GREENFIELD — Hancock Regional Hospital now provides more treatment options to cancer patients at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center.
Nine clinical trials for chemotherapy treatment of six types of cancers are now available for patients at the center. The trials target types of kidney, bone marrow, pancreatic, lung, breast and skin cancers, said Linda Zerr, director of oncology services. Hancock Regional Hospital joins about eight other central Indiana hospitals in offering these clinical trials.
The course of the treatment varies; some of the drugs will target cancers that have previously proven resistant to previous chemo attempts, while others are intended for first-time chemo patients. Patients must be referred for clinical trials by nurses or physicians at the hospital, Zerr said.
Hospital officials have long wished to offer experimental trials for cancer patients, who in the past have been referred to hospitals in Indianapolis to participate in research studies, said Dr. Fadi Hayek, who recently stepped up to be the principal investigator for the majority of the trials being offered at the cancer center. Since the opening of the cancer center last year, doctors are now better equipped to house those studies locally, officials said.
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For those who qualify for the trials, becoming a part of the research process is a win-win situation, Hayek said. Patients will be treated with drugs with the potential to be as effective or more effective than other treatments currently on the market, and their responses will help researchers develop medicine to fight the disease, he said.
“It gives patients access to therapies that are not yet available in the market … months or years before they’re available,” Hayek said. “We will use this data and apply it to a lot of patients in the U.S. and around the world. The only way to know if these therapies work is this patient’s willingness to participate.”
The new treatments being offered by the hospital are in the second or third step of the research process, Hayek said. They’ve been tested in an academic setting, and after this stage of research, the drugs may be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and go on the market.
Investigative Clinical Research of Indiana LLC sponsors the nine trials now being offered at the hospital. Enrollment into the trials opened beginning in July, Zerr said, but no one has been enrolled yet because the criteria for each treatment is very specific, precluding many patients who would be interested from participating. Each trial’s length varies from a length of one to five years, said Heather Rather, regulatory administrator with Investigative Clinical Research of Indiana.
The biggest challenge in offering the trials is the rigorous legal structure built around research, which meant a lot of time securing an agreement between the hospital and the research institute, she said.
But the effort is worth it if it means the cancer center, which prides itself on comprehensive care, can offer the latest medical breakthroughs to its patients.
“If you want to be a top cancer center, you need to offer research,” she said. “If you’re not offering it, you wonder if you are really doing all you can.”
The rules limiting who can be enrolled in the trials sometimes proves frustrating for physicians and staff eager to try the new therapies on their patients, Cancer Care Center supervisor Linda Holliday said.
Holliday hopes more clinical trials for breast and lung cancer will be able to be offered at the hospital in the near future, because those are two of the most common cancers treated at the cancer center, she said.
The hospital doesn’t offer any clinical trials for radiation therapies currently, though it’s an option officials are considering for the future, Zerr said.
Her goal is to offer more and more trial opportunities for patients with different types of cancers.
Hayek looks forward to being able to join other hospitals around the country that are treating cancer patients with these experimental trials, he said.
“I’m really glad our patients are able to have access to this,” he said.