Translational Research Unit Celebrates 10 Years of Accelerating Novel Cancer Therapies

Translational Research UnitIn October, Froedtert and the MCW Cancer Center celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Nicholas Family Foundation Translational Research Unit (TRU), the state-of-the-art clinical and research facility that has been instrumental in accelerating novel ideas and launching practice-changing cancer clinical trials. Over the last ten years, the TRU’s infrastructure and expertise has helped the institution become home to Wisconsin’s largest cancer clinical trial treatment program, with more than 260 active studies.  

“The TRU is a key component of how we aim to beat cancer. It ensures that our scientific discoveries are not confined to the laboratory but are translated into real-life clinical benefits for patients,” said Deepak Kilari, MD, medical director of the TRU. “The continued growth of the TRU—one of few across the country—reflects the center’s longstanding commitment to accelerate life-saving cancer treatments and strategies that enhance early detection, prevention, and overall quality of life.”Only one clinical trial used the TRU when it first opened it 2013. Today, it serves as a hub for hundreds of studies offering new therapies to patients in Wisconsin. For the last decade, the facility has been an invaluable resource for driving groundbreaking MCW trials that have led to safer, more effective cancer treatments. Just two of these impactful trials supported by the TRU include the phase 3 CARTITUDE 4 study showing that cilta-cel reduced the risk of multiple myeloma (MM) progression or death by approximately 74%; and the first-in-human CAR-T therapy trial for patients with relapsed and refractory B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

CARTITUDE-4 is the only study so far to test CAR-T therapy in patients with MM after one prior line of therapy. Binod Dhakal, MD, associate professor of hematology and oncology, presented the trial’s first results at the American Society for Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting and was listed as co-first author of the publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Nirav Shah, MD, associate professor of hematology and oncology, and his research team were the first in the world to test a new CAR T-cell approach targeting two proteins on the surface of cancer cells rather than one. Their results, published in Nature Medicine in 2020, demonstrated that 82% of patients responded positively to the treatment. 

Opening Wisconsin's first cancer-dedicated inpatient TRU

Building on the tremendous impact of the outpatient TRU, the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network opened the state’s first cancer inpatient translational research unit (IP TRU) in October 2022. The unit houses eight patient beds and combines the expertise of specially trained oncology nursing and support staff, with the equipment needed to manage patients’ care plans and advance cancer-related discoveries in therapeutics.

“In the last year, the IP TRU has furthered our ability to deliver complex and potentially game changing therapies on clinical trials for patients without other options,” said Sameem Abedin, MD, medical director of the IP TRU. “Having a dedicated space enhances our communication, streamlines testing and monitoring processes, and expands our ability to heal more patients with cancer.”

Furthering our clinical research impact with the new BioHub

With the opening of the IP TRU, the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network became one of few cancer care networks in the nation with two dedicated cancer translational research units. The institution will continue to build on its clinical research impact by advancing novel studies and treatments in the new Cancer Research Building BioHub, which is expected to open in early 2025. The BioHub will expand the center’s already robust infrastructure and technologies, creating a space for the brightest minds in science to collaborate and solve the greatest challenges in cancer.

“The foresight of Dr. James Thomas in masterminding this critical research initiative, and the operationalizing of the idea by Dr. Doug Rizzo, Tina Curtis, and the Froedtert team has allowed the most innovative trials to be developed and implemented right here in Milwaukee. The recent expansion is a natural step forward in keeping up with capacity and innovation, and will allow the MCW Cancer Center to better serve our community,” said Cancer Center Director Gustavo Leone, PhD.