Cancer Therapeutics Training Program

The development of better therapeutic agents for the treatment of cancer is a high priority research goal forCancer Therapeutics Training (CT2) Program the next 20 – 30 years. Major advances in cell and molecular biology, genetics and genomics, structural and computational biology and medicinal chemistry have provided the tools needed to identify critical targets, validate their importance to cellular function, design drugs and clinical trials and identify patient populations most likely to benefit from treatment. To capitalize on these advances it is essential for institutions of higher learning to train scientists and physician-scientists in the skills needed to execute successful drug development programs. There is also urgent need to make this development process far more efficient than it has been in the past. This will require that scientists and physicians be trained to use new technologies and paradigms that can be innovatively integrated to overcome long-standing barriers in the process of moving a drug from discovery through clinical trials to a successful NDA. There is a severe shortage of professionals trained to effectively manage the various stages of the development of a cancer drug, and particularly to manage the overall process.  The Cancer Therapeutics Training Program (CT2) aims address this challenge by providing both scientists and physician-scientists an intensive two-year period of post-doctoral hands-on training in developmental therapeutics focused on cancer drugs and mentored by individuals from both academia and industry who are national leaders in each part of the development process. This training will take place within an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center whose research programs encompass each of the major steps in the drug development process and which is engaged in the discovery and testing of a wide spectrum of novel cancer drugs and drug-delivery systems. The UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center provides a superb crucible for the operation of a cohesive developmental therapeutics training program. It is located in the middle of one of the largest concentrations of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the world, with over 400 large and small companies dedicated to developing new therapeutics in its immediate environment. There is extensive interaction between the Cancer Center faculty and professionals in the surrounding companies already skilled in the art of drug development that provides a highly innovative setting within which to train the next generation of scientists and physician-scientists to lead academic drug development efforts into the future. The proposed program will provide post-doctoral training for basic scientists, physician-scientists and clinician investigators directed at preparing them for research careers in cancer drug development in academia.

Academic Environment

The Moores UCSD Cancer Center provides a superb crucible for the operation of a cohesive developmental therapeutics training program. It is located in the middle of one of the largest concentrations of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the world, with over 470 large and small companies dedicated to developing new therapeutics in its immediate environment.  There is extensive interaction between the Cancer Center faculty and professionals in the surrounding companies already skilled in the art of drug development that provides a highly innovative setting within which to train the next generation of scientists and physicians to lead academic drug development efforts in the future.

The Rebecca and John Moores Cancer Center

The UC San Diego Cancer Center was founded in 1979. Its growth has been fostered by the rich fabric of intellectual and entrepreneurial prowess for which San Diego has become famous. The Cancer Center has an administrative structure of seven Research Programs and 12 Shared Resources.  The clinical faculty of the Center provide state-of-the-art cancer care within the context of a major clinical trials and translation research program. The Cancer Center sponsors multiple seminars, journal clubs, colloquia and meetings in which research progress is shared. The Center opened a 270,000 sq. ft. multipurpose building that houses all of the cancer outpatient clinical services and provides a large amount of laboratory research space in 2006. This facility brings together, both physically and programmatically, laboratory-based scientists, epidemiologists and clinical oncologists within the same facility with the goal of fostering translational cancer research. 

More than 400 new patients enter clinical treatment protocols annually including NCI Cooperative Group trials (CALGB, NSABP, RTOG and GOG) as well as investigator initiated trials.  More than 50% of the patients are entered on institutionally generated protocols. There are 3 inpatient teaching hospitals, each of which offers a set of unique characteristics; these include the UCSD Medical Center (UCSDMC) in the Hillcrest region of San Diego, the VA Medical Center (VAMC) in La Jolla and Thornton Hospital in La Jolla.  UCSDMC is a 403-bed primary, secondary and tertiary care university hospital. The inpatient hospital population is equally divided between male and female patients. There is a 10-bed NIH-funded Clinical Research Center at which complex phase I and phase II protocols, including pharmacokinetic studies, are performed.  A GCRC satellite facility operates in the new Moores Cancer Center facility adjacent to the Thornton Hospital. The VAMC has 238 beds, occupied primarily by men.  There is a large cohort of patients who receive primary care under the auspices of the VA (approximately 25,000, of which 600 carry a diagnosis of AIDS), and a large number of both inpatient and outpatient consultations in Hematology-Oncology are requested.  Thornton Hospital has 104 beds and is a UCSD hospital.  Thornton Hospital has 104 beds, and is a UCSD hospital; an additional 38 beds are currently under construction, and a further addition of 245 beds will start construction in 2011. The blood and marrow transplant program (BMT) is housed at Thornton, and offers exposure to both autologous and allogeneic transplant procedures. Research facilities include the Cancer Center, Clinical Sciences Building, Center for Molecular Genetics, Center for Molecular Medicine, Leichtag Biomedical Research Building and the Veterans Administration Medical Center on the La Jolla campus.  

The Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Community

A number of other leading biomedical research institutes with highly active cancer research and drug development programs are located immediately adjacent to the UCSD campus and the Moores Cancer Center building in La Jolla. These include the Salk Institute, the Scripps Research Institute, the Sanford-Burnham Institute (formerly La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation), the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology, the Medical Biology Institute, and the La Jolla Institute of Experimental Medicine. The close physical proximity of these institutions to UCSD and to one another creates a remarkable concentration of biomedical research talent that is second to none in the world. UCSD is an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center; two of the other immediately adjacent institutes (the Salk Institute and the Sanford-Burnham Institute) are NCI-designated Basic Cancer Research Centers. Fostered in part by proximity and in part by common research interests, the faculty of these institutions are involved in an extensive network of collaborative interactions many of which are supported by joint grants and dual-appointments between the institutions.

In addition to having a leading research university surrounded by an outstanding set of independent biomedical research institutes, the cancer drug development efforts of the Cancer Center are fostered by an extraordinary community of biomedical and biotechnology companies that surround the campus. Ranked third in the nation in the number of established biotech companies, San Diego’s life science community has become a model for the rapidly growing biotech and biopharm industry. Well established since the 1980s, these industries continue to expand annually and such stability attracts both startups and new talent nationwide. The path to success in the world of biotech and biopharmaceuticals requires access to outstanding universities, generous venture capital, and large amounts of Federal funding. San Diego boasts all of these ingredients, enabling it to maintain a leadership position in the development of new cancer therapeutics. San Diego biotech companies currently have >200 products in development. What distinguishes San Diego from other cities is the established support structure and the availability of experienced professionals to guide the rapid growth of the biopharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.  The establishment of innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors, for which UCSD has become famous, facilitates the development of truly novel therapeutic paradigms. A key component of the training program proposed in this application involves practical training through interaction with industry leaders and well as University-based mentors.