Clinical trials can help patients such as Jimmy D. Alexander. Alexander, under the care of Dr. Larry Gluck entered a clinical trial – in fall 2011 when the 70-year-old was diagnosed with stage IV poorly-differentiated large cell carcinoma of the lung. At the time of the diagnosis, the cancer had already spread to Alexander’s right adrenal gland, which, statistically, meant that he would die within one year of being diagnosed. Doctors warned the family to hope for the best – but to ready his affairs immediately. That was almost eight years ago.
“We knew the diagnosis was bad, but we had hoped the clinical trial would give us a miracle. We’d never dreamed it would work as well it did,” said Alexander, a dapper 77-year-old who still visits Cancer Institute’s Butternut office weekly for a maintenance dose of one of his clinical trial medications. His constant companions are Jane, his high-school sweetheart and wife of almost 61 years, his Southern Baptist faith, his Clemson Tigers hat and his lucky tan jacket.
He began treatment with the SWOG S0819 clinical trial that used a combination of Carboplatin, Paclitaxel and Erbitux. The key – physicians hoped – was harnessing the right combination of drugs since different drugs kill cancer cells in different ways. For example, Carboplatin belongs to a class of medications that contain platinum compounds which work by damaging the cell’s DNA to kill cancer cells. Paclitaxel belongs to a class of medications called antimicrotubule agents that work by blocking cell growth and stopping cell division to kill cancer cells. Erbitux is a type of monoclonal antibody that works by binding to a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) which is on the surface of some types of cancer cells; researchers believe this binding may impede cancer cells from growing. The patient’s Carboplatin and Paclitaxel were completed after five cycles of treatment, but Alexander remains on a maintenance dose of Erbitux – provided by the research study – to this day.
“We’ve seen what clinical trials can do firsthand and want other families to have the same access that we did,” said Alexander. “We’re thrilled that Prisma Health is able to expand trials. People just don’t know realize what clinicals may be able to do – we don’t understand why more people don’t try to take advantage of them. They can be a lifesaver.”
“They can also be a tremendous financial help since costs for trial medications and most treatments are provided through the trials,” he said.
Even if this clinical trial hadn’t helped him at all, “I would still have done it because I know it could have helped someone else after me,” said Alexander, who is hailed as “Jimmy D” during his visits to the Butternut office, where staff regularly come by his infusion chair to give him a hug and check on him.
“It’s given my husband a wonderful quality of life,” said Jane Alexander of her husband, a retired engineer from GE who enjoys talking Clemson football, spending time with his wife, two daughters, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, many of whom shaved their hair in solidarity with “Pop” when his hair fell out during chemo. “But nothing stops him, he’s like a train. He still mows his own one-acre yard every week, and we still give each other a kiss every morning and one every night. Now, isn’t that a wonderful life?”
For physicians, that nearly-eight-year success could hold secrets for unlocking similar successes for other patients.
“What we learn from one patient helps that patient – but also many, many more,” said Giguere. “A unique aspect of research via the NCORP grant is that it interrogates every point on the cancer continuum from diagnosis, treatment, supportive care – as well as proactively evaluates cancer prevention and more effective and efficient ways of delivering cancer care.”
With a focus on translational research and personalized medicine, Prisma Health’ Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR) provides some of the most advanced cancer treatments available anywhere in the world, while supporting industry’s crucial need to achieve greater efficiency and expediency in bringing life-saving cancer drugs to patients. The effort to advance these dual goals was what led to the creation of ITOR in 2004.
ITOR is a major pillar of translational cancer research at Prisma Health. The efforts of ITOR include a Phase I Clinical Research Unit, a Biorepository Services platform, and proteomics and enomics capabilities.
ITOR advances cancer care on multiple levels, facilitating pioneering research as well as clinical care delivery. ITOR is committed to translational medicine, which is a branch of medical research that forges a direct link between basic research and patient care. In the case of drug therapies, translational medicine refers to the translation of basic research into beneficial drug treatments for patients.
ITOR focuses on discovering and developing drugs that help people who have cancer.
Prisma Health Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) is the first in the nation to be fully embedded into a cancer research and treatment program.
The HPL, which is working with a limited number of patients on a pilot basis, is a collaborative effort between Prisma Health and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. While its focus is on cancer survivor patients in the Prisma Health Cancer Institute, the lab will ultimately serve all Prisma Health clinical populations.
HPL traditionally have been the province of elite athletes who use the state-of-the-art analysis to improve performance. This the first time that an HPL has been used by a cancer institute to measure the changes in post-treatment cancer survivors — from whole body function all the way down the cellular level — in an effort to improve patient health and outcomes.
At Prisma Health Cancer Institute, we are committed to research in understanding and eliminating barriers to accessing high-quality cancer care. Cancer Care Delivery Research (CCDR) improves clinical outcomes and patient well-being by improving patient, clinician, and organizational factors influencing care delivery. Prisma Health’ CCDR team is comprised of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals committed to merging evidence-based cancer care with patients’ treatment preferences.
Leading the charge at Prisma Health is Matthew F. Hudson, PhD, MPH. Dr. Hudson is the Director of Cancer Care Delivery Research (CCDR). He oversees initiatives examining how social factors, health care infrastructure, provider and patient behavior impact cancer care quality. He co-chaired the National Cancer Institute’s CCDR Coordinating Committee and presently co-chairs NRG Oncology’s CCDR committee. Dr. Hudson is also a research director for Greenville Health System’s Health Sciences Center (HSC)-a regional academic/health care collaborative informing sound clinical practice. Through the HSC, Dr. Hudson contributes to scholarship on patient-centered models of care, healthcare workforce education and development, health care access, and population health. Dr. Hudson holds faculty appointments at Clemson University, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, and the Arnold School of Public Health (University of South Carolina). He teaches a course at the Arnold School entitled, “Comparative Effectiveness Research: Interface Opportunity for Public Health and Medicine”.
O’Rourke, M. A., O’Rourke, M. C., & Hudson, M. F. (2017). Reasons to Reject Physician Assisted Suicide/Physician Aid in Dying. Journal of Oncology Practice, 13(10), 683-686.
Jindal, M., Hudson, M. F., Blackhurst, D. W., Coltman, K., & McCoy, G. D. (2016).The Impact of Electronic Cues and Provider Education on Colorectal Cancer Screening. Referral and Patients’ Screening Decision Stage. Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association, 112(1), 169-171.
Russ-Sellers,R., Hudson, M.F., Youkey, J.R., & Horner, R.D. (2014). Achieving Effective Health Service Research Partnerships. Medical Care, 52(4), 289-290.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, you may be interested in a clinical trial. Clinical trials test how new medical approaches work in people, focusing on how new treatments may work when other methods have failed. Clinical treatments have resulted in new treatments and prevention options for cancer care.
More than 300 cancer clinical trials are active at Prisma Health Cancer Institute, including Phase I, Phase II and Phase III treatment trials, as well as prevention trials, symptom management trials and quality-of-life trials.
If you are interested in learning more about a clinical trial, please call 864-241-6251 or Click here
National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program
The National Cancer Institute proclaimed Prisma Health Cancer Institute among the nation’s best in research with an award of $8.2 million to conduct clinical trials and research studies aimed at improving patient outcomes and reducing health disparities. The grant helps pave the way for more clinical trials and innovative therapies and will allow Prisma Health Cancer Institute to expand its groundbreaking cancer research into the Midlands. The additional clinical trials in the Midlands will launch this fall and initially target lymphomas, leukemia and solid tumors.
Prisma Health Cancer Institute is one of only 32 programs in the nation to receive a grant from the NCI’s Community Oncology Program (NCORP). Clinical trials focus on improving cancer prevention, cancer control, screening for early cancers, and post-treatment surveillance. Cancer care delivery research will focus on quality of life and understanding the diverse and multi-level factors that affect access and quality of care. The recent grant is for a six-year funding period. Since 1995, Prisma Health—Upstate has received more than $30 million in research grants from the National Institute of Cancer, considered the preeminent cancer research funder in the world.
“Clinical trials are giving us new weapons in how we attack cancer and are significantly improving the care that cancer centers such as ours can provide,” said Gluck. “Because of our NCI designation and support, we can offer hundreds of leading-edge clinical trials that can provide treatments to patients years before approval by the FDA for general use.”