Health Sciences Center

GHS launches nation’s first Rare Tumor Center

Patients with rare cancers – and limited treatments – will now have significantly expanded options. Greenville Health System has opened a Rare Tumor Center that is the nation’s first center dedicated exclusively to the treatment and research of rare cancers.

The ambitious initiative, expected to attract patients from throughout the U.S., has already sparked a $1 million gift and a strategic alliance with national molecular-medicine leader Foundation Medicine. Molecular profiling allows physicians to more precisely target cancer based on each cancer’s unique genomic signature and is at the leading edge of personalized medicine.
The $1 million gift by Jerry and Harriet Dempsey marks the largest individual gift ever given to the GHS Cancer Institute. Dempsey, former CEO and president of several Fortune 500 companies, is the former chairman of the GHS board of trustees. Dempsey was previously president and chief operating officer of Borg-Warner Corporation, vice chairman of WMX Technologies, chairman and CEO of Chemical Waste Management and chairman and CEO of PPG Industries Inc.
“This translational research will incorporate cancer genomics and rare tumor molecular profiling to a level of sophistication and precision available only here,” said Dempsey. “Harriet and I are proud to be a part of it – and hope that it will be a catalyst that helps patients and attracts additional world-class physician-scientists to Greenville as well as additional investment.”
“I’ve seen up close the transformative work being done by GHS – and absolutely believe this investment will have great returns to our community now and in the future,” he said.
“Greenville can become the destination city for patients from all over the country who suffer from some form of rare tumors.”
GHS, like most nationally ranked cancer programs, has clinical research studies for the nation’s most common malignancies such as cancers of the breast, lung, colon and prostate. What’s been missing nationally is a program that offers a standardized approach for patients with uncommon tumors who have no evidence-based data for management and no clinical trials to address their treatment.
“We’re creating something in Greenville, S.C., which exists only as pieces elsewhere,” said Larry Gluck, MD, medical director of the GHS Cancer Institute. “What our teams of physicians and scientists learn here will not only impact rare tumor research but hopefully provide answers to other cancer issues. While cancer is immensely complex, some rare tumors may be driven by relatively fewer alterations; knowing what these alterations are may lead to more effective treatments – and provide valuable clues in the more common cancers.”
Through the unique partnership, patients will gain access to sophisticated genomic testing that may help determine relevant treatment options or clinical trials for patients based on their unique molecular profiles. Rare tumors are typically considered those that affect anywhere from 150 to 5,000 patients each year. Added together, however, rare tumors affect more than 20% of all cancer patients — or one of every five patients.
The Rare Tumor Center is anticipated to see more than 100 patients in its first year. Patients will receive a standardized diagnostic evaluation, support services and streamlined access to other disciplines such as surgery and radiation oncology. Once the initial evaluation is done, the center will continue to stay in contact with both the patient and the patient’s referring physician to keep them up to date on potential treatment options that may have just come to light.
“The key is to know which mutations are present; armed with this information, patients and doctors have new options,” said W. Jeffery Edenfield, MD, medical director for GHS’ Institute for Translational Oncology Research and the architect of the new center. “For some genomic alterations, new medications available only on clinical trials might work best. For other alternations, already approved medications might be the best choice.”
Companies such as Foundation Medicine and Selah Genomics are drawing on the power of molecular and genomics medicine to translate revolutionary breakthroughs in cancer research into routine clinical care – and clues that could ultimately speed life-extending answers for patients. Today’s strategic alliance will result in improved guidelines for the treatment of rare tumors along with a growing cancer databank that could be used by researchers worldwide. GHS and its industry collaborators hope that the nationally unique center will become a national and international resource for research and published data in the field.
The collaboration will continue to leverage and build on the innovative capabilities of well-established local partner Selah, which operates the Selah Clinical Genomics Center at ITOR.
“There has been a paradigm shift from thinking about cancer based on where it began in the body to thinking about and treating cancer based on the underlying genomic alterations driving the growth of the tumor,” said Vince Miller, MD, chief medical officer for Foundation Medicine. “This development carries promise for patients with rare tumors that have not benefited from the dedicated research efforts and therapeutic advances in some of the more common and extensively studied tumor types.”
Rare Tumor Center patients who qualify to participate in a unique 18-month research study will receive molecular testing via the FoundationOne™ test. The test, which will be provided through the newly announced strategic alliance with Foundation Medicine, utilizes next-generation sequencing to detect genomic alterations in more than 230 genes believed to be most relevant to the growth and spread of cancer.
“We look forward to this unique research collaboration with GHS and offering this broad genomic testing to identify new treatment options for these patients with a wide range of rare cancers,” said Miller.
“Patients with rare cancers are at a tremendous disadvantage,” said Edenfield. “Clinical trials aren’t routinely available for these types of cancer, and the treatments are often based on observational use of medications which are less reliable than evidence-based approach.”
“I firmly believe that this newly defined approach will help those patients who need innovation, but it will also help my fellow physicians who struggle with how best to care for them,” said Edenfield.
Even so, Edenfield said he and his team are careful not to overpromise. “Not every patient who has tumor sequencing performed will have a treatment plan based on the results because we likely won’t get actionable information on each patient,” he said.
“This field is still in its relative infancy – but we hope our work will help grow it significantly.”
About Greenville Health System
Greenville Health System (GHS)—the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in South Carolina—is committed to medical excellence through research, patient care and education. It’s one of 100 systems nationwide to be designated an academic health system. The 1,358-bed system offers patients an innovative network of clinical integration, expertise and technologies through its six medical campuses, tertiary medical center, research and education facilities, community hospitals, physician practices and numerous specialty services throughout the Upstate. The GHS Cancer Institute is a regional leader in cancer care, offering National Cancer Institute-approved cancer treatment and prevention trials through the Community Clinical Oncology Program. GHS also offers Phase 1 clinical trials, genetic counseling, a blood and marrow transplant program and numerous patient-specific programs, including its Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship and the Institute for Translational Oncology Research, which works with more than 50 pharmaceutical and biotechnology partners to bring molecular diagnostics and new medication trials to the community setting. For more information, visit

About Foundation Medicine
Foundation Medicine® (NASDAQ: FMI) is a molecular information company dedicated to a transformation in cancer care in which treatment is informed by a deep understanding of the genomic changes that contribute to each patient’s unique cancer. The company’s clinical assays, FoundationOneTM for solid tumors and FoundationOneTM Heme for hematologic malignancies, sarcomas and pediatric cancers, each provide a fully informative genomic profile to identify a patient’s individual molecular alterations and match them with relevant targeted therapies and clinical trials. Foundation Medicine’s molecular information platform aims to improve day-to-day care for patients by serving the needs of clinicians, academic researchers and drug developers to help advance the science of molecular medicine in cancer. For more information, please visit or follow Foundation Medicine on Twitter (@FoundationATCG).

Foundation Medicine® is a registered trademark, and FoundationOneTM is a trademark, of Foundation Medicine, Inc.