News & Information | START In The News

January 28th, 2011
1200 News Radio WOAI
By: Jim Forsyth

SA Company Announcing First-Ever Medical Partnership With China

Texas based South Texas Accelerated Research Therapeutics will announce Friday that it has reached agreement to conduct the first ever phase one clinical trials on promising cancer drugs in China, in a unique arrangement which officials in the U.S. and China say will speed the delivery of new treatments to patients in both countries, 1200 WOAI news reports.

Dr. Anthony Tolcher, Clinical Director for START, says the San Antonio based Phase One cancer research center has reached an agreement with Fudan University Shanghai to conduct the joint clinical trials he says are being demanded by pharmaceutical companies which want to market their products in China.

"We have commitments from several pharmaceutical companies that they want their discoveries to be tested in China after they are tested here in the United States, so we see this as a great opportunity for products to quickly go into clinical trials," Tolcher told 1200 WOAI news in an interview.

Not only will the Fudan University program be the first drug trial partnership between an American and a Chinese organization, Walter Lau, managing partner of Cenova Ventures, a China-based venture capital firm which worked with START to establish the center, says it will be the first oncology program ever in China designed to provide Chinese patients with innovative early phase anti-cancer drugs.

"We expect many future innovations in the pharmaceutical industry will come from clinical development in China," he said. "START Shanghai is set up to become an important gateway for U.S. based pharmaceutical companies going into China and for China-based pharmaceutical companies wanting to go beyond China. We want to do our part to enhance oncology drug development for Chinese patients who deserve the best treatment options."

The arrangement will also allow START, which already has a clinical research center in Madrid Spain, as well as the headquarters in San Antonio, to conduct clinical trials 'around the clock.'

"The big issues now for most discovers of new medicines is the difficulty it is to get a quick understanding of whether the drug works or not," Tolcher said. "Clinical trials in the United States have been notoriously slow when it comes to Phase 2 and Phase 3 studies. In fact, the Institute of Medicine report just suggested that we are doing a very poor job of completing clinical studies. With this, we will be able to conduct studies worldwide, and not just in the United States, and with them, hopefully complete the studies more quickly and get badly needed treatments to patients around the world."

Tolcher says the purpose of the groundbreaking arrangement is to 'benefit all patients in all parts of the world.'

"Many of the common cancers that we have in the United States are common cancers in China as well," he said. "They do have some cancers that are found more commonly in Asian populations. The focus here is to we can actually lead to a faster understanding of which drugs are going to work and which ones won't, and that way we can propel all of research along and benefit patients worldwide. This way we will be able to use all 24 hours of the day for research. When we are going home, our operation in Shanghai will be opening up, and when they leave, the operation in Madrid will just be opening up, so we can use all 24 hours of the research clock."

He says the arrangement with China was both challenging and rewarding, and will improve clinical trials.

"We have issues of time zones, of differences in language, and differences in term of regulation," he said. "We have had to go quite carefully to be within the zone of Chinese regulations."

Tolcher says the partnership will also help boost the scientists and researchers who are engaged in top level clinical trials of cancer drugs in China, and that too, will result in more drugs getting to patients worldwide more quickly.

The Fudan University Shanghai sees an amazing 600,000 new patient visits each year.

"The impact of earlier access of novel anti-cancer agents on the management of patients with the establishment of START Shanghai in the Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center can not be over emphasized," said Dr. Jin Li, director of the Department of Medical Oncology at the Center. "With this, we can advance the overall research abilities to better serve patients and to support the community of Shanghai. Moreover, clinical investigators of our center will be able to play a more influential academic role, both locally and abroad."

He called the agreement ‘a game changer’ for Chinese medicine.

Tolcher said this arrangement will be a 'game changer' for clinical cancer trials worldwide.

"This is an unmet need in China, in that there isn't the history, or the culture at this point, of having world class clinical trial sites there. Now that nation is changing, it's growing and expanding at a phenomenal rate, and for it to actually have a presence in clinical trials, they have to bring the same level of quality to sites there, so that companies can feel assured that their drug is going to be used carefully and safely in patients in China," he said.