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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center breaks ground for first collaborative, comprehensive cancer center in sub-Saharan Africa

Innovative collaboration between researchers in Kampala and Seattle furthers specialized study and effective treatment of infection-related cancers

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(Downloadable photos, video and background materials)

SEATTLE and KAMPALA, Uganda — Oct. 11, 2011 — A pioneering international collaboration forged by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash., USA, together with the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, Uganda, has broken ground for the future construction of a state-of-the-art cancer training and outpatient treatment facility in Kampala. The building will be the first comprehensive cancer center jointly constructed by U.S. and African cancer institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Through the collaboration between the Hutchinson Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute, we hope to develop new, low-cost prevention and treatment strategies that will not only stem the rising burden of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa but will benefit millions of people worldwide,” said Lawrence Corey, M.D., president and director of the Hutchinson Center.

Once completed, the Uganda Cancer Institute/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Clinic and Training Institute will extend patient access to cancer diagnosis and research-based treatment while furthering study on the links between infectious diseases, such as HIV and Epstein-Barr virus, and cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma and the most common life-threatening malignancy among Ugandan children, Burkitt lymphoma.

Ugandan Vice President Edward Ssekandi led the Oct. 4 groundbreaking ceremony and was joined by Harold Varmus, M.D., Ph.D., Nobel laureate and director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Ugandan Minister of Health Christine Ondoa and other government officials, international dignitaries, global health experts and community leaders.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate a great example of a partnership between two institutions dedicated to saving lives – the Uganda Cancer Institute in Uganda and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. I offer my congratulations to the two institutions who have come together, dedicated to improving the health and well being of people in Uganda and worldwide,” Ssekandi said.

“Cancer is being increasingly recognized as an enormously important global health problem that kills more people worldwide than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and nearly two-thirds of these deaths are in the developing world,” Corey said. “Sub-Saharan Africa has among the highest cancer rates in the world, and these rates appear to be increasing in association with the HIV epidemic. Through the collaboration between the Hutchinson Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute, we hope to develop new, low-cost prevention and treatment strategies that will not only stem the rising burden of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa but will benefit millions of people worldwide.”

Nearly 25 percent of cancers cases worldwide are infection related, and 50 percent of these cancer deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, explained Corey Casper, M.D., M.P.H., an associate member of the Hutchinson Center’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division and co-scientific director of the UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance, which is the name of the collaboration between the Hutchinson Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute. “Our commitment in Uganda is to increase survival rates for common infection-caused cancers from 10 percent to 90 percent over the next three years while pursuing a unique research opportunity to find new ways to prevent infection-associated cancers, which will benefit cancer patients both in resource-poor and resource-rich regions,” he said.

The planned new facility that will enable these lifesaving advances will be three stories and total approximately 5,600 square feet. The building will include adult and pediatric cancer care clinics, including exam rooms, procedure suites, pharmacies and an infusion suite. It also will be equipped with specialized diagnostic laboratories.

The Hutchinson Center’s relationship with the Uganda Cancer Institute dates back to 2004 and the UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance was established formally in 2008. The program builds on the Hutchinson Center’s innovative research approach, which is to draw data from a setting where the disease burden is exceptionally high, while reinforcing the organization’s commitment to reduce cancer-related suffering and death.

In 2008, Uganda had just one oncologist who treated more than 10,000 patients annually. In response, the Hutchinson Center spearheaded an extensive medical training program that has increased the number of practicing oncologists in Uganda fivefold.

More than 1.2 million Ugandans are living with HIV/AIDS. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, people infected with HIV are several thousand times more likely than uninfected people to be diagnosed with Kaposi sarcoma and at least 70 times more likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Kaposi sarcoma is the most common cancer in adult Ugandan men; human herpesvirus 8, also a cause of Kaposi sarcoma, is the most common cancer-related infection in women. According to UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance researchers, nearly 75 percent of these cases can be treated for less than $800.

Ugandan children are also vulnerable to infection-related malignancies that are not HIV-associated. “Cancer, especially childhood cancer, is a growing threat to Uganda’s next generation and must be addressed with equal vigor as HIV/AIDS,” stated Jackson Orem, M.D., director of the Uganda Cancer Institute and co-scientific director of the UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance.

Burkitt lymphoma, both potentially fatal and disfiguring, is the most common cancer diagnosis among Ugandan children and is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Burkitt lymphoma has particular connections with Uganda; it first was identified there in 1958 by Sir Denis Burkitt. The first use of combination chemotherapy in the world was used to treat Burkitt lymphoma and initiated by Uganda Cancer Institute physicians in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. This approach is now the most widely utilized therapy for cancer.

Each year in Uganda, 600 new Burkitt cases present for medical attention and the average age at diagnosis is 5. Currently, the five-year survival rate is less than 40 percent, but it is estimated that 85 percent of these children could be cured for less than $600 a case.

When completed, the Uganda Cancer Institute/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Clinic and Training Institute will be an incubator of research that will dramatically alter the course of cancer diagnosis, treatment and care. The building will serve as a state-of-the-art venue for gathering data and conducting studies to further the prevention and treatment of cancer-related infectious diseases, with far-reaching implications for global health.

Boosting patient access to diagnostic technology and significantly increasing the number of patients who can be treated, the new facility will enhance integration of HIV treatment into cancer care and enable Hutchinson Center experts to devise a model of effective cancer care that could be deployed in other resource-limited areas.

To date, the Hutchinson Center has trained more than 100 individuals in both the United States and Uganda. Of the more than 70 Ugandan trainees, interns and fellows, 15 have traveled to Seattle to study at the Hutchinson Center. Twelve of the 25 Americans have trained in Uganda. The program offers training in a variety of disciplines —hematology, oncology, epidemiology, global health and HIV-associated malignancies, among others. Trainees include postgraduate and postdoctorate fellows, laboratory technicians, medical officers, study nurses and administrators.

Multimedia press kit: For more information, including broadcast-quality video B-roll, high-resolution photos of medical staff and patients, building renderings and researcher biographies, please visit UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance webpage.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Dean Forbes, Media Relations manager
dforbes@fhcrc.org
+1 206-667-2896 (desk) or +1 206-605-0311 (cell)

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, our interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists and humanitarians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Our researchers, including three Nobel laureates, bring a relentless pursuit and passion for health, knowledge and hope to their work and to the world. For more information, please visit www.fhcrc.org.