Q&A with New Leader: Transforming Cancer Care through Clinical Trials

vice-chancellor of KU Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office, Natalie Streeter

New assistant vice-chancellor of KU Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office, Natalie Streeter, discusses the latest in breakthrough clinical trials and cancer research.

At any given time, The University of Kansas Cancer Center is managing about 600 clinical trials across the cancer continuum, with approximately 250 of those trials actively enrolling participants.

Clinical trials are a vital step in better understanding cancer and other diseases. Not only do they help develop more effective cancer treatments, but clinical trials also help KU Cancer Center:

  • detect cancer earlier;
  • find better tests or procedures for diagnosing cancer;
  • prevent cancer from occurring or reoccurring; and
  • improve quality of life for those living with cancer.

Clinical research is highly regulated. Offering clinical trials requires a robust infrastructure and an integrated multidisciplinary team of experts.

Natalie Streeter was recently named assistant vice-chancellor of KU Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office. Below, she discusses the latest in breakthrough clinical trials and cancer research at the institution.

Q.   Tell us about your new role at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

A.   I am responsible for strategic planning and operations of all cancer clinical research activities. Clinical research is a critical component of helping cancer patients during their experience with cancer, from prevention and diagnosis to treatment, palliative care and survivorship.

Q.   How does the state-of-the-art KU Clinical Research Center support clinical research efforts?

A.   The KU Clinical Research Center, supported by JCERT funding, houses the cancer center’s early phase clinical trial program, outpatient exam and treatment rooms and the headquarters for KU Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office. The facility provides a sophisticated and innovative space to conduct novel, cutting-edge studies to advance the treatment and knowledge of cancer care. Resources located onsite include the investigational pharmacy to manage clinical trial medications, correlative laboratory to process trial samples and a dedicated team of nurses and technicians whose sole focus is caring for patients on clinical trials.

The building is designed around the patient. Without them, we would not be able to make progress against cancer. For example, patients have ample personal space and a lab in the building allows for quick result turnaround.  The building supports a patient-centric experience for our research participants, who are giving of themselves, their families and their time for research.

Q.   What’s unique about the clinical trials offered at KU Cancer Center?

A.   KU Cancer Center focuses on ways to advance research. First, and most importantly, we look for opportunities that match what our patients need. Our goal is to have research opportunities for every patient who walks in our door. As the needs of our patients change, technologies evolve and our collective knowledge of cancer expands, we adjust our study portfolio. Our growing wealth of information about cancer’s biology means we can offer more immunotherapy and precision medicine treatments targeted at specific genetic mutations.   

Second, we are dedicated to being at the forefront of cancer research, studying the most novel approaches that will drive the field forward to help both current and future patients. The newest treatments must be researched in a dedicated, well-equipped space with talented and trained research staff. The KU Clinical Research Center allows us to conduct those studies.

Finally, we offer investigator-initiated clinical trials (IITs), which are led by physician-scientists. IITs are a niche academic area, and it takes a complex support system to execute the study conception, quality control and quality assurance, design and data analysis and interpretation. They almost exclusively take place at National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers.

Q.   KU Cancer Center will be applying for NCI Comprehensive designation soon. What would this designation mean to our community and broader region?

A.   This is such an exciting time for KU Cancer Center and our community. Becoming an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center would mean that we are recognized for our groundbreaking, research-comprehensive approach to caring for our patients. Being recognized as a top-tier cancer center will allow us to attract even more multidisciplinary and innovative physician-scientists and researchers to increase opportunities for our patients.

Q.   You stepped into your new position recently, but you’ve been at KU Cancer Center since May 2018. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

A.   I am proud of quite a few things, but at the core I am proud of the team I work with here. They come to work every single day with the mission to help our patients through their cancer journey in a positive manner. Our staff partners with physicians and scientists. Together, we all play an integral part in our research mission.

Q.   How can someone interested in clinical trials learn more about what is offered at KU Cancer Center?

A.   They can visit our website and search trials by cancer type, keyword, investigator or the study number. We also developed the KUCC Clinical Trials Finder app, which allows individuals to navigate active clinical trials on their phone. It’s also a resource that helps physicians/clinicians find and refer patients to ongoing trials that might help with their treatments.  

Q.   What excites you most about the future of clinical cancer research?

A.   The scientific community is learning more about how cancer works and, as we learn more about cancer, we have more opportunities to diagnose, prevent and treat it. Each discovery gives us more information to do better and provide the best care. Cancer is personal. Our patients are family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors…and they deserve our absolute best.