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New U. Cancer Center aims to expand research, serve broad patient community

New center includes research programs surrounding cancer biology, therapeutics, population sciences

The creation of the Cancer Center at Brown University was announced last month and is aimed at promoting research into the biological foundations, community impact and clinical treatment of cancer.

“This is the first time we have organized our cancer research effort within the structure of a Cancer Center,” said Wafik El-Deiry, the inaugural director of the Cancer Center and associate dean for oncologic sciences at the Alpert Medical School. 

El-Deiry was recruited to the University in 2018 and has since devoted his work to developing the new center. 

After the Cancer Center’s formal establishment, its leadership team will work to seek a National Cancer Institute designation. This new center started as the Joint Program in Cancer Biology, which was established in 2018 as a product of the partnership between Brown and Lifespan, according to the University press release. 

“The Cancer Center is leading a partnership between Brown, Lifespan and Care New England to unify the clinical infrastructure, expertise in clinical research and cancer care as well as other resources relevant to cancer prevention and treatment present in Rhode Island” said Benedito Carneiro, the director of Clinical Research at the Lifespan Cancer Institute and a co-leader of Cancer Therapeutics for the Cancer Center.  

In the University press release, Lifespan President and CEO Timothy J. Babineau said that “through our Joint Program in Cancer Biology with Brown and now our work with the new Brown Cancer Center, our physicians and researchers are working together to understand more about cancer and to develop new treatments for patients. It is a very exciting time.”

While many of the components of the Cancer Center already exist at the University and throughout Rhode Island at Brown’s affiliated hospitals, “we need an institution that helps bring it all together ... with this major purpose of transforming cancer research and the landscape of cancer treatments,” Carneiro said.

The Cancer Center has three main research programs. The first focuses on cancer biology, the second on cancer therapeutics and the third on population science, El-Deiry said. 

With Carneiro’s leadership, the therapeutics program is working on “development of new treatments for cancer, all the way from early research ideas that will be translated from the laboratories and then eventually be tested in clinical trials,” Carneiro said, adding that the program currently has a speciality in first-in-human phase I clinical trials. 

"Brown has a long-term history ... with development of novel treatments for cancer that have been established as standard of care throughout the globe,” he said.

The population science program is focused on understanding risk factors, like tobacco, that can be mitigated to decrease the prevalence of various types of cancers. This includes work to better understand how specific factors influence Rhode Islanders. Rhode Island has a higher incidence of bladder cancer than any other state, El-Deiry said, and the Cancer Center hopes to foster both preventative measures and therapies for Rhode Islanders who may be at risk for the disease or already be diagnosed.

 “This is an important area for us to focus on and to recruit additional experts to help us understand why this is the case, and what can we do about it,” El-Deiry said. 

With that strategy in mind, recruitment of both junior and senior faculty will be key to the Cancer Center’s growth in the coming years. This includes supporting the career development of newer investigators who could expand their research repertoire at the University, El-Deiry said.

The Cancer Center was reviewed by an external advisory board on Thursday, El-Deiry said. The board virtually gathered “national experts on the different components that are part of a cancer center,” he added. These experts were tasked with taking “a look to see what's been done here over the last few years.” Engaging with an advisory board is standard practice in the pursuit of cancer center status, but is not formally a part of the NCI designation.

When granting a Cancer Center designation, the National Cancer Institute “ looks at the clinical trials you do, the papers you publish (and) the impact on the field, the community and the practice of medicine,” El-Deiry said. 

He added: “The process of aiming high, and trying to achieve a certain standard is, in and of itself, extremely beneficial for our academic center.” 

While the process toward NCI designation doesn’t end here, the announcement marks a move forward for the University and the greater community that will benefit from increased access to clinical trials and cancer care, El-Deiry said. Next comes the drafting of a 1000-2500 page grant, he added.

“We are confident that the establishment of the Cancer Center and its growth will lead not only to new discoveries here at Brown ... but also these discoveries will result in novel treatments that will benefit the local population and impact the treatment of cancer globally,” Carneiro said.



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