Cancer research sector grows in Upstate

GSA10-10-11.inddFrom the current edition of GSA Business: Cancer treatment and research is transforming and creating jobs in the Upstate. Hiring has been on an upward trend as new technologies, therapies and vaccines are being created to fight cancer.

By Liz Segrist
Published Oct. 10, 2011

Cancer treatment and research is transforming and creating jobs in the Upstate.

Hospital systems have expanded their cancer programs and research, while biotech companies and firms have relocated or expanded in the Upstate in recent years. Hiring has been on an upward trend with these companies as new technologies, therapies and vaccines are being created to fight cancer.

Sam Konduros, the business development director of ITOR, or the Institute for Translational Oncology Research, said the cancer research and treatment sector has a significant economic impact in the Upstate with the creation of quality jobs and intellectual property.

“In the realm of cancer and beyond that, the concept of personalized medicine has new technologies and capabilities coming to the forefront and I believe it will continue,” Konduros said.

Kiyatec is the first on-site partner at GHS’ Institute for Translational Oncology Research. Lab 21 recently expanded into ITOR and an undisclosed company will soon follow. (Photo/Provided)
Konduros said this job growth is exemplified with ITOR, Greenville Hospital System’s 20,000-square-foot innovation zone, which nearly doubled to this size earlier this summer. Kiyatec Inc. was the first on-site partner to move into it in June.

UK-based Lab 21 recently expanded from its U.S. headquarters in the Next Innovation Center on South Church Street in Greenville into ITOR. A third undisclosed company involved in oncology drug development has committed and will move in soon.

ITOR, a part of the GHS University Medical Center’s Cancer Center, plans to continue expanding with more public and private partners, said Dr. Jeff Edenfield, ITOR’s associate medical director.

Job growth

Bon Secours St. Francis Health System’s cancer programs are growing with a 300% increase in chemotherapy services rendered and more than 40 positions for cancer programs created in the last 18 months, said Teri Ficicchy, executive vice president and chief nursing officer. Ficicchy expects this hiring trend to continue.

The cancer sector has made an enormous economic impact on Greenville in terms of job creation and the lodging and food from patients traveling to the area for treatment, Ficicchy said.

“We want to keep cancer treatment in the community for the convenience of the family and the patient, as well as those traveling here for our services,” said Terra Dillard, administrator director of oncology services.

Orbis Health Solutions, a biotech firm founded in 2009 in Greenville by Dr. Thomas Wagner as a spinoff from GHS Oncology Research Institute where he was the previous director, needed to expand in 2010.
Orbis specializes in therapeutic vaccine research and novel personalized cancer treatments. Clemson University’s Biomedical Institute and the Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center collaborated for this research.

The company moved from its research lab at 28 Global Drive to its larger 5,213-square-foot facility at 111 Smith Hines Road and hired several more scientists to assist with the research and development of their vaccines.

These companies and hospital programs all bring innovative cancer research to the forefront in the Upstate.

“The hope and belief is cancer research is on the cusp of some breakthroughs,” Konduros said. “It’s all focused on the opportunities of personalized medicine.”

Konduros said ITOR is developing a business plan and feasibility study to develop a potential clinical genomic center to bring new equipment, infrastructure and expertise into ITOR to conduct gene sequencing molecular profiling capabilities on site. Konduros said they hope for a defined plan for this personalized medicine as early as 2012.

“We are looking into the future of gene sequencing molecular profiling. The capability will allow us to more accurately target the right drugs with the right patients,” Konduros said.

ITOR will continue exploring the possibilities of a deeper relationship with a number of pharmaceutical engines, including Amgen, which develops and manufactures human therapies. ITOR representatives met in Amgen’s California headquarters in September and conducted a site initiation visit for the potential launch of a new Amgen trial.

ITOR now has conducted 13 first-in-human studies in clinical phase one and collaborated with more than 30 pharmaceutical companies.

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First in state

St. Francis also is making strides in cancer research and treatment as the first in the state to receive accreditation for the research- and evidence-based STAR, or Survivorship Training and Rehab, program, created by breast cancer survivor and Harvard Medical School assistant professor Dr. Julie Silver.

Fifty St. Francis clinicians in 18 different specialties were trained and certified to create an individualized, comprehensive survivorship plan and then assess and track patient outcomes to heal physical and emotional aspects of cancer.

St. Francis was the first cancer center in the Upstate to receive accreditation recognizing excellence for bone marrow transplantation, or stem cell transplants, which was awarded in May. It’s the only hospital-based program in the state to offer extracorporeal photopheresis, or different therapies for lymphoma patients, Dillard said.

Research Manager Kristina Stoeppler-Biege said the hospital is part of clinical trials for leukemia and lymphoma with other regional health systems, in which a handful of international and national centers partake.

The clinical trials allow local patients to stay home during treatment. Other patients come from out-of-state or out-of-country to get treatment at St. Francis, Stoeppler-Biege said.

New technologies

Kiyatec creates a template for private sector innovation companies to repeat, Konduros said. Kiyatec improves patient specific outcomes and cancer breakthroughs with a 3D piece of plastic. This innovative 3D cell culture technology mimics the body’s natural cell activity. Kiyatec COO David Orr said growing cells in Kiyatec products, rather than Petri dishes, can create more accurate models of complicated human biology.

By using the 3D technology, ITOR Medical Director Dr. Joe Stephenson said it gets as close to the real environment as possible, which helps oncologists and scientists learn how the cells react to different drugs.

Stephenson said this creates a new niche in the drug development process that fills a void of understanding how cells are grown.

“This is a way to identify which cancer drugs will work quicker, better and more effective on individualized patients,” Kiyatec CEO Matthew Gevaert said. “If we get better models, we can test drugs better and find toxicities earlier.”

Kiyatec and Lab 21 are now neighbors in ITOR. Lab 21 is a genetic testing laboratory specializing in personalized medicine.

The lab helps doctors implement personalized medicine in oncology and infectious diseases by extracting DNA from tissue samples and analyzing the genetic coding to help physicians determine which patients can respond to which drug therapies.

Lab 21 wanted to expand in ITOR to conduct basic and translational research in a clinical environment with access to an expert oncology team, Kondorus said.

“This demonstrates the relevance of the unique clinical test bed space,” he said.