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KU Cancer Center hires leader for clinical trials

The KU Cancer Center has hired Raymond Perez, a physician scientist known for his expertise in early phase clinical trials, to fill a key leadership position deemed necessary in its bid for National Cancer Institute designation.

Raymond Perez

“Ray Perez brings a national reputation and a stellar record of leadership,” said Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center. “We are excited to bring him to KU to lead our clinical trial effort. He is being charged with developing and leading the premier academic Phase I cancer facility in the nation, which will mean patients have access to the latest, most promising new cancer drugs.”

Most recently, Perez was an associate professor of medicine and pharmacology and toxicology at Dartmouth Medical School. His research focuses on understanding the biology of cancer to create therapies that selectively target tumors.

Perez also does clinical work, conducting the first human trials of new drugs.

“I think that’s actually the coolest work,” he said. “Mostly, I study drugs so new that they don’t yet have names. Those drugs are often designed to hit new, interesting aspects of cancer biology that we’ve only recently learned about.”

While at Dartmouth, Perez more than doubled the number of patients who enrolled in early phase clinical trials conducted at the NCI-designated Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Perez will join the cancer center in June, becoming the medical director of the Clinical Trials Management Shared Resource at the KU Clinical Research Center in Fairway. Scheduled to open late this year at 4350 Shawnee Mission Parkway, the Clinical Research Center will be located in a building donated by the Hall Family Foundation as part of an $18 million gift to the cancer center. The KU Clinical Research Center is the northernmost point of the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle and is funded in part by revenues from a one-eighth-cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2008 to enhance research and higher education. In that facility, the cancer center will expand the number of clinical trials available to patients in this region.

Perez praised the people of Johnson County for approving the tax that has helped create the KU Clinical Research Center.

“Having the opportunity to design the center properly from the start will make a huge difference,” he said. “These days, developing drugs the right way involves drawing blood samples at specific times, and getting biopsies of people’s tumors to see whether drugs hit their intended targets. This new building has everything you would dream of to provide a good experience for both patients and researchers. No cancer center in the nation has better freestanding facilities for early clinical trials.”

Perez says working with patients who have enrolled in early phase clinical trials is profoundly rewarding.

“A lot of people have said, ‘How can you do early drug work? You are testing unproven drugs on people who are out of options.’ But that’s actually one of the most optimistic places to be. Many people who have exhausted the options available through standard treatments still feel fairly well and are not ready to quit. If we can offer them something new, possibly with fewer side effects – if we offer them a winner – they have a chance to benefit years before that drug becomes widely available.”

In addition to his role as medical director of the Clinical Research Center, Perez will teach in the KU Medical Center Department of Internal Medicine and serve as the Lieberman Family Endowed Professor in Cancer Research.

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