PORTLAND, Maine – Cancer patients across Maine and Carroll County will have access to more advanced clinical trials in their home communities, thanks to a major federal research grant awarded to the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network.

The six-year, $5.1 million award from the National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program is the single largest grant ever extended by the National Cancer Institute for clinical cancer research and cancer clinical trials in the state of Maine.

It will establish the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network Lifespan Program, designed to bring the latest research in cancer prevention, cancer treatment and cancer care delivery to underserved populations.

Memorial Hospital in North Conway is part of the MaineHealth network and will have access to participatin in the program.

The National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program is funding a total of 46 institutions, 32 of which, like the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network, are community-based sites.

The Lifespan Program will be the only oncology program in Northern New England to enroll patients in National Cancer Institute clinical trials at every stage of the cancer continuum, from prevention to survivorship, and from pediatric to adult.

Some of the studies will focus on cancer control and prevention, with a goal of reducing the incidence, risk and mortality rates for cancer and improving quality of life for survivors. Others will aim to improve the way cancer care is delivered.

National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program was developed out of a recognition that both patients and research benefit when cancer clinical trials are offered to people where they live, not just at major research institutions in large urban areas. Patients are more comfortable being treated closer to their friends and family. Meanwhile, researchers generate evidence that applies to a more diverse population, contributing to science that leads to improved outcomes for a broader patient population.

 “Patients often feel that in order to get state-of-the-art care and to enroll in clinical trials, they need to travel to a major metropolitan area,” said Scot Remick, M.D., Maine Medical Center’s Chief of Oncology and one of the three principal investigators of the Lifespan Program. “We believe patients should have access to advanced care close to home – wherever they live. This grant is a transformational award that will bring a wide variety of clinical trials to our rural communities.”

While numerous studies suggest cancer patients in rural settings have higher mortality rates than those in urban areas, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that cancer patients in rural and urban settings had similar outcomes when they had uniform access to a clinical trial.

MaineHealth’s network of clinical trials and other research activities specifically target health conditions present in the populations its hospitals and practices care for, allowing patients to receive trials that are medically appropriate in their own community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine has the eighth highest cancer mortality rate in the nation. The state also has the third highest rate of pediatric cancer.

“These kinds of clinical trials do more than help current patients,” said Christopher Darus, M.D., chair of MaineHealth’s Oncology Protocol Review Committee and principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program grant. “They lead to innovations in care that become the standards of tomorrow.”

In addition to Drs. Remick and Darus, Peter Rubin, M.D., will serve as the study’s third principal investigator.

Patients currently have access to clinical trials through the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network at Maine Medical Center, Maine General Medical Center, Southern Maine Health Care, Stephens Memorial Hospital, Waldo County General Hospital and Pen Bay Medical Center.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Mid Coast Hospital are expected to begin enrolling cancer patients through the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network early next year.

The Lifespan Program will help extend the reach of clinical trials to Franklin Memorial Hospital, Lincoln Health and Memorial Hospital in North Conway as well as increase the number of clinical trials available to patients at other locations within the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network.

The number of clinical trials available to oncology patients in the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network is expected to nearly triple during the life of this grant.

The MaineHealth Cancer Care Network was founded in 2014 with the goal of delivering the right care, in the right location as close to home as possible. The network’s commitment is to coordinate the patient’s journey as they access services that are most appropriate for them, making it easier for patients to follow through with their treatment plans in a setting that is as comfortable as possible. The Lifespan Program will help advance this vision and will serve as a tool to both develop the careers of young researchers and enhance the portfolio of experienced investigators.

“Each year, thousands of Mainers are diagnosed with cancer and receive expert care from experienced, knowledgeable, and compassionate medical professionals through the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network,” said Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement. “This investment, which we strongly supported, will allow MaineHealth Cancer Care Network to deliver promising, cutting-edge clinical trials to rural communities, giving patients access to the most advanced treatments and helping to bring peace of mind to their families.”

For more information on how you might be able to participate in a clinical trial, visit mainehealth.org/cancer.

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