Institution Spotlight: Puerto Rico Minority Underserved NCORP

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Institution Spotlight: Puerto Rico Minority Underserved NCORP

Puerto Rico map

By Luis Báez-Diaz, MD
Principal Investigator of Adult Clinical Trials

The Puerto Rico Minority Underserved NCORP (NCI Community Oncology Research Program) contributes substantially to the participation of the minority Hispanic population in clinical trials conducted by the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group. After facilitating participation in several landmark trials such as the TAILORx and E1199 breast cancer treatment studies, the group, known familiarly as PRNCORP, is active in many current ECOG-ACRIN studies in Puerto Rico. Most notably, we are participating in the ongoing NCI-MATCH precision medicine cancer trial and EA9131, a study that is developing a simplified patient care strategy to decrease early death in patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (AML). Ours is one of the highest-accruing programs for the TrACER trial (S1415CD), led by the SWOG Cancer Research Network.

PRNCORP conducts a significant amount of National Cancer Institute (NCI)-directed clinical cancer research on the island of Puerto Rico. One of its main goals is to extend the program across the island to allow more patients to benefit from clinical studies sponsored by the NCI. With a focus on minority and underserved communities, PRNCORP is currently offering access to over 70 research studies across 17 affiliated hospitals and clinical practices.

PRNCORP Clinical Research Associates

The program’s research encompasses cancer treatment, cancer control, cancer prevention, and cancer care delivery. With the integration of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Bona Fide Agent of the Puerto Rico Department of Health, PRNCORP expanded its number of investigators, increasing the amount of clinical research in the following cancer areas

  • Breast
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Genitourinary
  • Gynecologic
  • Hematologic
  • Solid tumors
  • Biobank studies

As the principal investigator of adult clinical trials for PRNCORP, I lead all clinical trials on the island that involve adult patients. I am an active member of ECOG-ACRIN, primarily through the Gastrointestinal Cancer Committee.

Notable individuals currently serving with me in PRNCORP include:

Luis A. Clavell, MD – Dr. Clavell is the principal investigator for the Children’s Oncology Group, where he has been involved for many years, having served before 2000 as a principal investigator for the legacy Pediatric Oncology Group. He is the acting executive director of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Comprehensive Cancer Center. He previously served as the director of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at the UPR Pediatric Hospital.

Eva Cruz Jové, MD – Dr. Cruz is the director of Senos Puerto Rico, the largest radiology center on the island dedicated to women’s health. The center specializes in the early detection of breast cancer, offering a wide variety of diagnostic options using the most modern technology available in Puerto Rico. Dr. Cruz is leading an effort to expand the number of Hispanic participants in the TMIST breast cancer screening trial.

Guillermo Tortolero-Luna, MD, PhD – Dr. Tortolero is director of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program at the UPR Comprehensive Cancer Center. He has over 20 years of experience conducting cancer prevention and control research, much of it focusing on Hispanic populations in Puerto Rico and the United States. He is responsible for cancer control and delivery research protocols.

The participation of our site is notable in several publications where I am a co-author. Examples include Double‐blind, Randomized Phase 3 Trial of Low‐dose 13‐cis Retinoic Acid in the Prevention of Second Primaries in Head and Neck Cancer: Long‐term Follow‐up of a Trial of the ECOG‐ACRIN Cancer Research Group (C0590) (Bhatia AK. Cancer. 2017 Aug 7); Treatment of Squamous Cell Esophageal Cancer With Topotecan, An Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group Study (E2293) (Asbury RF. Am J Clin Oncol. 2000 Feb 23); and, Pain and Treatment of Pain in Minority Patients with Cancer: The Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group Minority Outpatient Pain Study (Cleeland CS. Ann Intern Med. 1997 Nov 1).

The Puerto Rico Minority Underserved NCORP began in Puerto Rico in 1987 as a Community Oncology Program (COP). The Puerto Rico COP was affiliated with New York University. Ronald H. Blum, MD, served as principal investigator and I served as co-principal investigator. In 1990, the COP received funding through an NCI Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP) grant and became the San Juan Minority-Based CCOP. In 2014, the program again secured funding—this time through an NCORP grant—and we renamed the program the Puerto Rico Minority Underserved NCORP (PRNCORP). PRNCORP has been a member of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group since 1990.

See the full list of participating sites here on ncorp.cancer.gov.

Dr. Luis Báez is the Principal Investigator of Adult Clinical Trials for the Puerto Rico National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program Minority/Underserved (PRNCORP). PRNCORP is an integrative project that studies Puerto Rican populations in order to provide the most advanced treatments and research related to cancer control focused on the particularities of each community. In addition to his work within PRNCORP, Dr. Báez spends part of his time offering university courses as an associate professor at the School of Medicine of the UPR Medical Sciences Campus and is head of Hematology and Oncology at the Municipal Hospital of San Juan. He firmly believes in clinical studies and working with medical students (residents and fellows) who train in oncology as an effort to promote innovative medical practices with scientific evidence for the development of better clinical care. According to the results of several cancer-related studies, minorities have a higher incidence of diagnosis and mortality and their chance of survival is lower. Faced with this panorama, he founded the San Juan Minority-Based CCOP in 1990 and has led it for more than 20 years with the aim of bringing to Puerto Rico the most advanced clinical study protocols in cancer prevention, control and treatment for minority communities, particularly those with limited economic resources. Dr. Báez was recognized on two separate occasions by the Puerto Rico state government's legislative branch for a record of achievement in the area of Science in the Community. In 2006, the Association of Community Cancer Centers in Washington, DC, recognized him with its Community Clinical Scientist Award.

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