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At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital a veteran investigator who oversees services and support essential to translating laboratory discoveries into better outcomes for patients is being honored for helping to train the next generation of research associates.
A clinical research career that began at St. Jude more than 25 years ago was honored recently when Victor M. Santana, M.D., received the President’s Award for Distinguished Service from the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCRA).
Santana, who is St. Jude vice president of clinical trials administration and a member of the St. Jude Solid Tumor Division, was recognized for his contribution to training the data managers, research nurses and study coordinators responsible for carrying out clinical research in academics, industry and government settings. For nearly a decade, Santana has served as volunteer faculty for the SoCRA clinical research certification course, which is held several times each year at locations throughout the U.S. Santana teaches the research ethics component.
In honoring Santana, SoCRA President John Petrich, cited Santana’s outstanding service not only to SoCRA but also in the lives of patients he has cared for during his career, and for those who are benefiting from the research he has guided and supported through his work at St. Jude.
Santana was honored September 24 at the opening ceremony of the society’s annual conference in Dallas.
Michael Kastan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, praised Santana for helping to train the next generation of clinical research associates. Kastan cited Santana’s work with SoCRA as an example of the unique blend of skills and experiences Santana brings to his role overseeing the hospital’s clinical research infrastructure. Santana also serves as the cancer center’s associate director for clinical research.
Clinical investigation is the cornerstone of this institution,” Kastan said. “We push cure rates forward for patients with cancer and other catastrophic diseases through our ability to apply the discoveries we make in the laboratory to patients in the clinic. As the director of the infrastructure that supports our clinical research, Dr. Santana works to make the process as effective a possible, making it simultaneously easy to do clinical research while protecting patients.”
Santana joined St. Jude in 1984 as a clinical fellow in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology. He built a career as a successful clinical investigator and generous colleague, chairing the hospital Institutional Review Board that oversees human subjects research and serving on a variety of committees for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, other government agencies and professional groups.
Today, Santana coordinates more than a half dozen departments and groups working to ensure the safe, efficient and optimal operation of the estimated 390 clinical trials now actively underway at St. Jude. Unlike other types of research that rely on cells or laboratory models like mice, clinical trials involve people as participants. Between 2005 and 2009, the number of St. Jude patients participating in a protocol more than doubled to about 2,200.
The questions being asked range from what are the genetic missteps underlying cancer to how to better match patients with the most effective drugs. The answers will help determine treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases ranging from leukemia and brain tumors to influenza and sickle cell disease. In addition, investigators hope the result will be more effective disease prevention strategies and new approaches to helping survivors flourish.
“In this office, we support the study team and the principal investigator,” Santana said. “Patients benefit because if you have a study that is asking an important scientific question, that is managed well and that provides scientifically valid results, it helps create a new standard of care in a timely manner.”
Santana said his goals include improved communication, greater institution-wide standardization of operating procedures and ensuring that the education and training needs of those involved in clinical research are met. Santana now holds a monthly directors meeting that brings together representatives of departments involved in clinical research to tackle concerns and discuss future efforts.
The work is being done against a backdrop of change. Along with evolving regulatory and funding issues, Santana said the rise of personalized medicine built on molecularly-targeted therapies will force investigators and regulators to revisit how clinical trials are designed and the results interpreted.
“The new challenge will be to demonstrate that a medication likely to benefit relatively few patients has an impact,” he said, especially when the experimental drugs are being developed to achieve results more subtle than simply killing tumor cells. Success will require open communication between all those involved in clinical research, Santana said.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering research and treatment of children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Ranked the No. 1 pediatric cancer hospital by Parents magazine and the No. 1 children’s cancer hospital by U.S. News & World Report, St. Jude is the first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. St. Jude has treated children from all 50 states and from around the world, serving as a trusted resource for physicians and researchers. St. Jude has developed research protocols that helped push overall survival rates for childhood cancer from less than 20 percent when the hospital opened to almost 80 percent today. St. Jude is the national coordinating center for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. In addition to pediatric cancer research, St. Jude is also a leader in sickle cell disease research and is a globally prominent research center for influenza.
Founded in 1962 by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world, publishing more research articles than any other pediatric cancer research center in the United States. St. Jude treats more than 5,700 patients each year and is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance. St. Jude is financially supported by thousands of individual donors, organizations and corporations without which the hospital’s work would not be possible. In 2010, St. Jude was ranked the most trusted charity in the nation in a public survey conducted by Harris Interactive, a highly respected international polling and research firm.