Cancer is a disease that touches most families. In the United States, there will be approximately 1.9 million new cases diagnosed and about 600,000 deaths this year making cancer the second-leading cause of death in our country. As our population ages, the incidence rate increases. Yet, we are making progress toward conquering cancer.
The mortality rate fell 27% from 2008 to 2019 and continues to fall as more people take advantage of cancer screening tests and new therapeutics are developed. These advances are being made because of dedicated research by scientists around the world.
Indiana is privileged to have three centers dedicated to cancer research — Indiana University (Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center), the University of Notre Dame (Mike and Josie Harper Cancer Research Institute) and Purdue University (Purdue Center for Cancer Research) — which contribute to the advances in testing and treatment. Centers at IU and Purdue are among the 71 prestigious cancer centers that have been awarded a National Cancer Institute designation; Notre Dame is working toward obtaining this designation.
Hoosiers should be proud of the cancer research at these three cancer centers where pioneering research and collaborative efforts have led to new discoveries and treatments. The centers:
- Purdue’s Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi, 2010 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, discovered a chemical method that is essential for chemical reactions used to make many widely used chemotherapeutic drugs.
- IU’s Dr. Lawrence Einhorn established a chemotherapy regimen for the treatment of testicular cancer that has led to cures for most men suffering from this cancer.
- In a collaborative effort, Purdue’s Dr. Philip Low’s targeted prostate cancer molecule, which has a high specificity for binding to prostate cancer cells, was tested in a first-in-man clinical study led by IU’s Dr. Thomas Gardner. The study demonstrated that the targeting molecule was detected in prostate cancer cells and no other cell types. The joint clinical study led to a prostate cancer treatment research program at Endocyte Inc., a company formed around Dr. Low’s discoveries. The work led to the development of a targeted radiotherapy for prostate cancer that recently completed its Phase III clinical study, the final stage before submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Dr. Low also developed an FDA-approved surgical imaging drug, Cytalux, for ovarian cancer that allows surgeons to see cancers too small to be seen by the naked eye. Another company, On Target Laboratories, was formed to take Dr. Low’s surgical imaging drugs to market. There are more examples of high-impact research, but these provide a sampling of the power of Indiana’s cancer research.
Not only are research efforts impactful on health, but Indiana’s economy benefits from the research at each of the cancer centers. As mentioned above, companies are formed around discoveries at each of the three cancer centers. The companies generate jobs that lead to employment in the life sciences arena and the production of important products for cancer treatment and diagnosis.
The important and impactful research at Indiana’s cancer centers is supported primarily by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). Financial gifts from Hoosiers and others outside the state help each cancer center test new ideas, many of which move forward and gain support from the NCI or NIH. Financial gifts also help validate new drugs and technology to the point where the patents are licensed and companies can move the concepts toward clinical application. Using seed money to test ideas and mature drug development to a point that makes them attractive to industry is essential to the process of gaining support from the NCI and NIH, foundations and other funding agencies, and moving new drugs and technology into the clinic.
Unfortunately, funds to support these fundamental and necessary maturation processes are limited. In this regard, Indiana’s cancer centers would benefit from support by the state of Indiana. Most other states provide funds to support cancer research at their cancer centers through legislative action for direct fund allocation and/or through the distribution of funds provided through the tobacco master settlement agreement. Unfortunately, Indiana is one of the few states that does not support its cancer centers. The allocation of funds to these centers would only enhance our efforts to develop new treatments for cancer and would aid the Indiana economy.
Timothy L. Ratliff, Ph.D.; is a Distinguished Professor of Comparative Pathobiology and the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research at Purdue University. For more information on PCCR, visit its website https://www.purdue.edu/cancer-research/ or email Timothy at firstname.lastname@example.org