Louisiana Cancer Research Center Infuses City, State With Research, Cash
The Crescent City boasts commodities from Carnival to crawfish to… cancer.
The Louisiana Cancer Research Center (LCRC), based in New Orleans at 1700 Tulane Ave., excels at creating cancer fighting collaborations. It also provides an economic engine for the city and the state.
According to the LCRC’s 2018 Annual Report, released Tuesday, March 26, the prognosis is good. The LCRC received $23.6 million in cancer-related National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding last year that helped generate an average of seven high-quality jobs for every grant and a total economic impact of $64 million for Louisiana.
With more than $124.9 million in total assets last year, the LCRC has procured more than $355.6 million in cancer research grants since the organization was established in 2002.
“The first direct economic benefit is that when our investigators bring in national grants, mostly from NIH, most of the money is spent locally,” said Prescott Deininger, PhD, LCRC co-director and director of the Tulane Cancer Center. “It is estimated that for every $1 million in grant funding, there is a $2.21 million impact on the local economy in terms of good jobs and local services and supplies.”
The LCRC was created in 2002 by the Louisiana State Legislature with a mission to promote cancer education and to research the diagnosis, detection and treatment of cancer while pursuing a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. It assists and supports the cancer-related research of member institutions that account for more than 80 percent of federal cancer research funding in Louisiana. They are LSU Health New Orleans, Tulane University School of Medicine, Xavier University of Louisiana, Ochsner Health System and the LCRC’s smoking cessation program, The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (TFL).
The LCRC predicts more than 26,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in Louisiana in 2019, and no two cancers will be alike. Member researchers are studying genetic drivers and developing precision medicine, targeted therapies and immunotherapies to supercharge patients’ natural defenses.
Last year, LCRC member institutions enrolled 1,071 patients in clinical trials, published 343 articles in scientific journals and hosted 47 scientific seminars.
“The LCRC does not see patients; its members do,” said Sven Davisson, LCRC’s CAO. “The LCRC supports their research which then evolves into clinical trials, and facilitates collaboration between the member institutions by providing critical core research infrastructure, laboratory and meeting spaces that foster collaboration and innovation.”
“We are stronger researchers when we work together and the LCRC is making it easier to bridge the silos that understandably exist among academic research institutions,” said Deininger, a molecular geneticist with a focus on genetic instability of the human genome in cancer. “Strong research programs help attract the best research faculty and physicians. Research-oriented physicians make the latest clinical trials available for their patients, providing better outcomes and national recognition. This, in turn, helps retain patients in the New Orleans area who might otherwise go to an out-of-state cancer center for treatment. It can even attract patients from distant regions, all of which brings in patient-related revenue. Strong research programs result in inventions and patents that can drive new businesses. LCRC member institutions have associations with small pharma locally and companies in the Bioinnovation Center that help develop new local, high-tech businesses.”
The LCRC’s 2018 Annual Report finds current funding is six times higher than pre-LCRC award levels. It also cites that LCRC researchers based at LSU Health New Orleans received the first NIH planning grant for Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) ever awarded in Louisiana; an LCRC researcher based at Tulane University received a four-year NCI award to develop a tool that has the potential to reduce the recurrence of prostate cancer; LCRC funds, with NIH grant funding, have enabled significant progress on the development of breast cancer therapeutics by researchers at Xavier University; and six additional Louisiana cities, including Baton Rouge, passed comprehensive indoor-smoke free policies because of the efforts of the LCRC smoking cessation program, TFL, and its statewide partners.
“Working together, LCRC members are generating the cross-institutional critical mass that is needed to qualify for some of the very large cancer research programs and the complex grants that require multiple investigators,” said Augusto Ochoa, MD, LCRC co-director and director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, LSU School of Medicine.
There’s also been the creation of a Gulf South Clinical Trials Network supported by the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP). It’s a collaboration between LSU Health New Orleans, Ochsner, the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Baton Rouge and LSU Shreveport, and it provides advanced cancer clinical trial coverage at 42 treatment sites in New Orleans, Metairie, Slidell, Covington, Houma, Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, and Hattiesburg and Gulfport, Mississippi.
“The LCRC has already enabled us to greatly increase our grant funding and research base,” said Deininger. “There are a number of large grants that our individual institutions would just not have the critical mass to support without the LCRC. This has included at least three NIH Centers of Biomedical Excellence grants that have brought in at least $50 million since the inception of the LCRC in 2002. I can think of at least three or four similar grants that have brought in at least $25 to $50 million more into our research programs and were only possible because of the LCRC resources and organization.”
Attaining designation as a NCI Cancer Center would also lead the LCRC toward healthier federal research grant awards in the future.
“The recognition that we are a NCI Cancer Center will help us access additional cutting edge treatment options allowing more Louisiana residents to receive their treatment here rather than traveling to other NCI Cancer Centers,” said Deininger. “The NCI designation will make it easier to recruit the top faculty and physicians to New Orleans and will open up more NIH grant opportunities for our faculty. The NCI designation grant itself will provide new funding for shared scientific resources that support our researchers’ work.”
At this stage, the LCRC is looking for a scientific director. Reps said it’s a key component for NCI Cancer Center designation.
“Despite recent decreases in federal funding, the LCRC research grant totals have significantly exceeded pre-Katrina levels,” said LCRC’s CAO Davisson. “We believe the strength of the LCRC collaboration will appeal to high-level candidates across the country.”
“Recruiting faculty with the highest potential for research and supporting those faculty with the core resources and organization supplied by the LCRC, along with the critical mass to help our faculty collaborate in more complex and larger grants, will result in a steady increase in grant funding,” said Deininger. ‘We have the potential to double our grant funding in the next five years, and this should be accompanied by increased high-end cancer care in the clinical arena.
“The NCI Cancer Centers program provides a detailed set of criteria that sets the gold standard for development of a program in cancer research and care,” he said. “Part of those standards involve aiming your programs to meet the specific needs of your local community. We have a tremendous opportunity to bring clinical trials to a relatively underserved community that most cancer centers do not serve and to study the unique aspects of our local cancers. This includes both inner city and rural minorities among others. We will not be as big as many of the cancer centers in the near future, but the key will be that we will be great at the programs we establish, aimed at serving our local community through research, education and the best clinical care.”