July 1, 2014:

A conversation with Patrick J. Loehrer, Sr., MD, director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, which is a member of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium:

Q: What kind of impact do you see the Big Ten CRC having on cancer clinical trials?

Individual cancer centers do terrific things, but collectively, we can do even more. We’re developing collaborative IRB agreements, regulatory mechanisms to facilitate rapid opening and completion of trials. Ultimately, if a Big Ten consortium trial is approved in Indiana, the same trial could be immediately opened up at Michigan, Iowa or Nebraska. If we are looking at a cancer with a rare molecular marker, we will have the ability to conduct a trial of 20 or 30 patients very rapidly because of a large pool of patients. Thus, the consortium should lead us to more rapid discoveries.

Q: What kind of scientific developments happening at IU Simon Cancer Center are changing the way we diagnose and treat cancer?

iu-feature-waltherAll cancer centers are now involved in some form of genomics research. At IU, we are linking tumor genomics to pharmacogenomics to help patients choose which treatment option would be best for them. For example, a violinist may choose a treatment with a lower response rate with a non-platin therapy for colon or pancreatic cancer as a trade-off for not experiencing peripheral neuropathy. Also, the IU Simon Cancer Center is home to the world’s only “truly normal” breast tissue bank, which allows us to compare malignant breast tumors to normal breast tissue in an effort to better understand breast carcinogenesis. The normal samples from this unique resource have demonstrated genomic differences with the adjacent normal samples obtained from the TCGA (The Cancer Genome Atlas). Scientists around the world are now using samples from the tissue bank as normal controls in their research projects.

Q: How will being a part of the Big Ten CRC differ from other collaborative efforts of which your center has been a part?

The process for getting ideas to the clinic through the cooperative groups may take many years. The Big Ten CRC provides a unique opportunity that we hope will enable us to rapidly advance clinical trials and translational research trials. Overall, the consortium will provide for more inter-institutional collaborations, and it will enhance the possibility for pilot data that can lead to multi investigator grants that will enhance the reputations of all of our institutions. This will be especially helpful for career development of young physician-scientists engaged in clinical research.

iu-feature-labAt our Big Ten CRC meeting this year at ASCO, the members shared opportunities to bring basic scientists into the consortium. This partnership is largely missing from within the current cooperative group mechanisms. An expectation at most NCI-designated cancer centers is that intra-disciplinary collaborations occur. In traditional cooperative groups, this type of collaboration is less common. This is an opportunity to have handshakes across institutions among basic scientists and create discovery teams that will translate their findings into the clinic. The opportunity to create a truly collaborative inter-disciplinary research organization that will open its arms to translational research is a novel structure for cancer centers.

About the Big Ten Conference: The Big Ten Conference is an association of world-class universities whose member institutions share a common mission of research, graduate, professional and undergraduate teaching and public service. Founded in 1896, the Big Ten has sustained a comprehensive set of shared practices and policies that enforce the priority of academics in student-athletes’ lives and emphasize the values of integrity, fairness and competitiveness. The broad-based athletic programs of the 12 Big Ten institutions provide in excess of $141 million in direct financial aid to more than 8,200 student-athletes playing on more than 300 teams in 43 different sports. The Big Ten sponsors 26 official conference sports, 13 for men and 13 for women, and will add men’s and women’s lacrosse as the 27th and 28th official sports for the 2014-15 academic year. For more information, visit www.bigten.org.