Cancer patients in Louisiana and south Mississippi will find it easier to join tests of treatments and promising new drugs under a network organized by the LSU cancer centers in New Orleans and Shreveport.
Officials say including local hospitals and clinics will reduce the need for patients to travel, likely increasing the number who can participate, especially among underserved communities.
The five-year, $5.6 million National Cancer Institute grant is part of a national program intended to increase the number of minority, poor, rural and otherwise “underserved” patients who can participate in the tests.
About 25 institutions have joined so far, including hospitals and a clinic in Hattiesburg and Gulfport, Mississippi. In Louisiana, they include hospitals and clinics in Shreveport, Monroe, Mansfield, Houma, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.
The cancer center at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, with up to 825 newly diagnosed patients a year, has been participating in eight to 10 clinical trials. The new network could bring in four to eight more, administrator Stephen East said.
So far those studies, brought to Gulfport through a partnership with LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, have been testing which combinations of approved drugs work best, said clinical research coordinator Jennifer Gex. She said officials thought it would be best to start with those, but patients are now asking about studies of drugs still under investigation. The new network will make more of those available, she said.
The program is part of what NCI sees as a national network to design and run research on cancer care, prevention, control and screening; to improve access to care and screening; and to make questions about racial, income and other disparity part of drug tests and research about cancer care.
The NCI Community Oncology Research Program, known as NCORP, replaces earlier community care programs.
LSU’s network is among 12 receiving grants under a program to bring more underserved patients into clinical trials. One requirement is that at least 30 percent of the patients must be considered underserved.
That won’t be a problem, said Dr. Augusto Ochoa, director of LSU’s New Orleans cancer center and co-leader of the project with Dr. Glen Mills, head of the cancer center at LSUHSC-Shreveport. More than 40 percent of patients in studies at those centers are considered underserved; the Shreveport center’s figure is about 50 percent, Mills said.
The Louisiana hospitals and clinics cover about 80 percent of the state’s population, Ochoa said. He said he and Mills are talking with other interested hospitals, organizations and physicians.
Mills said he and Ochoa see the network as a step toward applying for designation as a comprehensive cancer center, like those at M.D. Anderson and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but serving Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
The network includes nearly 95 physicians who care for cancer patients, with 87 adult and 67 pediatric clinical trials available, Ochoa said.
“The clinical trials were already there,” Ochoa said. “We’ve had a partnership with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Centers for six years. Shreveport had its own program, and we combined it.”
Ochoa said the grant will pay for a full-time program coordinator and a small part of the salaries of doctors, nurses, data managers and others in the network.
Under another NCORP program, Ochsner Health System, based in Jefferson, will get $3.15 million over the next five years as one of 34 community research sites. This program also named seven research hubs, all outside Louisiana.
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