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OHSU Knight Cancer Institute recruits leader-elect of international clinical trial cooperative group

Charles D. Blanke, M.D., who will oversee about $40 million in annual research funds, envisions opportunities to advance molecularly-driven personalized cancer medicine worldwide and increase access to cancer clinical trials in the Pacific Northwest

Charles D. Blanke, M.D., chair-elect to one of the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s five large-scale cooperative groups that test new cancer treatments and prevention programs, will join the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

With Blanke’s recruitment, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute will serve as headquarters for SWOG (formerly the Southwest Oncology Group), which oversees more than $40 million in research annually. As a result, patients throughout the Pacific Northwest who are served by OHSU will have greater access to SWOG clinical trials. In addition, multi-year NCI grants worth about $20 million to $25 million annually are expected to move to the Knight.

SWOG studies most adult cancers. It is one of the NCI’s larger cooperative groups with more than 4,000 affiliated physician researchers participating at more than 500 institutions throughout the world. About 100 SWOG clinical trials are under way at any given time.

“I was drawn to the Knight Cancer Institute because of its leadership in molecularly-driven, personalized cancer medicine, as well as its willingness to make significant investments in research to advance that field. The work Knight investigators are doing to pave the way for development of more targeted therapies aimed at curing a variety of cancers based on the specific biology of a patient’s tumor, is a major focus of SWOG research as well,” said Blanke, who will join the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in February. Blanke currently is vice-president of systemic therapy for the British Columbia Cancer Agency, chief of medical oncology at the University of British Columbia and chair of the Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Task Force for the NCI’s Gastrointestinal Steering Committee. He will take over as chair of SWOG in May from Laurence H. Baker, D.O., of the University of Michigan, who has served in that role since 2005.

“Realizing the full promise of personalized cancer medicine will require that the best and brightest researchers and clinicians collaborate to move science forward,” said Brian J. Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. “Dr. Blanke’s role with SWOG directly links Oregon to SWOG’s network of world-class scientists, which will strengthen the Knight Cancer Institute’s ongoing efforts to forge partnerships to speed progress on behalf of cancer patients and leverage research in new ways.”

In his new role, Blanke will establish a team at OHSU to support SWOG’s work and he expects to find ways to leverage the research strengths of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute by engaging more Knight investigators in SWOG’s broad network of clinical trials.

Blanke also will serve with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s team of gastrointestinal cancer specialists who care for patients as part of a multidisciplinary team that coordinates the efforts of medical oncologists, radiation medicine experts and surgeons.

Blanke earned an M.D. with distinction from Northwestern University, completed residency training at the Gundersen Medical Foundation, where he served as chief resident, and was a hematology/medical oncology fellow at Indiana University, where he also served as chief fellow. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Previously, Blanke held positions with OHSU and Vanderbilt University.

Blanke is the most recent of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s significant recruits as it assembles a world-class cancer research and clinical team. Among other recent additions are Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) whose breast cancer research has changed the understanding of the immune system’s role in cancer development; and, internationally renowned cancer and genomic researcher Joe Gray, Ph.D., from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who, among other things, helped develop the fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) tests that are transforming how treatments are selected for breast cancer patients.

The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is also forming powerful research collaborations with technology leaders such as microscope maker FEI Co., who want to be part of the Knight's mission to end cancer as we know it.

The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s goal is to continue to lead progress in personalized cancer medicine research and treatment. Druker played a pioneering role in proving personalized cancer medicine was possible with his discovery that cancer cells could be shut down by disabling the molecules that drive their growth. The drug that resulted from that research, Gleevec®, revolutionized the way cancer is treated and inspired a new wave of exploration into targeted therapies that zero in on cancer-causing molecules without damaging healthy cells.

The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is building upon Druker’s breakthrough with a four-pronged strategy that is made possible by public support from the National Institutes of Health, the Oregon Opportunity research investment as well as generous private donations – including a transformative $100 million gift from Nike Chairman Phil Knight and his wife Penny. That strategy includes:

  • Expanding its discovery engine within the university’s research branch to continue to explore the cellular pathways through which cancer grows;
  • Establishing a comprehensive biolibrary for diagnostics and research
  • Launching its a clinical molecular lab service, the Knight Diagnostic Laboratories, to serve oncologists and patients nationwide;
  • And, refining patient care to tailor treatment plans for each individual’s tumor biology.
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