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TGen Affiliate, Van Andel Research Institute, Joins with Spectrum Health and Oncology Group

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Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), Spectrum Health, and Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan announced that they have signed agreements to develop a Phase I clinical trial program.

The program will be the link between the lab and clinical research involving patients, allowing faster, close-to-home enhanced access to potentially life-saving diagnostic and treatment options for cancer and other clinical conditions.

Phase I clinical trials are initial studies to determine the actions of drugs in humans, identify the side effects associated with increasing doses, and gain early evidence of effectiveness.

“This will be a great resource for cancer patients in West Michigan. It will give them access to experimental treatments that otherwise might not be available regionally,” said Matt Van Vranken, Executive Vice President, Spectrum Health System and President Spectrum Health Hospital Group. “As we develop the program it also will provide an opportunity for patients with other clinical conditions to gain access to cutting-edge experimental treatments.”

The partnership will be an efficient way of conducting translational research, where discoveries in the lab make their way to the bedside through human research trials. VARI provides expertise in lab research and clinical trials, and Spectrum Health and Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan provide access to a large population of patients plus the clinical care and expertise necessary to conduct clinical trials with patients.
“The ultimate focus of VARI’s translational research program is always on the patient,” said VARI President and Research Director Dr. Jeffrey Trent. “Our goal is to move scientific discoveries as quickly as possible into clinical diagnostics and treatments. VARI’s emphasis on precision medicine, joining with physicians and scientists at VARI’s Phoenix-based affiliate, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), makes it possible to target specific problems in the treatment of individual patients.”

The Phase I program will be housed in the Spectrum Health Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion where a dedicated comprehensive outpatient unit is expected to be completed by June of 2011. It will be staffed with medical and research personnel who administer experimental treatments, monitor patients, track patients’ progress and collect trial data.

The first Phase I trials could begin in the next few months in temporary quarters provided by Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan at their office in the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion. Physicians from Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan will play an active role in the clinical trials.

“We are seeing over 3,100 newly diagnosed patients each year at Spectrum Health alone and a number of these patients could benefit from the research conducted through this new program,” said Mark Campbell, MD, MHA, of Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan and Executive Director of the Spectrum Health Regional Cancer Network. “Our group of 16 physicians is excited to be able to offer patients this next level of care.”

The initiative also will reunite two former colleagues. Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, the Physician-in-Chief and Director of the Translational Drug Development Division of TGen, will serve as interim physician-in-chief, teaming up with Timothy J. O’Rourke, MD, who is the Betz Family Endowed Chair for Cancer Research at Spectrum Health.  Working together, the pair have produced significant results in the field of pancreatic cancer research.

“Patient participation in clinical trials is an absolutely indispensible part of improving the care for patients with cancer,” said Von Hoff. “Although currently only about 3% of eligible patients nationally participate in clinical trials, research shows that many more patients would choose to participate if given the opportunity. This program will serve as a boon to the cancer patients of West Michigan, and, in addition, will strengthen and quicken the progress of clinical research on the Medical Mile. It is a privilege to be a part of this initiative.”