Spacious new center accommodates record growth in clinical trials

A Jan. 31 open house highlighted services and resources of the Morsani Center’s expanded Clinical Research Center – for the benefit of faculty investigators and patients.

As USF Health’s overall research portfolio grows, the space, services and resources dedicated to clinical trials have also expanded.

Last fall, the Clinical Research Center (CRC), where USF Health faculty conduct clinical trials testing new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent human disease, moved from the first to the fourth floor of the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare.  The relocation and reconstruction nearly tripled the size of the center’s footprint to 4,500 square feet – a much-needed expansion since last year USF Health attracted a record $14.7 million in clinical trial revenue, up 133 percent over the last five years ($6.3 million in FY 2013-14).

USF Health leaders, faculty and staff will officially celebrate the launch of the new CRC on Jan. 31 with an open house for clinical investigators and staff, both those who currently use the center, and those faculty interested in finding out more about the space, technology and the on-site CRC team to support clinical trials.

USF Health neurologist Derrick Robertson, MD, a leading clinical investigator at the Morsani Center-based Clinical Research Center, speaks with a patient participating in a multiple sclerosis continuation drug trial.

The following are just some of the services and resources offered by the new and expanded CRC:

  • Five examination rooms and six infusion rooms designed for patient comfort, with reclining chairs, televisions and computer work stations.
  • A laboratory equipped to store, process and monitor specimens, and an area for secure investigational drug/product storage.
  • Highly trained team of nurse managers, research nurses, study and regulatory coordinators to support study investigators.
  • Open space equipped with computers, phones and other business amenities to accommodate faculty investigators and their departmental research staff.
  • Support by the Office of Clinical Research to assist with business operations and/or financial services at all stages of non-federally sponsored clinical research studies.

Dr. Robertson reviews patient study-entry criteria with Carrie Downey (left), DO, a neurology fellow specializing in multiple sclerosis, and Angela Aungst, MPH, assistant director of MS clinical research.

USF Health has significantly upgraded its laboratories, equipment and other research infrastructure over the last several years – and clinical research growth continues to be a vital component of that investment.

Stephen Liggett, MD, associate vice president for research at USF Health and vice dean for research at the Morsani College of Medicine, attributes the growth to increased interest and training in clinical research by USF Health physicians as well as the dedication of administration and a top-notch team of CRC staff.

Faculty currently conduct 315 active trials — sponsored by industry, biopharma or foundations – testing new drugs, devices or other therapies for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease and congestive heart failure to Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and more.

Dr. Liggett expects clinical research activity to be even stronger in 2019.

“As an academic medical center, we are committed to understanding and solving the vexing clinical problems that elude us,” he said. “Rigorous clinical research encourages translational research, moving basic science discoveries in model systems to investigations focused on improving patient care and outcomes.”

USF Health neurologist Derrick Robertson, MD, one of the CRC’s top users, advocates for more faculty to take advantage of the center’s highly trained on-site support team and resources to conduct safe, controlled and compliant clinical trials.

Clinical research coordinator Brittany Harvey works in the new laboratory space at the Clinical Research Center.

Dr. Robertson, director of the USF Multiple Sclerosis Center, and his team participate in several trials testing new treatments for multiple sclerosis. He was the Tampa Bay region’s lead investigator for clinical studies of the intravenous medication ocrelizumab, which in 2017 became the first FDA-approved drug to slow progressive disability in a particularly aggressive form of multiple sclerosis called primary progressive MS.

“USF was one of the top-enrolling sites in the country, and our patients were part of the science that led to that game-changing drug getting approved.  The Clinical Research Center played a key role in facilitating that,” said Dr. Robertson, who continues ongoing studies of the MS drug, known commercially as Ocrevus.

In addition to the Morsani Center-based CRC, faculty lead clinical trials at Tampa General Hospital, the USF Health Neuroscience Institute (Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders), the South Tampa Center for Advanced Healthcare, the Hillsborough County Health Department, and the USF All Children’s Research Institute.

Ray Schneider (right), MS team research coordinator for the Department of Neurology, assesses the gait of a patient during a walk down one of the CRC hallways.

The volume of clinical trials at USF Health has climbed steadily over the last several years.

Stephen Liggett, MD, (right) associate vice president for research at USF Health, speaks with Charles Lockwood, MD, (center) senior vice president for USF Health and Morsani College of Medicine dean, and Kevin Sneed, PharmD, dean of the USF College of Pharmacy, during a tour of the new CRC space.

The CRC tripled in size and expanded resources with its recent relocation to remodeled space on the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare’s fourth floor.

-Photos by Torie M. Doll and graphics by Cynthia Greco, USF Health Communications and Marketing