By Richard Babich
Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in the nation.
That’s one of the reasons hospitals statewide will be working together to extend the length of and increase the quality of life for cancer patients by bringing in a cancer trial network.
On Thursday afternoon, officials gathered at Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown to announce the West Virginia Cancer Clinical Trials Network, which would allow patients to receive clinical cancer treatments at six hospital across the state. The goal of having a network of hospitals is to extend the length and quality of life for current cancer patients.
Dr. Scot Remick, the director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University and co-chairman of the West Virginia Cancer Clinical Trials Network, announces the West Virginia Cancer Clinical Trials Network on Thursday at the Waterfront Place Hotel.
Dr. Scot Remick, the director of the Mary Babb Randolph
Cancer Center at West Virginia University and co-
chairman of the West Virginia Cancer Clinical Trials
Network, explained that this network is not about about WVU but is statewide in scope. Remick said this network would increase the availability of trials to treat cancer and could help to bring residents who are receiving trial treatments from outside West Virginia back into the state.
The facilities listed in the first phase of the network are the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, Berkeley Medical Center, Davis Memorial Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center, Camden Clark Memorial Hospital and United Hospital Center.
Remick said when the network is open, it will provide clinical trials, which will provide treatments using new drugs from pharmaceutical companies. He said the three goals are to provide access to clinical trials, educate patients and families about the trials, and have tiered initiatives.
Dr. Christopher Colenda, the president and chief executive officer of the West Virginia United Health System, brought up his wife, a cancer patient who was enrolled in a clinical trial after surgery. Trials are double blind studies, which means both the doctor and the patient do not know whether they were given a placebo or the real treatment.
“In order to advance knowledge about which treatments work the best, the vehicle that allows you to do
that is a clinical trial because it looks at a large number of patients who have gotten treatment A versus treatment B and you can compare the differences,” Colenda said.
This allows the results of the different groups of patients to be compared to see if a treatment was more effective than the placebo, he said.
Colenda said people may be afraid of clinical trials.
“That is a normal human response, but in order for us to understand treatment outcomes, we have to use clinical trials to improve the health and well-being of patients who have diseases like cancer,” Colenda said.
Colenda explained that penicillin, a common antibiotic, was at first given in clinical trials to treat pneumonia.
Dr. Clay Marsh, the vice president and executive dean of Health Sciences at WVU, said bringing clinical trials into the state would have implications at WVU. He said it is important to bring the most cutting- edge treatments to WVU, which would enable the school to bring more specific treatments to people who have cancer.
“To look at cancer at a more molecular and genetic level and to be able to identify the exact targets that we treat with new drugs and existing drugs is an opportunity to help me live longer and better, which is our goal at West Virginia University Health Sciences and to create really capable teams at the clinical level, at the research level and then teach other people how to do that,” Marsh said. “You can only do that if you test new therapies.”
Another important aspect of having this network with hospitals across the state is bringing the care closer to the homes of patients and their families.
“Cancer patients and cancer families in this state are often underserved. They don’t all have equal access to cancer clinical trials,” Remick said. “There is the firm belief of our organization and me as a cancer physician that access to clinical trials is access to state-of-the-art cancer care. That is why it is important. It is trying to make an option available to patients and families in West Virginia that they may not otherwise have.”
This is not the first clinical trial in the state, but it helps prevent cancer patients from going out of state, Remick said. One such practice in Elkins will bring clinical trials into that area.
Remick said not every patient is eligible for a trial, nor are all patients willing to be part of a trial. Patients in these trials may even be compared to other patients going through the same trial nationally.
Richard Babich is a writer for the Times West Virginian in Fairmont