Virginia Cancer Specialists (VCS), a cancer care and research center in Northern Virginia with more than 40 years of service to patients and a practice in The US Oncology Network, has opened a new state-of-the-art research clinic in Fairfax, Virginia dedicated exclusively to phase I clinical trials.
Phase I studies are the earliest stage of drug development and the most advanced trials conducted in the cancer community. They are usually only available at large academic research centers, and very few community-based cancer practices like VCS can qualify as a phase I provider. While VCS has been conducting phase I trials since 2013, the new dedicated facility greatly enhances the practice’s ability to offer these novel early-stage studies.
“We are very excited and proud to open our new phase I clinic, as research is a vital part of our mission to provide patients access to advanced cancer treatments in the community where they live and work,” said Alex Spira, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, medical oncologist and director of the VCS Research Institute and phase I Trial Program. “This new clinic not only allows us to better meet the growing demand in our community for these groundbreaking trials, it also enables us to lead the way in research focusing on promising new advancements, such as immunotherapy.”
Virginia Cancer Specialists has access to hundreds of innovative clinical trials, including a vast number of phase I studies, through its affiliation with The US Oncology Network, the largest network of its kind comprised of more than 1,400 community-based physicians and a leader in cancer research and treatment. Many practices in The US Oncology Network conduct clinical research through US Oncology Research, which manages nearly 400 active trials across the country at any given time and has contributed to nearly 70 FDA-approved cancer therapies.
“Virginia Cancer Specialists has a long-standing, strong commitment to research, and the practice currently offers more phase I clinical trials than any other facility in Northern Virginia,” noted Karin Choquette, MSN, RN, CCRC, clinical research manager, VCS. “Our new phase I clinic strengthens our research leadership position in the region while giving patients access to a vast number of emerging treatment options that are not yet FDA approved.”
The new 4,000 square foot clinic incorporates the very latest design concepts to support individualized patient comfort, serenity and healing, while enabling communication and bonding among patients. Protocols for phase I trials are demanding, and often require patients to be on site for up to 12 hours. On call services with a specialized nurse is provided 24/7 to closely monitor patients. The facility has four treatment chairs with special heating and massage features to provide a high level of comfort. Each treatment area can be curtained off to create the patient’s own private space. Family members and caregivers are welcome, as their presence provides encouragement and helps support an optimal outcome.
The facility is staffed by a dedicated team of specialized experts highly trained in clinical research, including physicians, data coordinators, nurses and clinical research coordinators. Pharmacists are also an integral part of the team, ensuring that exacting standards are met.
“Patients who participate in phase I trials have usually exhausted all other treatment options, but they still want to fight their cancer,” explained Anita Karra, RN, a VCS phase I nurse. “Most people battling cancer at this stage must travel great distances for a phase I trial, so our patients are very thankful we offer these novel studies that enable them to stay in their community where they have the support of family and friends.”
The new phase I clinic also brings VCS one step closer on its journey to become an Immuno-Oncology Center of Excellence, a long-term goal of the Research Institute. Immunotherapy is an area of great interest throughout the cancer community and especially within US Oncology Research, where immuno-oncology (I-O) trials comprise approximately one-third of all studies offered. New I-O therapies have high efficacy rates, great tolerability and manageable toxicities, with some even demonstrating durable responses after treatment ends.
“Immunotherapy is the greatest advancement we have seen in cancer research in several decades,” said Dr. Spira. “Our phase I clinic will enable us to concentrate on investigational I-O trials, allowing us to gain valuable expertise and insight we can share with the entire medical community while providing patients access to these promising new therapies.”