Brain Tumor Research in Fast Lane at Barrow
Brain tumor experts at Barrow Neurological Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center have launched a revolutionary fast-track approach to cancer research in order to give brain tumor patients new hope.
Brain tumors are among the deadliest of all cancers and during the last 30 years, little progress has been made on successful treatments that would increase life expectancy. The Barrow trials are the first of their kind outside the auspices of the federal government. The Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation, the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Karmanos Cancer Institute are partners in this project.
This Phase 0 approach for malignant brain tumors is a game changer in cancer research and our program is the first of its kind in the world.
-Nader Sanai, MD
Director, Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center
Called “Phase 0 Trials,” these early-phase Barrow clinical trials shorten the evaluation of drug therapies from an average of five years to only six months and at a fraction of the cost. During each trial, participants are administered a selected drug that has already been FDA approved for another condition and judged promising for their cancer. Within hours, Barrow neurosurgeons remove the brain tumor and within weeks determine if the experimental drug penetrated the tumor and whether it is having a positive effect. If the drug is effective on the tumor, the patient will continue its use.
“This Phase 0 approach for malignant brain tumors is a game changer in cancer research and our program is the first of its kind in the world,” says Dr. Nader Sanai, Director the Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute. “Because of the slow pace, high cost and disappointing track record of traditional brain tumor clinical trials, doctors and researchers are trying to think outside the box and take new approaches to medicine for brain tumor patients.”
Clinical trials usually have three lengthy phases that evaluate a drug’s safety, effectiveness, side effects and dosage. After years of research and millions of dollars, many of the drugs prove ineffectual and are not brought to market.
Phase 0 trials were approved by the FDA a few years ago and have never before been widely used for brain tumor patients. Barrow is the first non-governmental medical institute to push forward with these trials, an initiative that has garnered interest from some of the largest cancer therapy developers in the world.
Dr. Sanai believes the trials will give new hope to a group of patients who often feel abandoned.
“Because of the high cost of developing and testing drugs, there is very little in the pipeline,” says Dr. Sanai. “It has just been too expensive for drug companies to develop new therapies for the relatively small number of brain cancer patients. These Phase 0 trials can be the answer. They are safe, cost effective and quick to give us an answer. If a new drug doesn’t work, we move onto the next one without the patient losing any time. For the first time, I can tell every brain tumor patient, ‘I have something new for you’,” says Dr. Sanai.