Inaugural Award will Accelerate Cancer Clinical Trials

July 1, 2024 by Kate Strotmeyer

Christopher Anker, MD is the first recipient of the Clinician Investigator-Initiated Therapeutic Trial Opportunity (CIITTO) award

Christopher Anker, MD is the first recipient of the Clinician Investigator-Initiated Therapeutic Trial Opportunity (CIITTO) award from the University of Vermont Cancer.

Often underappreciated in the treatment of cancer are not just the side effects of cancer therapy, but also the significant financial and scheduling burden placed on cancer patients and their caregivers. 

Christopher Anker, MD has received the inaugural Clinician Investigator-Initiated Therapeutic Trial Opportunity (CIITTO) award from the University of Vermont Cancer Center to develop clinical trials that help ease these burdens, specifically by helping patients receive radiation therapy more efficiently and perhaps avoid it completely. As a radiation oncologist at the University of Vermont Health Network, professor at the Larner College of Medicine, and co-leader of the UVM Cancer Center’s Cancer Host and Environment research program, Dr. Anker is uniquely positioned to address these acute issues.

The CIITTO Award was initiated to support investigators who are actively working to bring treatment-related, investigator-initiated clinical trials to patients of the UVM Cancer Center by offering up to 20% percent effort and $20,000 to support running the trials. Investigator-initiated trials provide many benefits to patients, including addressing the specific and unique needs of UVM Cancer Center patients, increasing treatment options, and providing real-world data. 

Consider, for example, Dr. Anker’s investigator-initiated trial which will provide a personalized approach for patients with high risk factors for skin cancer (Vermont has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the United States). Dr. Anker and colleagues have presented data showing that patients with squamous cell skin cancer treated at the University of Vermont Cancer Center have lower than expected rates of recurrence following Mohs surgery with the vast majority cured with surgery alone. However, there is still a population with multiple risk factors for which radiation could help decrease the chance of the cancer returning. 

The CIITTO award will enable Dr. Anker along with dermatologists and surgical oncologists to develop a trial to provide a personalized approach for these patients with higher risk factors. In this trial, only the most at-risk patients will receive radiation and the trial will enable them to complete their therapy in just five treatments rather than the current standard involving at least a month or more of daily treatments.  

A second clinical trial supported by the CIITTO award aims to address another common problem for cancer patients: the treatment of brain metastases. Brain metastases affect about 200,000 cancer patients per year nationally, and historically the standard line of treatment has been radiation due to the inability of chemotherapy drugs to enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier. Dr. Anker is developing a trial alongside his medical and neuro-oncology colleagues that aims to help most patients avoid or delay radiation therapy by treating patients with medications (targeted drugs and/or immunotherapy) that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and eliminate brain metastases without radiation. This is important because as life expectancy for many patients with brain metastases increases significantly the long-term side effects from brain radiation are becoming more of a problem. This new trial hopes to mitigate these long-term side effects by reducing the need for radiation in patients with brain metastases.  

In addition to helping patients avoid toxicity from radiation, the implications for these two clinical trials are dramatic for the populations the UVM Cancer Center serves across Vermont and Northern New York. Whether patients are traveling from hundreds of miles away or from across town, coming to the hospital can be a huge inconvenience and financial burden. This research can have significant implications for more efficient, personalized care.