The Dr Henri Dubois-Ferrière Dinu Lipatti Foundation Onco-Haematology Research Unit

History
The Dr Henri Dubois-Ferrière Dinu Lipatti Foundation (DFDL) Onco-Haematology Research Unit owes its existence to the combined efforts the DFDL Foundation and leading clinical researchers in oncology and haematology at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG).

The purpose of this unit is to provide access to clinical trials of new drugs for adults diagnosed with cancer and diseases of the blood.

The creation in the recently established Oncology Centre of this new unit dedicated to early-phase clinical trials is the result of a successful collaboration between the DFDL Foundation and its institutional partners, the HUG and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva.

Plans for the new unit were drawn up on the basis of a needs assessment study incorporating feedback from similar centres visited in Switzerland and abroad. Construction then began in the main building of the HUG. The HUG provided the necessary premises, infrastructure and equipment, while the Foundation pledged to cover operational costs for the first 5 years.

The facility
The DFDL Foundation Clinical Research Unit was officially inaugurated on 22 September 2010. The unit’s team is made up of an oncologist responsible for the medical supervision of participating patients, three nurses in charge of administering treatments and monitoring patients within the unit, an assistant who manages the reception and patient and staff administration, and four research coordinators responsible for setting up and monitoring clinical trials in close collaboration with lead medical researchers at the HUG.

The unit is located on the 8th floor of the south wing. It comprises a reception, a waiting room, a medical office and adjoining consultation room, a treatment room, an office for the coordinators and a room containing all the necessary technical equipment (refrigerated centrifuge, –80° C freezer, laminar flow hood).

A Steering Committee made up of members of the departments of Oncology, Haematology and Radiation Oncology at the HUG, the head of the Oncology Centre and two representatives of the Foundation, select the trials and monitor the unit’s operations. The Steering Committee meets every two months and reports to the DFDL Foundation Board every six months on the advancement of the trials and the unit’s operations.

Since opening in 2010, the DFDL Unit has registered around 50 protocols with various ethics committees for trials involving approximately 200 participants. At time of writing, the unit had 25 open and 25 continuing trials with patients in the treatment or follow-up stages. Trials are open to patients diagnosed with a range of different tumour diseases, including leukaemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and organ cancers such as brain, lung, breast, liver, colon, pancreatic, ovarian, oesophageal or skin cancers.

Many new drugs have been developed in the last five years thanks to advances in our understanding of tumour biology. Most of the trials conducted by the unit seek to test “targeted” therapies, which use specific molecules to target proteins located inside or at the surface of cancer cells. None are studying traditional chemotherapy molecules. Treatments currently being tested include: monoclonal antibodies, which block intercellular signals; drugs that inhibit tumour vascularisation; combinations of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immune therapy; and some forms of hormone therapy.

The DFDL unit undertakes mostly early-stage trials, classified as phase I or II, which aim to assess the safety and effectiveness of a particular treatment. The HUG Clinical Research Centre provides methodological and logistical support to the unit.


Outlook

The DFDL Unit plan to expand its activities as researchers gain a better understanding of the factors that cause cancers to emerge. This will allow specific treatments to be devised for different types of tumour. In the next 12 months, we expect to develop several new individualised therapies, as a result of research in the areas of immune treatment, anti-cancer vaccines and cell therapy. Thanks to the unit’s highly motivated and dynamic team, 15 new trials were launched in 2013 alone, three years after the unit was set up.
One of the main objectives in the coming months is to create greater awareness of its activities among the general public and professionals in the field of oncology. A description of the unit’s activities and a list of the clinical trials currently admitting participants is available on the website.

Clinical trials in practice

The Dr Henri Dubois-Ferrière Dinu Lipatti Foundation Onco-Haematology Research Unit offers a window on future innovative treatments for cancer and leukaemia.
The trials conducted by the unit are selected from among existing Swiss and international research projects, based on their clinical and scientific potential.
Depending on the context (stage and type of cancer targeted), the aim of a trial may be to test either a new molecule or a combination of drugs. Trials give patients access to innovative treatments that have not yet been approved by the relevant regulatory authorities (SwissMedic).

Participating in a clinical trial

The decision to take part in a clinical trial requires careful thought. You should make sure you receive detailed information about the drugs being evaluated, the way the trial will be run, and the possible risks and benefits.

One of the potential benefits for patients is that the treatment being tested may be more effective or less toxic than the standard approach. There is a possibility that the new method may work where others have failed.

By participating in a clinical trial, you help advance medical science, leading to improved approaches in the future.

By participating in one of the Clinical Research Unit’s trials you also benefit from the care and supervision of a team of dedicated and highly qualified medical professionals.

Three types of clinical trial

Phase I: early development phase in human subjects; small number of patients (15-50); dosage is increased progressively to assess the maximum dosage of the drug.

Phase II: Usually limited to one trial group of 50-200 patients; fixed dosage for a specific type of tumour to evaluate its therapeutic effectiveness.

Phase III: Large-scale, multicentric, international study involving several hundred patients and at least two trial groups: one receives the drug being tested and the other the standard treatment (with or without a placebo). Last stage before the drug is licensed for general use. The purpose of a phase III trial is to demonstrate that the experimental treatment is more effective or less toxic than the standard approach.

List of clinical trials currently accepting participants

Contact details

Medical director, DFDL Research Unit
Dr N. Mach, Department of Oncology: nicolas.mach@hcuge.ch

Geneva University Hospitals
Bldg C – Salève Wing – 8th floor
4, rue Gabrielle-Perret-Gentil
1211 Geneva 14

Phone line open Monday to Friday, 8.30 a.m. to 16.30 p.m.
T: 022 379 29 01  F: 022 372 29 00  e-mail: florence.martiklay@hcuge.ch


Dr Henri Dubois-Ferrière Dinu Lipatti Foundation:

info@dfdl.org