trials utilize a control group. Fleming explained that a new treatment is compared to a established treatment.

“These can be double-blinded which they tend to be because that takes the bias out of the study,” he said.

Fleming said the network has already circulated information about the first trial.

“I’ve shown some interest in it. It (the network) is going now but we sort of have to test the waters first,” he said.

Other hospitals in the network include Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University in Morgantown, Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg, St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, Camden Clark Memorial Hospital in Parkersburg and United Hospital Center in Bridgeport.

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