This year, the Masonic Cancer Center Developmental Therapeutics Clinic opened its doors at the M Health Fairview Clinics and Surgery Center at the University of Minnesota. The clinic provides patients with access to all phase 1 cancer trials at the U under one roof, delivering new possibilities and hope when standard therapies aren’t working.
Launched in February 2021 and led by Medical School faculty Manish Patel, D.O., Deanna Teoh, M.D., Naomi Fujioka, M.D., and Evidio Domingo-Musibay, M.D., the clinic serves as a clearinghouse of sorts for cutting-edge therapies developed at the U that are ready to move from bench to bedside.
"The drugs we’re testing are either first-in-human drugs that have shown promise in preclinical studies, or novel combinations of established drugs that have not yet been tested,” Patel explains. “The clinic provides opportunities for patients who really don’t have other options, but who are in good physical condition and still looking to treat their disease.”
Through weekly meetings with physicians and scientists from across the U and close collaboration with the Masonic Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office, the Developmental Therapeutics Clinic tracks the latest phase 1 cancer trials that are ready to open, and determines which patients would be the best fit for each trial. They then work directly with patients and their doctors in weekly visits to enroll them in the studies that hold the most promise for their specific cancer.
Expanding single therapies to multiple cancers
One of the strengths of the clinic is that many of the trials it offers test therapies that can work against multiple types of cancer. Patients are often selected to participate based on characteristics such as their molecular profile or past response to immunotherapy, rather than their specific cancer, creating new opportunities that they and their doctors may not have been aware of.
“If you’re a lung cancer doctor who’s siloed in lung cancer, for example, you may not have a great understanding of the available studies,” explains Patel. “We track the bigger picture of what’s available across all cancer types and when it will be open for accrual, and we know that information in real-time.”
In his own research, Patel helped launch a phase 1 trial as part of a multi-site study sponsored by the Medical Alley company, Vyriad, to test the effectiveness of an oncolytic virus therapy. The therapy, which Patel developed with past Masonic support, was initially created to treat lung cancer. But after his team saw promising results, they were able to use the trial to extend it to patients with other types of advanced solid tumors, including colorectal cancer, neuroendocrine cancer, and more. Patel and other site leaders are now enrolling patients in a phase 2 trial to further test the therapy’s effectiveness against lung cancer, melanoma, liver cancer, and endometrial cancer.
Expanding cutting-edge research
Another benefit that Patel hopes will come from the Masonic Cancer Center Developmental Therapeutics Clinic is the expansion of even more new therapies from lab to clinic.
“We want to do everything we can to support the translation of our own science at the U into the phase 1 space,” Patel says. “If you’re a scientist at the Masonic Cancer Center and you’ve developed a promising new therapy, we want to be able to say that we can run your study through our phase 1 clinic and do all of the initial work to get it going.”
Patel also hopes that the clinic will inspire future scientists to chart their own paths into clinical research. One of the longer-term goals for Patel and the rest of the clinic’s leadership team is to attract junior faculty, fellows, residents, and medical students to the clinic for in-depth training on how to conduct clinical research.
Although the clinic has only been open for a few months, Patel and his team have seen an uptick in patients interested in phase 1 cancer trials.
Their next big step will be to open enough trials to meet this increased demand. They currently have six phase 1 studies in the pipeline that will open soon and, ultimately, aim to have 10 to 15 studies open at any given time so that any patient who walks in the door will have something that works for them.
Without Masonic support, none of this would be possible.
“The clinic fulfills a big need for many of our cancer patients,” says Patel. “A lot of patients fall through a hole because standard therapies aren’t working or they don’t quite meet the criteria for more established clinical trials. It’s really gratifying to be able to tell them that even though we’ve exhausted other options, there is still hope.”