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Institute grows out of early collaboration with Cancer Centers of the Carolinas

GHS’ Institute for Translational Oncology Research paves way for rapid cancer drug development

GREENVILLE, S.C. – On Tuesday, Greenville Health System (GHS) unveiled details of its new Institute for Translational Oncology Research, a visionary cancer initiative that will help pave the way for new breakthroughs in rapid drug development, diagnostic discovery and advanced cancer care. ITOR is part of the GHS Cancer Center, a recognized regional multi-disciplinary center offering research, advanced patient trials and patient-focused care.

ITOR partners will include leading pharmaceutical companies, research universities, private industry and the government.

The new institute, known as ITOR, builds on the success of GHS’ Clinical Research Unit and its rapidly-developing biorepository tissue-banking service, which helped make GHS one of the country’s prominent players in the development of promising new oncology drugs. Numerous first-in-human studies have been conducted through the CRU, which began in 2004 as part of GHS’ long-standing relationship with Cancer Centers of the Carolinas.  

The evolving institute is steadily moving into the arena of personalized gene-based cancer therapies, which match the treatment to tumor-specific genetic abnormalities and patient-specific predictors of toxicity. Such translational research, also referred to as bench-to-bedside, helps bring discovery directly from the lab to practical applications in patients. Part of ITOR’s strength is its focus on using innovative public and private sector partnerships and initiatives to advance leading-edge cancer care.

“Our goal is to facilitate and integrate research performed by ITOR, our research university and biotech partners so that it can be rapidly channeled into clinical application,” said Jeff Edenfield, M.D., who serves as the institute’s medical director. “We believe this uniquely collaborative platform will become a model in the evolving field of oncology drug development.”

“Through ITOR, we will be able to make new therapies accessible to patients far more quickly than traditional models have allowed. This should give great hope to cancer patients,” said Stephenson.

To accomplish the goal of speeding-up the delivery of patient-specific therapies, ITOR strives to identify new ways to achieve earlier prediction of drug success, find new applications and patients for existing drugs and integrate advanced molecular and gene-based technologies into diagnostic and treatment protocols, said Stephenson.

“In practical terms, that means ITOR is focused first and foremost on developing a more personalized approach to cancer therapy – targeting the right drug to the right patient – by integrating leading-edge technologies such as molecular profiling into an enhanced drug validation process. In the coming years, the institute is uniquely positioned to excel because of its expertise, collaborative resources, dynamic partnerships and its proven agility,” said Jeff Edenfield, M.D., ITOR’s associate medical director.

Nimble collaborative entities like ITOR will become the translational-research model of the future, predicted said W. Larry Gluck, M.D., who is the medical director of the overarching GHS Cancer Center. “The existing culture of cancer research must place more value and emphasis on translational and clinical research in order to effectively and rapidly transfer basic-science data and discovery into meaningful clinical benefit,” said Gluck.

The ITOR initiative will complement the GHS Cancer Center’s other long-standing research and community outreach initiatives.

“Through its combination of talent, resources and strong partnerships, ITOR is well positioned to help develop new drugs, tools and approaches for combating this deadly disease,” said Michael Riordan, GHS president and CEO.

“This initiative will have a meaningful impact far beyond Greenville,” Riordan predicted. It also holds the promise of additional life-preserving clinical trials. At any given time, more than 500 clinical trials are taking place at GHS. Approximately half are cancer trials, ranging from first-in-human Phase I therapies to national multicenter cancer trials.

Riordan predicted that in the future, ITOR will also create a catalyst to educate and train medical professionals in translational and personalized medicine.

One of ITOR’s foundational collaborative partners will be the Cancer Research Center of the University of South Carolina, which is led by Frank Berger, Ph.D.

"The Cancer Research Center of USC is pleased to collaborate with the GHS Cancer Center in implementing ITOR's mission of linking basic science and clinical research.  The ITOR model will expedite the efficient delivery of innovations and advances in cancer prevention and care to citizens all over South Carolina and will serve as a model for conduct of translational research nationwide,” said Berger.
As ITOR moves forward, the institute will continue its work with long-time partners like U.S. Oncology while expanding its reach within the pharmaceutical industry with collaborative partners including Amgen, AstraZeneca, Japanese-based Eisai Pharmaceuticals, Novartis and Oncolix.

“We were extremely impressed with the Phase I study capabilities and experience of the group led by Jeff Edenfield. We are looking forward to partnering with this energetic group on several Phase I studies in the future,” said Eric Slosberg, Ph.D., director of translational medicine-oncology at Novartis’ U.S. clinical and medical affairs office. Novartis recently selected ITOR as one of its newest designated phase 1 clinical trial sites.

ITOR is one of only two nationwide sites chosen to participate in the first clinical trial of Oncolix’s Prolanta, which is being tested as a treatment for metastatic breast cancer. The targeted therapeutic protein was created by researchers in a GHS-Clemson University initiative on the Greenville Memorial Hospital campus.
Private-sector partners and collaborators currently include Caris Life Sciences and its Target Now program, for which ITOR is the largest patient site in the nation; Lab 21, a United Kingdom-based diagnostics company that placed its U.S. headquarters in Greenville in 2010; and Clemson University spin-off entities Selah Technologies (now the research arm of U.S.-based Lab 21 Inc.) and Kiyatec.

Lab 21 cited ITOR as a key reason that it chose to locate in Greenville.

Sam Konduros, ITOR’s business development director, called the institute’s formal unveiling to targeted audiences “an important milestone” that will usher in new and strategic opportunities.

“This institute will be a catalyst and a magnet for innovation well into the future by facilitating pioneering research and advanced clinical care delivery,” said Konduros, who also served as former president/CEO of the regional economic development organization Upstate SC Alliance. “ITOR represents a new era of translational medicine that will positively impact cancer patients’ lives in Upstate South Carolina, while also accelerating the development of a knowledge economy in the healthcare and biomedical realms for our region and state.”

For more information on ITOR, go to ITOR-ghs.org.