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OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center to Double Phase 1 Clinical Trials With Federal Build Back Better Funding

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OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, which offers the only Phase 1 clinical trials program in Oklahoma, plans to double the size of the clinical trials program through funding from the Build Back Better Regional Challenge of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The regional economic development competition is funded by President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Stephenson Cancer Center is among six core investment projects to receive a total of $35 million in funding. Together, these projects comprise the Oklahoma Biotech Innovation Cluster, an initiative spearheaded by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber alongside primary coalition partners including the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City Innovation District, and with industry leadership from Echo Investment Capital. Stephenson Cancer Center, which has received funding for two of the six initiatives, will receive approximately $11 million to double its Phase 1 clinical trials and expand its translational labs.

Phase 1 clinical trials test drugs that are given to humans for the first time. Such trials require strict protocols, advanced equipment and highly trained health care professionals. Stephenson Cancer Center currently offers about 40 different Phase 1 clinical trials to an average of 200 patients each year. By doubling the program to approximately 80 trials and 400-500 patients, Stephenson will accelerate the development of promising new drugs.

Major Growth      

By doubling its Phase 1 clinical trials, called the Oklahoma TSET Phase 1 Program, Stephenson Cancer Center can provide innovative, early-stage drugs to many more Oklahomans who have been diagnosed with cancer.

“We recognized that our patients had a greater need for Phase 1 clinical trials than we had the resources to provide, so our vision has been to double the capacity of our Phase 1 unit,” said Robert Mannel, M.D., director of Stephenson Cancer Center. “In doing so, we will be in the top five largest Phase 1 clinical trial centers in the country.”

This growth will in turn amplify Stephenson Cancer Center’s Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials that further test a drug’s effectiveness in larger groups of people. Stephenson’s entire clinical trials portfolio averages 400 trials a year for all types and stages of cancer. One in five patients treated at Stephenson participates in a therapeutic clinical trial.

Mannel said doubling the Phase 1 program will also allow Stephenson Cancer Center to offer clinical trials that test drugs for other conditions, such as diabetes and memory disorders, in collaboration with campus partners like OU Health Harold Hamm Diabetes Center and the Oklahoma Center for Geroscience and Healthy Brain Aging. Drugs developed at other institutions or companies could also be studied at Stephenson with its increased capacity.

Earning Status   

Stephenson Cancer Center is Oklahoma’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Center. In addition, Stephenson has earned Lead Academic Participating Site Status within the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network, the world’s largest oncology clinical trials network.

Clinical research like that conducted at Stephenson is critical for reducing the burden of cancer in Oklahoma and beyond. The center will receive over $3 million to invest in the necessary infrastructure, technology, and personnel to double the Phase 1 clinical trials program.

“The Build Back Better funds will be instrumental in hiring clinical trialists and the support personnel such as clinical trial program managers, statisticians, patient navigators and recruiters to go into the rural and underserved areas to provide access to clinical trials to these otherwise hard-to-reach patients,” said Mary Beth Humphrey, M.D., Ph.D., interim vice president for research at the OU Health Sciences Center. “Giving all Oklahomans access to clinical trials in cancer as well as other health conditions will improve the outcomes for our state’s population that is unfortunately highly afflicted by cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and dementia.”