“I consider the first annual Clinical Trials Symposium a huge success!”
Susie Owenby, System Director of Research for Covenant Health System responded with excitement when asked about the recent event. She went on to explain, “It was well attended by medical providers, ancillary staff, and the community, both in-person and virtually. Getting the word out about the availability of clinical trials here at Thompson is important.”
David Chism, MD, Thompson Oncology Group Medical Oncologist and Medical Director of Clinical Research, also considers the conference a success. Dr. Chism explains, “The content shared at Thompson’s first annual Clinical Trials Symposium was insightful. Presenters shared detailed content which will no doubt have a lasting impact. Participants discovered the significant growth of the clinical trials portfolio — adding 15 pharmacology-sponsored studies and the first phase one trial along with strengthening international and national collaborations through the cancer consortium of COVID 19. ” He went on to express his gratitude to his colleagues, “Thanks to all the speakers and for sharing the great content offered to the Knoxville community.”
Owenby opened the Symposium and shared highlights from her history of working in clinical research. She shared stories about her patients who were enrolled in pharmaceutical trials that resulted in approved medicines now used so often in cancer care that they are recognized household names. She also talked about the valuable contribution patients make to the future by agreeing to participate in clinical trials. Susie reflected on the courage patients demonstrate to enroll and stay on trials and how it is balanced by these patients’ pride in knowing their participation gives a great gift to future patients.
Aligned with Thompson’s Mission
Thompson’s President and CAO, Scott Warwick applauded the event’s alignment with the organization’s mission and vision. He shared, “Thompson Cancer Survival Center was founded on a vision of providing the people of East Tennessee and the surrounding region with the most advanced treatment capabilities available, right here where they live. We are committed to continuing that vision. Offering a broad range of clinical trials to our patients is key to accomplishing our mission to provide excellent cancer care for the many East Tennessee communities we serve. Hosting this annual event for our medical and patient communities is just one example of how we plan to continue advancing cancer care today, tomorrow, and into the future.”
Increasing awareness of the clinical research program at Covenant Health’s Thompson Cancer Survival Center was one goal of the October 29th Clinical Trials Symposium. The event titled Perspective on Clinical Trials explored clinical research from various viewpoints. The program’s presenters represented different facets of cancer care including Medical, Radiation, and Surgical Oncologists. A cancer survivor who was a patient participant in a clinical trial was scheduled to speak to the group but unforeseen circumstances prevented her attendance.
David Chism, MD, was the driving force behind the idea to create and host an annual symposium. Dr. Chism demonstrates a passion and enthusiasm for clinical research and the mission to enroll patients in clinical trials to advance cancer care. In his presentation titled Diverse Populations and Clinical Research, Dr. Chism reviewed the current deficiencies of patients from diverse populations enrolled in trials. This reduced volume of patients negatively affects researchers’ ability to fully understand the impact of treatments on varied groups. Many people of color are apprehensive to trust the research process due to unethical practices in years past. Ethical standards have since been developed and implemented as safeguards to prevent similar occurrences. This distrust is only one of the barriers to participation. Dr. Chism called on medical providers to actively ask diversity patients to learn more about clinical trials opportunities for which they may qualify.
Dr. Grant Clark, Radiation Oncologist with East Tennessee Radiation Oncology, and Dr. Ana Wilson, Surgical Oncologist with Premier Surgical, shared their thoughts about trials in their respective fields. Dr. Clark talked about the quality levels of trials and the gold standard for determining the advantages of one treatment over another while avoiding confounding biases. He illustrated why the double-blind, randomized clinical trial is the best way for us to confidently answer questions that seek to advance medicine. He shared insight into the challenges of clinical trials in Radiation Oncology. Radiation Oncology trials are less abundant and more difficult to construct due to a lack of funding which is more available to trials exploring pharmaceutical treatments due to pharmaceutical companies’ sponsorship.
Dr. Wilson passionately spoke of results from trials that have effectively changed the standard of care for breast cancer and melanoma surgical treatment. Some of her mentors from her fellowship in surgical oncology are responsible for findings that are changing the parameters surgeons follow to justify the need for some surgeries. The research she referenced was an example of trials leading to less invasive and less aggressive procedures rather than more aggressive or additional treatments. The highlighted results validated the trend to avoid doing lymph node surgery in situations it is unlikely to yield meaningful differences in outcomes. This shift allows patients to avoid the morbidity of lymphadenopathy that can be a result of lymph node surgery without any negative impact on patient survival or disease progression.
Keynote speaker, Dr. Doug Johnson, Medical Oncologist
who leads the melanoma clinical research program at Vanderbilt, gave an engaging presentation. He shared insights on the research he and his team are doing currently, with a focus on targeted treatments. Dr. Johnson pointed out the importance of research that analyzes not only the positive or intended effects of treatment but also unintended effects of treatments such as side effects and adverse events. He illustrated how some targeted treatments very effectively combat cancer, but the exact same mechanism of action that leads to this success can simultaneously lead to detrimental organ damage. By understanding the potential warning signs that herald organ failure, or identifying certain patient characteristics that predispose patients to these reactions, providers may be able to monitor, detect, and stop these events before they fatally impact the patient.
2021 Clinical Trials Champion
The event ended with Dr. Chism and his team recognizing Dr. Namratha Vontela, Medical Oncologist at Thompson Oncology Group in Oak Ridge, as the 2021 Clinical Trials Champion. Dr. Vontela’s commitment to making patients aware of available trials is evident through the number of her patients who were successfully enrolled. Every year a champion will be named to acknowledge the efforts of providers who support clinical research.
Supporting Clinical Trials in East Tennessee
The importance of investing in clinical research efforts within our communities cannot be understated. Susie Owenby explains, “Patients don’t have to travel long distances to get access to the latest treatments for their cancer. They can get it right here. Our physicians take a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing in all team members—surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, genetic counselors, and clinical trials to determine the best treatment options for their patients. Discussing these different options and the latest data at these symposiums will continue to set Thompson Cancer Survival Center apart from other centers. It is exciting to see the great things Thompson Cancer Survival Center is doing to impact the lives of our patients and their families.”
To learn more about clinical research or the available clinical trials, ask your care team members and visit the Thompson Cancer Survival Center Clinical Research website.