The National Institutes of Health Roadmap for Medical Research calls for providing “the necessary foundation for advancing basic and clinic research” to speed promising therapies from the laboratory into patient care. That is exactly the philosophy behind the new Phase I Drug Development Program at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Some of these homegrown agents are now in the preclinical stage, and we are actively working on trying to move them into patient care,” says hematologist-oncologist Jaime Merchan, M.D., M.M.Sc., assistant professor of clinical medicine at UM/Sylvester. “We are currently working with a variety of novel agents and combinations, some of them developed at our institution. Examples of such agents currently being tested in the preclinical setting include oncolytic viruses, which are viruses that kill tumors, fusion antibodies that target angiogenesis, and agents targeting tumor metabolism.”

These are not your father’s cancer-fighting strategies—and that’s the whole idea behind the new center, which teams physicians, scientists, pharmacist Aurea Flores, Pharm.D., nurses, statis- ticians, research coordinators, and technicians. It also creates a dedicated pharmacy, lab space, and chemotherapy unit.

Phase I trials are the first human tests of an experimental therapy. They’re designed to see if drugs are safe and to set the proper dosage, but they can also yield promising results.

“Phase I trials are important steps to transition novel treatments from the bench to the bedside,” says Caio Max S. Rocha Lima, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology. “Having a phase I center makes this possible.”

The program is the only academic phase I testing center dedicated to drug development for cancer patients in South Florida. The phase I group is already conducting clinical trials with novel agents to fight cancer. That helps UM/Sylvester physicians and scientists establish important collaborative relationships and offer patients something even more important: more choices.

“This program is a real part of what a comprehensive cancer center is all about,” says W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., F.A.C.S., director of UM/Sylvester. “It’s going to be at the epicenter of helping us grow, helping us thrive as a cancer center, and it will help set us apart from everyone else in South Florida.”