Norris Cotton Cancer Center Receives Grant to Improve Rural Patient Access to Cancer Clinical Trials

A newly awarded $820,000 grant from The National Cancer Institute (NCI) will allow a team of multi-disciplinary investigators to increase clinical trial awareness and participation for rural patients who make up almost half of the area served by Dartmouth’s and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC). The project also seeks to address and reduce disparities in cancer outcomes between rural and non-rural populations.

The project, entitled, “Creating Access to Targeted Cancer Therapy for Underserved Populations (CATCH-UP)” is an administrative supplement to the NCI Cancer Center Support Grant under Program Director Steven D. Leach, MD, Director of NCCC. The team at NCCC, led by subaward principal investigator Jason Faris, MD, Director of the Early-Phase Trials Program at NCCC, aims to establish outreach, infrastructure, and a process that will improve access for patients from rural areas to the NCI’s Experimental Therapeutics Clinical Trials Network (ETCTN). These are early-phase studies evaluating novel anti-cancer drugs.

“This is a truly exciting opportunity to address the problem of rural patient access to clinical trials, and in so doing, address a fundamental disparity for our patient population as well as a component that could affect cancer outcomes for patients from rural areas vs. urban areas,” says Faris. “These trials have significant potential to identify beneficial therapies or advance the standard of care in multiple cancer types, so improving our patients' access to these trials is critically important.”

NCCC is unique as the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in northern New England, and one of few whose service area has a population that is almost half (48%) rural and does not contain a major urban core. This area carries a disproportionate burden in common and uncommon cancer types, leading to both cancer-related mortality and a growing population of cancer survivors. While NCCC has long been a site for participation in NCI cooperative group late-phase trials, expansion into experimental therapeutics will provide access to more trials for those previously treated patients with disease progression.

“It is a high honor to be chosen as one of only eight sites nationally by the NCI to collaborate on resolving current challenges of providing cancer patients in hard-to-reach areas with better access to some of the most promising clinical trials in the country,” says Leach. “By connecting with patients through outreach in largely rural northern New England, we’ll be able to provide important therapeutic opportunities that some patients may not otherwise have, and, over time, make a positive impact overall on cancer outcomes in our region.”

The strategy planned and supported by the grant includes:

  • Initiatives to educate rural cancer patient populations about clinical trial availability and participation.
  • Initiatives to increase rural provider awareness of clinical trials.
  • Active outreach efforts conducted by outreach and clinical research coordinators, research nurses and clinical oncologists.
  • Participation and mentorship for early-career investigators.
  • Transportation reimbursement for patients in trials, which has been a key limiting factor.

“All of these initiatives aim to bridge the gap between our rural satellite locations and the main NCCC campus in Lebanon, with the hope of supporting enrollment of our patients onto ETCTN clinical trials,” says Faris.

Jason Faris, MD, is the Director of the Early-Phase Trials Program, member of the Cancer Biology and Therapeutics Research Program, and a practicing medical oncologist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Dartmouth’s and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center, focusing on pancreatic, colorectal and hepatobiliary cancers. He is also Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. His research interests include the discovery and evaluation of new therapeutics for patients with cancer.

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center
Norris Cotton Cancer Center, located on the campus of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, NH with the highest level of high-quality, innovative, personalized, and compassionate patient-centered cancer care at DHMC, as well as at regional, multi-disciplinary locations and partner hospitals throughout NH and VT,. NCCC is one of only 51 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute’s prestigious “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation, the result of an outstanding collaboration between DHMC, New Hampshire’s only academic medical center, and Dartmouth College. Now entering its fifth decade, NCCC remains committed to excellence, outreach and education, and strives to prevent and cure cancer, enhance survivorship and to promote cancer health equity through its pioneering interdisciplinary research. Each year the NCCC schedules 61,000 appointments seeing nearly 4,000 newly diagnosed patients, and currently offers its patients more than 100 active clinical trials.