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$35 Million Grant Funds Duke Cancer Research and Patient Care

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

Durham, N.C. -- The Duke Comprehensive Cancer
Center
(DCCC) has received $35,708,000 from the National
Cancer Institute (NCI) in support of its expansive programs in
cancer research and patient care. The award is issued to
top-tier cancer centers through the NCI's "Core" grant, a
five-year funding mechanism that supports select cancer centers
and their infrastructures.

The new core grant places the DCCC among the top centers
nationwide in terms of the amount of federal funding it
receives, said center officials. Moreover, Duke has received
one of only three NCI-funded SPORE grants in the nation for its
Brain Tumor Center and one of only ten SPORE grants to fund
breast cancer research. SPORE grants -- specialized programs of
research excellence – are given to support disease-specific
research. The DCCC received a total of $255 million in external
funding during 2004.

Among the significant scientific advances at Duke enabled by
federal funding are an understanding of how DNA recognizes and
repairs its own mutations, the role of select oncogenes such as
Ras in promoting cancer, and the discovery of the Wnt
regulatory pathway as critical in regenerating stem cells in
blood, said H. Kim Lyerly, M.D., DCCC director.

On the clinical front, Duke oncologists and hematologists
have harnessed the inherent ability of stem cells from
umbilical cord blood to treat children with resistant cancers
and rare genetic diseases; developed a novel gene expression
profiling method that predicts how breast cancer will advance
and respond to therapy; devised novel immunologic tumor
vaccines to fight prostate, kidney and colon cancers; and have
proven the benefits of a new class of anti-cancer compounds
that target the blood vessels that feed cancer.

The 21st century has ushered in a new era at the DCCC that
is heavily focused upon removing barriers that prevent new
drugs from reaching cancer patients in a timely fashion, Lyerly
said. Currently, it takes an estimated 15 years from the time a
potential cancer drug is discovered until it receives federal
approval for patient use.

The DCCC is now investing considerable resources in a
process called "translational research" – rapidly transforming
laboratory discoveries into viable treatments for patients.
Duke has risen to the forefront of translational research by
designing and hosting a national workshop that draws upon the
diverse expertise of academia, industry, consumer groups and
the FDA in a joint effort to speed access to newer and better
cancer drugs, said Lyerly.

The second annual "Accelerating Anticancer Agent Development
and Validation Workshop," held in Baltimore in June, provided
training, instruction and immediate feedback to early-career
scientists on how to most efficiently develop and validate new
drugs to diagnose, treat and prevent various cancers.

Developing new drugs has been seen as a purely industrial
enterprise in the past, but this scenario is changing, Lyerly
said. Societal pressure is building to rapidly bring new drugs
to patients -- even for rare cancers -- an endeavor that has
traditionally not been viewed as sound business practice.
Academic investigators should take the lead in developing drugs
for these so called "orphan" diseases, he said. In addition,
Lyerly said the strategies for battling cancer have changed, so
must the methods of developing these strategies.

The NCI has recently awarded Duke a planning grant to create
collaborative partnerships among Duke and other academic
institutions, industry, non-profit organizations and government
entities. The partnerships are designed to leverage the
collective expertise to study and develop new therapeutic,
preventive, diagnostic, and imaging interventions. The NCI
hopes that these partnerships will speed the delivery of newly
developed cancer treatments into clinical trials with
patients.

"We're removing barriers to constructive dialogues by
linking academics, drug developers, consumer groups and the
government in a creative way to talk about new strategies for
accelerating drug discovery," said Lyerly." Our goal is to make
the system work better, to make it more open and understandable
to scientists who are trying to navigate their way through
unknown territory."

The DCCC was established in 1972 by the NCI as one of the
original eight comprehensive cancer centers. The Comprehensive
Cancer Center designation awarded by the NCI denotes the
highest levels of cancer research, treatment and education
available and is currently held by only 40 institutions across
the country.

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