The Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center (DCCC) has announced that it has received $35,708,000 from the NCI (National Cancer Institute) in support of its programs in cancer research and patient care.
The award is issued to top-tier cancer centers through the NCI's "Core" grant, a five-year funding mechanism that supports select cancer centers and their infrastructures.
The core grant places the DCCC among the top centers nationwide in terms of the amount of federal funding it receives, said center officials.
Moreover, Duke has received one of only three NCI-funded SPORE grants in the nation for its Brain Tumor Center and one of only ten SPORE grants to fund breast cancer research.
SPORE grants - specialized programs of research excellence – are given to support disease-specific research. The DCCC received a total of $255 million in external funding during 2004.
Among the significant scientific advances at Duke enabled by federal funding are an understanding of how DNA recognizes and repairs its own mutations, the role of select oncogenes such as Ras in promoting cancer, and the discovery of the Wnt regulatory pathway as critical in regenerating stem cells in blood, said H. Kim Lyerly, M.D., DCCC director.
On the clinical front, Duke oncologists and hematologists have harnessed the inherent ability of stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat children with resistant cancers and rare genetic diseases; developed a gene _expression profiling method that predicts how breast cancer will advance and respond to therapy; devised immunologic tumor vaccines to fight prostate, kidney and colon cancers; and have proven the benefits of a new class of anti-cancer compounds that target the blood vessels that feed cancer.
The 21st century has ushered in a new era at the DCCC that is heavily focused upon removing barriers that prevent new drugs from reaching cancer patients in a timely fashion, Lyerly said.
Currently, it takes an estimated 15 years from the time a potential cancer drug is discovered until it receives federal approval for patient use.
The DCCC is now investing considerable resources in a process called "translational research" – rapidly transforming laboratory discoveries into viable treatments for patients.
Duke has risen to the forefront of translational research by designing and hosting a national workshop that draws upon the diverse expertise of academia, industry, consumer groups and the FDA in a joint effort to speed access to newer and better cancer drugs, said Lyerly.
Developing drugs has been seen as a purely industrial enterprise in the past, but this scenario is changing, Lyerly said.
Societal pressure is building to rapidly bring new drugs to patients - even for rare cancers - an endeavor that has traditionally not been viewed as sound business practice.
Academic investigators should take the lead in developing drugs for these so called "orphan" diseases, he said.
In addition, Lyerly said the strategies for battling cancer have changed, so must the methods of developing these strategies.
The NCI has recently awarded Duke a planning grant to create collaborative partnerships among Duke and other academic institutions, industry, non-profit organizations and government entities.
The partnerships are designed to leverage the collective expertise to study and develop new therapeutic, preventive, diagnostic, and imaging interventions.
The NCI hopes that these partnerships will speed the delivery of newly developed cancer treatments into clinical trials with patients.
"We're removing barriers to constructive dialogues by linking academics, drug developers, consumer groups and the government in a creative way to talk about new strategies for accelerating drug discovery," said Lyerly.
"Our goal is to make the system work better, to make it more open and understandable to scientists who are trying to navigate their way through unknown territory."