When it comes to first-time clinical trials on humans, it helps to minimize staff distractions.
That’s why the University of Kansas Cancer Center’s new Clinical Research Center, which opened Monday in Fairway, is so special, said Dr. Raymond Perez, medical director of the facility and of the research operations there.
The center is at 4350 Shawnee Mission Parkway, less than two miles from the cancer treatment space on the Westwood campus of the University of Kansas Hospital. But that short distance is invaluable for focusing on the tasks at hand, Perez said.
Prior to the new center, many clinical trials occurred alongside standard cancer treatments at Westwood, Perez said. The needs of a non-trial patient could disrupt procedures – such as a precisely timed blood draw – needed to assess experimental drugs.
“I’m not saying that’s wrong,” he said. “That’s just reality, that’s the world they live in.”
But with fewer patients and a pinpointed mission, Perez said nurses at the center can provide top-notch care “and still make sure the research gets done the right way, on time.”
Few facilities around the country can match this singularity of focus, he said.
The Clinical Research Center is also an important component of the university’s drive to become a nationally recognized cancer center through the National Cancer Institute, Perez said.
Institutional commitment is an important component of the NCI review.
“And I can’t think of a better demonstration that the institution cares about our mission than the resources that have already been put into this center,” Perez said.
NCI designation would open doors to more research funding, but it also could drive economic development, according to cancer center officials, who said that the gearing up for the application already had created more than 1,100 jobs with a regional impact of about $453 million during the past five years.
Sixty-six NCI-designated centers exist around the country. The KU Cancer Center submitted its application in September. NCI site reviewers plan to be in town Feb. 22, with a decision on the application expected by early summer.
The three-story Clinical Research Center, which has more than 80,000 square feet and a nondescript exterior, sits in an office park. The Hall Family Foundation donated the building as part of an $18 million gift to the cancer center. Proceeds from Johnson County’s one-eighth-cent sales tax intended to promote a research triangle will finance the $19.4 million renovation of the Clinical Research Center.
Since passage by voters in November 2008, the tax has generated about $35.2 million, according to the Johnson County Budget and Financial Planning Department. It is projected to raise another $13.7 million this year.
Other projects funded by the tax are the Business, Engineering, Science and Technology building on the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park and the International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute at K-State's Innovation Campus in Olathe.
The Clinical Research Center opened with a few patients and nine clinical trials shifted from Westwood, said Maxine Stoltz, senior executive director of the facility. The building can handle at least 3,000 visits a year and as many as 30 phase 1 cancer trials at any given time. The KU Alzheimer's Disease Center and The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research also are conducting clinical trials in the building.
The building maximizes privacy for cancer patients, Stoltz said. Too often, she said, patients in clinical trials face one another in a line of chairs.
“These drugs are nasty and people don’t feel good,” after taking them, she said.
For staff, the spacious new research lab also is a significant upgrade. At Westwood, the lab was split between the basement and the second floor.
Research nurses walked from their offices the length of a roughly block-and-a-half long building at Westwood to reach patients. In the new building, patients are right around a corner.
“The employees are just crazy about this building,” Stoltz said. “It’s nice, it’s fresh, it’s beautiful and it’s well organized and easy to get to.”