Sponsored by Atlantic Health System
Eric D. Whitman, MD, discusses the clinical trial program at Atlantic Health System, a large nonprofit health care network in New Jersey, and how partnering with the Translational Genomics Research Institute will help to bring better care to patients with cancer.
After partnering with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a world of possibilities has opened at Atlantic Health System with collaborative translational research efforts on the horizon promising to improve care for patients with cancer and inspire innovative future research efforts, according to Eric D. Whitman, MD.
One of the innovations to emerge from the partnership is the Breakthrough Oncology Accelerator, a flagship platform with the goal of cultivating a model that will enable health systems in the United States to provide more rapid and improved patient outcomes by helping investigators to share their insights and provide more options to patients.1
“In just a short time, we’ve opened over 25 clinical trials as part of this partnership. This includes drugs and technologies that are truly groundbreaking, [but are] available at only a handful of sites around the world, much less in this region. Before the [Breakthrough Oncology] Accelerator, we never would have had these trials,” Whitman said in a statement on the platform. “It’s important for our patients and community to have access to these breakthrough treatments. This supports our goal: to make each patient’s cancer care experience unique, personalized, and most of all, life-extending.”
Atlantic Health System offers innovative cancer therapies and advanced diagnostics, as well as minimally invasive surgery and modern medical technology.2 Medical centers under their purview have participated in clinical research assessing investigational cancer drugs for over 20 years, results of which have sometimes led to approvals of treatment by the FDA. This includes developments in targeted therapies for patients with melanoma, breast, and ovarian cancer, as well as innovations in immunotherapy and gene therapy for those with cancers of the skin. Currently, clinical trials at Atlantic Health offer patients a number of different treatment modalities depending on the disease, including immunotherapy, cellular therapy, gene therapy, radiation therapy, and both orally and intravenously administered treatments. Numerous trials also aim to find better therapy options for patients with advanced and metastatic disease.
In addition to the Breakthrough Oncology Accelerator TGen partnership, the clinical trial program has gone through a period of growth in keeping with these cancer care strategies. In 2018, a consortium led by Atlantic Health System was awarded a National Cancer Institute (NCI) sponsored Community Oncology Research Program grant, one of only 32 in the country. The Atlantic Health Cancer Consortium includes other hospitals and health systems to improve cancer screening, prevention, clinical care, and post-treatment survivorship by increasing access to clinical research.
In an interview with CancerNetwork®, Whitman, the medical director of the Atlantic Health System oncology service line, expands on the open clinical trials that are available through his organization, as well as how their work with TGen will lead to better cancer care.
Three years ago, Atlantic Health System partnered with TGen to create the Breakthrough Oncology Accelerator, according to Whitman. The goal of the flagship platform is to facilitate participation in clinical trials that rapidly collect data and evidence and can lead to a drug’s approval by the FDA. The partnership seeks to leverage the proprietary platforms, expertise, and collaborations of Atlantic Health and TGen to bring additional resources to oncologists in the field.
Whitman, who heads the partnership for Atlantic Health System, emphasized the excitement of “[examining] incredible new drugs early in their testing to provide hope to our patients [with] cancer….”
Current clinical trials within the program include those in patients with a range of different malignancies, such as melanoma, advanced pancreatic cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, advanced lung cancer, and hematologic malignancies (Table 1&2). Atlantic Health System currently offers approximately 90 clinical trials, 15 to 20 of which are phase 1 studies, according to Whitman.
“It has been a very exciting time for our patients, their families, and our clinicians. These drugs [utilize] mechanisms of action that we had never heard of before and they’re really fresh and new and innovative. [It’s] honestly exciting to be able to put our patients on these trials and give them access to something that could be unbelievably helpful for them,” Whitman said.
One of the goals of the Atlantic Health System clinical trial program is to provide new therapies for patients who have progressed on standard treatments. Whitman remarked that the institution functions similarly to a university hospital, but in a community setting.
“We want to have innovative treatment options for our patients when standard therapies fail,” Whitman said.
Atlantic Health partnered up with TGen after considering several other potential partnerships due to a unique offering of novel therapies that they could utilize in clinical research to better help patients. The partnership is paving the way for examining treatment options beyond the standard of care and FDA-approved regimens, and allows Atlantic Health more possibilities to participate in up-and-coming research.
“There’s so much fantastic research going on in oncology and the doctors in our system were very excited by that,” Whitman said.
This ties into the rationale for the Breakthrough Oncology Accelerator. Additionally, Whitman explained that the platform also seeks to accelerate access through the development of these drugs.
“We want to make breakthroughs. We don't want to just do the same old thing. We want to be a center of not just excellence, but a center of innovation and a center that changes the world for the better,” he emphasized.
Partnering with TGen has enabled collaboration with other global institutions that are similarly well supported by strong leadership, allowing them to enroll their patients on innovative clinical trials that are ongoing at Atlantic Health System, Whitmore said.
Next steps for the partnership include shifting to focus on collaborative studies. Although Atlantic Health System boasts strong clinical investigators and a high volume of patients, what they lack is a team of expertly trained, innovative “bench” or laboratory scientists. After partnering with TGen, the latter is now available to the team at Atlantic Health System. Together, they intend to start translational research projects wherein Atlantic Health System can identify important clinical issues to investigate and provide clinical specimens, and TGen can offer laboratory, genetics, and technical know-how. This translational collaborative research has the potential to, in Whitmore’s own words, “change the world.”
He concluded, “We really want people to understand all of the truly innovative and groundbreaking research that is ongoing at our site through our Breakthrough Oncology Accelerator, [see the work of] our partners at TGen and Origin Commercial Ventures, and also the outstanding physicians that we’re very lucky to have here [at Atlantic Health].”