February 20, 2013

New CCTS unit makes joining Phase I trials studies easier

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Imagine you have an illness for which there is no approved and available treatment. Your doctor suggests you participate in a clinical trial for an experimental drug. You arrive at a clinic, receive the first part of your treatment, but then must drive to another building and see another set of doctors before you can complete that day’s treatment. Negotiating traffic-congested streets and unfamiliar routes increases the strain of your already stressful situation.

CCTSThe UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Science wants to make taking part in clinical trials easier for patients. The CCTS recognized the need for a facility at which patients could receive both FDA-approved and experimental drugs in one place, and recently opened its Phase I Clinical Trials Unit on the 15th floor of the Jefferson Tower building, located at 625 19th St. South. In Phase I trials, researchers test experimental drugs or treatments in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate safety, identify side effects and determine safe dosage.

“This Phase I Unit will enable the CCTS — along with its UAB and network partners — to move novel compounds into Phase I trials that improve the health of our patients, while making the process more convenient and comfortable,” said Robert Kimberly, M.D., CCTS director and senior associate dean of research at the UAB School of Medicine.

The Phase I Unit is a nearly 8,000-square-foot expansion of the existing CCTS Clinical Research Unit, which has operated since 2008. The School of Medicine initially renovated the space for CCTS use, and invested again in 2012 to create expanded capacity in the Phase I Clinical Trials Unit.

“The Phase I Clinical Trials Unit represents a unique opportunity for collaboration between the CCTS and the Comprehensive Cancer Center ­— two entities that often overlap in mission,” said Burt Nabors, M.D., medical director of the CCTS Clinical Research Unit and director of the Division of Neuro-oncology. “This unit’s opening allows us to expand into patient therapy and increase our Phase I research, both of which will improve the lives of patients.”

The expansion adds five new treatment rooms and a second infusion suite with nine chairs to the CRU’s existing five treatment rooms and six infusion chairs. Complementing the clinical facilities, a core laboratory within the CRU space facilitates the quick and careful processing of research specimens, including DNA as part of studies exploring the genetic basis of disease.

Existing space is being converted into a research pharmacy, which will store and prepare experimental therapies. Prior to the expansion, this process had occurred off-site at the UAB Hospital pharmacy. The Phase I Unit also features a new reception area, nurses’ station and family waiting room with spectacular views of the surrounding metropolitan area. Dedicated parking for visiting patients is available on the building’s second floor.

“The School of Medicine is proud to support the CRU expansion to create the Phase I Clinical Trials Unit,” said Anupam Agarwal, M.D., interim dean of the School of Medicine. “In working closely with our NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center to establish the new unit as part of the CCTS CRU, it became evident that having a coordinated trans-institutional system in place would drive efficiency, quality and cost-effectiveness.”