The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is embracing clinical trials with a focus on oncology, and patients will benefit from new priorities and programs, VA officials reported at the Association of VA Hematology/Oncology (AVAHO) virtual meeting. “The whole model is one that is far more proactive,” said Carolyn Clancy, MD, Under Secretary for Health for Discovery, Education, and Affiliate Networks.
According to Clancy, the department’s top research priority is to increase veteran access to high-quality clinical trials. “Priority number 2 is increasing the real-world impact of VA research,” she said. “Our commitment to veterans and the taxpayers is to reverse and shorten the [research-to-implementation] timeline. And the third priority is to put VA data to work for veterans, not just through people who work in VA and Veterans Health Administration, but through other researchers who can have access to them.”
To meet these goals, VA is engaging in multiple research programs and collaborations. Rachel B. Ramoni, DMD, ScD, the VA chief research and development officer, highlighted a number of the projects in a separate AVAHO meeting presentation, including:
- The National Cancer Institute and VA Interagency Group to Accelerate Trials Enrollment (NAVIGATE), an interagency collaboration between the VA and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This program established a network of sites to help enrolled veterans take part in NCI-supported clinical trials. “It really got up and running in 2018, and I’m proud to say that over 250 veterans have been enrolled, and enrollment exceeds that at non-NAVIGATE sites,” Ramoni reported. “Clearly, the additional support that these sites are getting is really helping to achieve the outcome of getting more veterans access to these trials.” However, she said, some areas of the nation aren’t yet covered by the program.
- The Precision Oncology Program for Cancer of the Prostate (POPCaP) , established through a partnership with the Prostate Cancer Foundation . The foundation provided a $50 million investment. “This program ensures that veterans, no matter where they are, get best-in-class prostate cancer care,” Ramoni explained. “The initial focus was ensuring that men get sequencing if they have metastatic prostate cancer, and that they get access to clinical trials. The really distinguishing factor about POPCaP is that it has built a vibrant community of clinicians, researchers and program offices. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.” More POPCaP hubs are in development, she said.
- PATCH (Prostate Cancer Analysis for Therapy Choice), a program funded by the VA and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. “The whole purpose of PATCH is to create this network of sites to systematically go through different clinical trials that are biomarker-driven,” Ramoni said. “One of the great things about PATCH is that it’s leveraging the genetics databases to help proactively identify men who might qualify for these trials and to find them wherever they might be across the system so they have access to these trials.” She also praised the program’s commitment to collaboration and mentorship. “If you’re new to putting together clinical trials concepts or to submitting merit proposals to VA for funding, PATCH is a great place to get into a community that’s supportive and wants to help you succeed.”
- The VA Phenomics Library. This library, based at the Boston VA Medical Center, focuses on improving the analysis of “messy” electronic health record data, Ramoni noted. “There are automated algorithms that go through and help you clean up that data to make sense of it,” she said. “The problem is that it’s really been an every-person-for-himself-or-herself system. Each researcher who needed these phenotypes was creating his or her own.” The Phenomics Library will promote sharing “so there’s not going to be as much wasted time duplicating effort,” she said. “By the end of fiscal year 2021, we will have over 1,000 curated phenotypes in there. We hope that will be a great resource for the oncology community as well as many other communities.”
- Access to Clinical Trials (ACT) for Veterans. “This program, which began a couple of years ago, has really succeeded,” Ramoni said. “We were focusing on decreasing the time it takes to start up multi-site industry trials. When we got started with ACT, it was taking over 200 days to get started. And now, just a couple years later, we are well under 100 days, which is within industry standards.” Also, she said, the VA established a Partnered Research Program office, “which serves to interact with our industry partners and really guide them through the VA system, which can be complex if you’re approaching it for the first time.”