Case Comprehensive Cancer Center earns ‘exceptional’ rating, $31.9 million in grants for research and education from National Cancer Institute

Collaboration across Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals celebrates 30th anniversary as one of nation’s elite cancer centers

Northeast Ohio’s coordinated effort to combat cancer has earned an extraordinary endorsement from the National Cancer Institute (NCI): its highest-possible rating and $31.9 million to continue its lifesaving work.

The rating of “exceptional” comes as the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center—a collaboration among Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals—celebrates its 30th anniversary of improving cancer outcomes through scientific discovery.

The center is one of just 49 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers nationally, and one of a small handful to earn an exceptional rating after an exhaustive review of its programs, which involve more than 370 physicians and scientists across the three organizations. The NCI evaluates cancer centers every five years as part of its grant renewal process.

“This ‘exceptional’ rating reflects national recognition of the excellence of our 370 brilliant and dedicated center members, ”President Barbara R. Snyder said, “as well as the inspiring progress they can make when they work together to defeat the common enemy that is cancer. We deeply appreciate the National Cancer Institute’s support in helping us find still more treatments and cures for this deadly and devastating disease.”

The NCI review recognized Stanton Gerson, the Asa and Patricia Shiverick-Jane Shiverick (Tripp) Professor of Hematological Oncology at Case Western Reserve and the cancer center’s director since 2004, for his leadership and for developing such initiatives implementing a strategic-planning effort and enhanced transdisciplinary collaborations, establishing the Office of Cancer Disparities Research and recruiting talented new senior leaders and researchers.

The review also praised the center for continuing to be a research leader in basic, clinical and population sciences, and for providing exemplary service to the population in Northeast Ohio. The center has built a national reputation for research in colorectal cancers, leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), brain, lung, kidney and prostate cancers.

Combined, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals treat nearly 16,000 new cancer patients each year. Because these hospitals are part of an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, these patients have greater opportunities to participate in a broad range of clinical trials; they also benefit from the concentration of expertise among the three organizations.

“Coming together with the goal of driving research focused on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control of cancer demonstrates the impact that collaboration among our institutions can have,” said Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Tom Mihaljevic, MD. “The collaboration furthers training and education; cancer research and clinical care; and support services that help patients and the communities we serve.” (Watch a video about the collaboration.)

Among the center’s recent achievements:

  • Sanford Markowitz and Amitabh Chak developed a balloon device that can be swallowed to detect Barrett’s Esophagus, a precursor to cancer, in an outpatient setting, without sedation. The device allows for quick, non-invasive diagnosis that can soon replace invasive endoscopy.
  • Monica Webb Hooper is leading a national cancer “moonshot” initiative on smoking cessation for cancer patients, first supported by CVS Health, and continues with support from NCI.
  • A team of researchers led by Vikas Gulani and Lee Ponsky evaluated Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting to improve detection of prostate cancer in men.
  • Research conducted by Justin Lathia and Ofer Reizes on cancer stem cells could lead to promising new ways to treat triple-negative breast cancer when hormone therapy fails, and better predict patient health outcomes.
  • Anant Madabhushi and Vamsidhar Velcheti are developing a computerized tissue-imaging program that could soon help identify which lung-cancer patients are likely to face an earlier recurrence of the disease, and figure out which patients will best respond to chemotherapy.
  • A new magnetic resonance imaging contrast agent being tested by Zheng-Rong Lu not only pinpoints breast cancers at early stages, but differentiates between aggressive and slow-growing types.
  • A team led by Paul Tesar developed a new method to screen brain-tumor cells and identify potential drug targets missed by traditional methods.
  • Colon cancer and MDS investigators, led by Kishore Guda and Jaroslaw Maciejewski, identified cancer gene mutations that occur with increased frequency in African-Americans that have poor prognosis.
  • Shideng Bao found an FDA-approved drug for lymphoma and leukemia, ibrutinib, may be effective in slowing growth of glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.
  • Research conducted by Qing Yi and his team shows that reducing cholesterol levels could enhance effectiveness of T-cell immunotherapy.
  • A team including Peter Scacheri, Alex Huang and Brian Rubin has discovered a way to target genes to block metastasis in osteosarcoma, a common primary malignancy of the bone with peak incidence in children and adolescents.
  • Members have successfully discovered and developed novel molecules to translate the science of our members into clinical therapies. New therapeutic discoveries include three new drugs now in clinical trials, along with five novel cell therapies.

“We congratulate Dr. Stan Gerson on the successful renewal of the National Cancer Institute’s grant for the continuing support of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center,” said Thomas F. Zenty III, CEO of University Hospitals.  “Through our partnership, University Hospitals and the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center offer the residents of Northeast Ohio access to innovative clinical trials that not only heal our patients, but advance the standard of cancer care nationally.”

As part of the review and designation, the NCI approved the renewal of a five-year, $27.9 million (P30) grant to support collaborative research.

The center was also lauded for its training, education and career-development programs for cancer trainees, from high school through junior faculty. Simultaneously, NCI awarded the center a $4 million (K-12) Paul Calabrese Clinical Oncology Scholar Training grant to support clinical investigators across the institutions. CWRU has the longest-running award of this type in the country.

“It is an honor to bring together the fantastic researchers, brilliant innovators and committed clinicians from across the academic institutions in Cleveland to focus on discoveries that improve the lives of cancer patients and their families,” Gerson said. “Our discoveries are moving at warp speed to benefit patients. The institutional support is remarkable, and was noted by our outside reviewers.”

The center has held an NCI designation since its founding by Case Western Reserve and University Hospitals, and attained “comprehensive” status in 1998. Cleveland Clinic formally joined the consortium in 2003.