Understanding and making your way through cancer care can be bewildering. The Sarah Cannon Research Institute aims to help. “We connect the dots in cancer care by helping patients navigate their journey from diagnosis through treatment,” says Dee Anna Smith, CEO of Sarah Cannon, which is based in Nashville.
Now, a new organization is helping Sarah Cannon – Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Collaborative Research. Once a cancer drug developed at the CCR is ready for human testing, Sarah Cannon will perform clinical trials to submit findings to the Federal and Drug Administration for approval, Smith says.
“Safety and efficacy on human testing is where we are partnering with NSU,” Smith says. “It is a great partnership for discovery and community across the anti-cancer arena.”
The 215,000-square-foot, six-story CCR, which opened in September on NSU’s main Davie campus, is one of the largest research facilities of its kind in the state. The nearly $100 million building is equipped with wet and dry labs, state-of-the-art research equipment including access to a high-performance computing environment, and other resources such as Florida LambdaRail, a high-speed broadband service delivery network with connectivity throughout the nation.
According to Enterprise Florida, nearly 13,000 South Floridians work in the life sciences, which include the industries of research and development, medical device manufacturing, clinical trials and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Florida ranked second in the country in FDA-registered medical device manufacturing facilities and third in pharmaceutical and manufacturing businesses. Through the CCR, Nova Southeastern is looking to galvanize the life sciences community even further and help South Florida become a prominent player in the research and science industries.
“NSU has provided unprecedented leadership and investment in providing a world class research facility and more reason why companies should be in South Florida,” says Bob Swindell, president and CEO of Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. “We are growing into a research hub and commercializing that research.
“One of our goals is to market and promote Broward County as a business destination,” Swindell says. “Having the center is a huge plus for us to talk about [as a marketing tool] at bio conferences. It is the first time ever that we will have a centralized hub for concentrated research work.”
NSU is currently conducting several research projects including studies on cardiovascular disease, anti-cancer therapies, chronic fatigue syndrome, autism, coral reef restoration, stem cells and wildlife DNA forensics, among other subjects. Research institutes housed in the CCR include the NSU AutoNation Institute for Breast and Solid Tumor Cancer Research, NSU Cell Therapy Institute (a partnership with researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden), NSU Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine, NSU Rumbaugh-Goodwin Institute for Cancer Research and NSU’s Emil Buehler Research Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The CCR is also home to NSU’s Technology Incubator where qualified companies can lease private space that gives them access to researchers, technology and labs. Companies that lease the high-tech space will also have other added benefits including access to clinical trial services, as well as undergraduate and graduate internship talent.
“It gives faculty an opportunity to use space to create research that can be commercialized,” Swindell says. “From research at the workbench to actual prescribed medication.”
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) occupies the entire first floor of the CCR and is partnering with NSU on research involving greater Everglades restoration efforts, hydrology and water resources.
“NSU President Dr. George L. Hanbury’s vision is to bring the university into the 21st century and conduct scientific research into human disease that can be harnessed into clinical trials,” says Dr. H. Thomas Temple, senior vice president of NSU Translational Research and Economic Development (TRED).
“Hopefully, we can make an impact into scientific inquiry and development by looking at treating diseases today,” Temple says. “We are bringing ideas and people from diverse directions in a collaborative way to study and look at problems differently.”
One such collaborator is the Sarah Cannon Research Institute.
NSU and Sarah Cannon initially plan to work together on treatments for sarcoma, a type of cancer that develops from certain tissues such as bone or muscle, and grow to working towards treatments for other cancers as well, Smith says.
“NSU is innovative,” Smith says. “They are patient-centric and breaking down barriers, not constructing them. We have the skills and abilities to get them to the next level in clinical research. The world is our oyster as far as what we can do.”
An orthopedic surgeon who specializes in musculoskeletal oncology, Temple has a clinical interest in regenerative medicine. He holds privileges at HCA East Florida hospitals and maintains a surgical practice.
Temple’s clinical interests include the novel treatment of benign and malignant bone and soft tissue tumors in children and adults, tissue transplantation and complex limb reconstruction. His research interests are stem cell applications in bone and cartilage regeneration, tissue banking and developing targeted therapies for sarcomas.
Prior to joining NSU in 2015, Temple served as chief of the orthopedic oncology division at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, where he was a professor of orthopedics and pathology, director of the university’s tissue bank and vice-chairman of the department of orthopedics. “Dr. Temple is internationally known for his work with sarcoma,” Smith says. “Before the CCR opened, we were looking into how we might work together on sarcoma.”
Swindell also lauded his universal appeal to his peers in the medical and research industries.
“Dr. Temple brings credibility and resources outside of Florida that are interested in working with him and his research,” Swindell says.
The CCR is located at the southwest end of NSU’s Davie campus near the NSU Health Professions Division, which houses the health-related colleges, including osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, optometry, health care sciences, medical sciences, dental medicine, nursing and allopathic medicine. The building has been submitted to the United States Green Building Council for review with the intent of receiving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification.
Housed on the second floor of the CCR is the NSU Emil Buehler Research Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Students from kindergarten through graduate school will receive education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with the goal of developing a sustainable pipeline and interest in STEM-related careers.
The fourth floor is home to the NSU Cell Therapy Institute, which is a collaboration with leading medical research scientists from NSU and Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm. KI is globally recognized for its Nobel Assembly, which awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine annually.
The NSU Cell Therapy Institute will focus on the discovery and development of cell-based therapies to prevent, treat and cure life-threatening and debilitating diseases including cancers, heart disease and disorders causing blindness.
“This institute will work on stem cell therapy, cardiac and bone regeneration in relation to cancer, and macular degeneration to build retinas,” says Temple, describing some of the therapies that will occur at the NSU Cell Therapy Institute.
The NSU AutoNation Institute for Breast and Solid Tumor Cancer Research is also housed on the fourth floor. It focuses on developing and advancing improved methods of prevention and treatment to ultimately eradicate cancer. One of its goals is to develop diagnostic and therapeutic cancer care strategies through basic research that can be translated into clinical trials for the cure of breast and solid tumor cancers.
“It looks at the sustainability and mechanisms to figure out who is at risk for cancer,” Temple says. “Also focusing on understanding and researching cancer and solid tumors and how they change in relation to normal cells.”
Also located on the fourth floor is the NSU Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine, which focuses on complex neuro-inflammatory illnesses through the integration of research, clinical care, and education. Current research includes focusing on Parkinson’s disease, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and Gulf War illness. A prominent condition affecting Gulf War Veterans, GWI is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders and memory problems.
“The military was exposed to toxins that had adverse effects on their immune system, making it weaker and susceptible to cancer, viral illnesses and other infections,” Temple says.
The sixth floor of the CCR is home to the NSU Rumbaugh-Goodwin Institute for Cancer Research, which develops newer cancer therapies that can specifically target tumors, with minimal cellular damage and toxicity to the patient.
Researchers at the CCR will also work with the NSU Institute for Natural and Ocean Sciences Research, which pursues studies and investigations in a variety of science fields including marine biology, biological sciences, geology, ecology, genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, physics, oceanography, chemistry, mathematics, coral reefs, fish and fisheries, deep sea life, and the environment. The institute is located at a separate facility at NSU’s Ocean Campus in Hollywood, near Port Everglades.
In addtion,“We will partner with the USGS on many projects including Everglades restoration and computational modeling used in geometrics and cell sorting,” Temple says.
The third and fifth floors of the CCR are currently vacant but planned to be leased for use by profit and nonprofit organizations that collaborate with NSU researchers as well as cell manufacturing and commercializing of research drugs that are created at the CCR.
The CCR also includes several core facilities, including a Genomics Core Facility for sequencing human genes associated with disease, a Flow Cytometry Core Facility for isolating special cell types such as immune and stem cells, Cell Therapy Core Facility for developing immunotherapies and regenerative medicines and an Imaging Core Facility with advanced digital microscopy capabilities.
In 2017, Hospital Corporation of America plans to begin constructing a hospital on NSU’s campus that will be in walking distance of the CCR and NSU’s Health Professions Division complex to provide opportunities to further integrate research and clinical trials.
“The hospital will service the community and be a destination hospital to provide state of the art medicine and clinical trials,” Temple says.
NSU’s research programs are funded by the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Defense, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and other organizations and private supporters. The university has been recognized for its efforts as an educational institution. U.S. News & World Report ranked NSU No. 214 in its 2017 National Universities Rankings and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has classified NSU as a national doctoral research university with “high research activity.”
“People’s perception of NSU and our capabilities will continue to increase,” Temple says.
Through its fundraising efforts, NSU has raised $167 million towards a goal of $300 million in sponsored research, service, and training projects by the end of 2020. NSU has an additional philanthropic campaign for $250 million, of which more than $150 million has been raised.
The CCR has also received a positive response from the medical and research industries. Pharmaceutical companies, tissue banks and biotech companies have shown an interest in working with the CCR because of the expertise and the benefits of the facility, Temple says.
“Our hope is to fill the building with technology companies and other universities with the same interests as us,” Temple says. “We want to collaborate globally to build on our success.”