GHS launches Rare Tumor Center

Former board chairman gifts $1 million

Published on Wednesday, March 5, 2014

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GHS launches Rare Tumor Center
A $1 million gift has helped the Greenville Health System open a Rare Tumor Center, that is the nation’s first center dedicated exclusively to the treatment and research of rare cancers.

Jerry and Harriet Dempsey’s gift marks the largest individual donation ever given to the GHS Cancer Institute. A strategic alliance has also been announced with national molecular-medicine leader Foundation Medicine.

Patients with rare cancers – and limited treatments – will now have significantly expanded options and the center is expected to attract patients from throughout the U.S.

Molecular profiling allows physicians to more precisely target cancer based on each cancer’s unique genomic signature and is at the leading edge of personalized medicine.

Dempsey, former CEO and president of several Fortune 500 companies (Borg-Warner Corporation, WMX Technologies, Chemical Waste Management and PPG Industries), is the former chairman of the GHS board of trustees.

“This translational research will incorporate cancer genomics and rare tumor molecular profiling to a level of sophistication and precision available only here,” said Dempsey. “Harriet and I are proud to be a part of it – and hope that it will be a catalyst that helps patients and attracts additional world-class physician-scientists to Greenville as well as additional investment.

“I’ve seen up close the transformative work being done by GHS – and absolutely believe this investment will have great returns to our community now and in the future,” he said. 

“Greenville can become the destination city for patients from all over the country who suffer from some form of rare tumors.”

GHS has clinical research studies for the nation’s most common malignancies such as cancers of the breast, lung, colon and prostate. What’s been missing nationally is a program that offers a standardized approach for patients with uncommon tumors who have no evidence-based data for management and no clinical trials to address their treatment. 

“We’re creating something in Greenville, which exists only as pieces elsewhere,” said Dr. Larry Gluck, medical director of the GHS Cancer Institute. “What our teams of physicians and scientists learn here will not only impact rare tumor research but hopefully provide answers to other cancer issues. While cancer is immensely complex, some rare tumors may be driven by relatively fewer alterations, knowing what these alterations are may lead to more effective treatments – and provide valuable clues in the more common cancers.”

Through the partnership, patients will gain access to sophisticated genomic testing that may help determine relevant treatment options or clinical trials for patients based on their unique molecular profiles. Rare tumors are typically considered those that affect anywhere from 150 to 5,000 patients each year. Added together, however, rare tumors affect more than 20 percent of all cancer patients – or one of every five patients.

The Rare Tumor Center is anticipated to see more than 100 patients in its first year. Patients will receive a standardized diagnostic evaluation, support services and streamlined access to other disciplines such as surgery and radiation oncology. Once the initial evaluation is done, the center will continue to stay in contact with both the patient and the patient’s referring physician to keep them up to date on potential treatment options that may have just come to light.

“The key is to know which mutations are present, armed with this information, patients and doctors have new options,” said Dr. W. Jeffery Edenfield, medical director for GHS’ Institute for Translational Oncology Research and the architect of the new center. “For some genomic alterations, new medications available only on clinical trials might work best. For other alternations, already approved medications might be the best choice.”

The collaboration will continue to leverage and build on the innovative capabilities of well-established local partner Selah, which operates the Selah Clinical Genomics Center at ITOR.

“There has been a paradigm shift from thinking about cancer based on where it began in the body to thinking about and treating cancer based on the underlying genomic alterations driving the growth of the tumor,” said Dr. Vince Miller, chief medical officer for Foundation Medicine. “This development carries promise for patients with rare tumors that have not benefited from the dedicated research efforts and therapeutic advances in some of the more common and extensively studied tumor types.”

Rare Tumor Center patients who qualify to participate in a unique 18-month research study will receive molecular testing via the FoundationOne test. The test utilizes next-generation sequencing to detect genomic alterations in more than 230 genes believed to be most relevant to the growth and spread of cancer.

 “We look forward to this unique research collaboration with GHS and offering this broad genomic testing to identify new treatment options for these patients with a wide range of rare cancers,” said Miller.

“Patients with rare cancers are at a tremendous disadvantage,” said Edenfield. “Clinical trials aren’t routinely available for these types of cancer, and the treatments are often based on observational use of medications which are less reliable than evidence-based approach.”

“I firmly believe that this newly defined approach will help those patients who need innovation, but it will also help my fellow physicians who struggle with how best to care for them,” said Edenfield.

“Not every patient who has tumor sequencing performed will have a treatment plan based on the results because we likely won’t get actionable information on each patient,” Edenfield said.

“This field is still in its relative infancy – but we hope our work will help grow it significantly.”


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