Cancer Center at Brown University Established

The Corporation of Brown University has approved the establishment of the Cancer Center at Brown. The center takes a broad-spectrum approach to research, from working to understand how cancer develops, grows and metastasizes, to developing new therapeutics for patients in a personalized way that addresses their needs ranging from risk through survivorship. 

The Cancer Center is an outgrowth of the Joint Program in Cancer Biology established between Brown and Lifespan in 2018. Associate Dean for Oncologic Sciences Wafik S. El-Deiry, MD, PhD, FACP, was recruited to Brown as its inaugural director.

“Establishing the Cancer Center at Brown will support the programmatic integration of innovative cancer-relevant research,” El-Deiry says. “By bringing programs from across campus and the affiliated hospitals together, we can highlight existing strengths, forge new collaborations, and eventually tap into significant extramural resources, while addressing the cancer burden in Rhode Island and throughout the world.”

The existing strengths include 150 investigators conducting basic, clinical, and population research, with over $40 million dollars in funding to support research and clinical trials. Within the Cancer Center, investigators have been organized into Programs--in Cancer Biology, Cancer Therapeutics, or Population Science--according to the nature of their research. In addition, 11 Translational Research Disease Groups (TRDGs) have been developed around specific types of cancer. The Cancer Center is growing and has already been working to recruit additional senior and junior faculty to the research programs. “There is a rich environment of transdisciplinary collaboration at our academic center, and we see this as a great place where cancer investigators can advance their careers while having national impact,” El-Deiry says.

An existing strength is the investigator-initiated cancer therapeutic clinical research conducted through the Brown University Oncology Research Group (BrUOG). Since 1994, BrUOG has given Rhode Islanders access to cutting-edge cancer treatment protocols. Many of these protocols have gone on to become the standard of care for certain types of cancer.

Emphasis on cancer in Rhode Island is an important area of focus for the Cancer Center at Brown, El-Deiry says. “We have special interests in cancers with higher rates in Rhode Island, such as bladder cancer, lung cancer, breast, thyroid and skin cancer, as well as issues of access to care and affordability of care within our population,” he says. “And now we have added barriers to optimal cancer care due to COVID-19 that we are working to improve,” he added.

The Cancer Center, which has also joined the Association of American Cancer Institutes, can draw upon a vast network of collaborators across the state to address these issues. At Brown, the School of Public Health offers research on a number of behavioral contributors to cancer development, such as smoking, alcohol use, and lack of physical activity. In Brown’s affiliated hospitals, the Lifespan Health System and Lifespan Cancer Institute care for about 4,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients every year, providing innovative, current, and effective treatments and continually evolving with the fast-moving field of cancer research. The Care New England system provides research and clinical expertise particularly in cancers that affect women. The statewide Advance-CTR (Clinical Translational Research) connects Brown with the University of Rhode Island and provides infrastructure support for diverse types of research. The Cancer Center at Brown serves as the connector among these entities that, when brought together, form a powerhouse of research and clinical excellence.

Long-term, the goal is for Brown to achieve a National Cancer Institute-Cancer Center Support Grant. “We are working methodically, in a focused way, toward that,” El-Deiry says, “collaborating for the benefit of patients.” That includes building the Cancer Center at Brown along NCI-standards, guided by achievable milestones in cancer-focused collaborative research, cancer-relevant funding, impactful publications, and increasing the portfolio of investigator-initiated cancer clinical research, just to name a few. 

“The Cancer Center at Brown is an important step in this process,” says Jack A. Elias, MD, senior vice president for health affairs and dean of medicine and biological sciences. “We are striving to achieve depth and breadth in collaborative interdisciplinary research along with measurable impact in the field and on our region. We have tremendous strengths already, and we’re excited to work on building that out in the coming years.”