The Houston Methodist Cancer Center at Sugar Land is extending the range of care available to local patients through a growing number of clinical trials typically unavailable in a community setting.


Clinical trials are controlled, evidence-based research to determine if new therapies are effective in treating disease. Historically, only large teaching hospitals participate in clinical trials, limiting access for patients in suburban/rural areas.


But Houston Methodist has changed that approach. The increased number of trials being conducted at community hospitals across the Greater Houston area is a key strategy in efforts to make innovative therapies and treatment options easily accessible to more patients. Today, there are 35 clinical trials under way at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, covering most common malignancies.


“Every advance we’ve made in cancer treatment over the years is the direct result of patients agreeing to participate in clinical trials,” said Jorge Darcourt, M.D., board-certified oncologist-hematologist at Houston Methodist Oncology Partners at Sugar Land. “Clinical trials enable us to establish scientifically which therapies work, and they help us discover new approaches to treating cancer. Because of the willingness of patients to participate in clinical trials, we are unlocking many innovations today, such as immunotherapy, which stimulates the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells, and targeted therapy, which blocks specific molecules involved in tumor growth.”


Tracy Girkin is a patient of Darcourt’s who recently participated in a clinical trial for the treatment of urothelial (bladder) cancer. The trial was designed to study the effectiveness of using the immunotherapy drug Keytruda along with an investigational drug known as LNMMA.


Girkin, who is from Eureka Springs, Ark., lived with his daughter in Sugar Land while participating in the trial. His cancer responded well to the drug combination, and he completed the eight-month trial in March 2020 and returned home. He continues to travel to Sugar Land every two months for follow-up appointments with Darcourt.


“I wanted to do everything I could to fight my cancer and the clinical trial gave me that opportunity,” said Girkin. “If Dr. Darcourt and the other researchers learn anything from my participation that can help others, that makes it even better.”


LNMMA is a molecule that was studied to treat heart problems. The possible beneficial use of LNMMA to fight cancer was identified by Houston Methodist researchers, and the clinical trial is designed to identify if LNMMA can help patients such as Girkin reduce their resistance to immunotherapy drugs, making them more effective.


“Many of our trials today involve known therapies that are being repurposed to treat other types of disease,” said Darcourt. “These are promising times because we are finding that many safe, effective drugs can be beneficial in other uses.”


One of the Cancer Center’s priorities in the coming months is to increase the number of minority participants in the clinical trials it has under way.


“There are many reasons why some communities are underrepresented in clinical trials, but the end result is that it makes it more challenging to fight certain types of cancers that affect populations differently,” said Darcourt. “For example, prostate cancer and triple-negative breast cancer are more common, more aggressive and appear at younger ages in African-Americans than in people of other races. Clinical trials can help us understand why that is and find therapies that can make a difference.”


To improve minority participation, Darcourt and his colleagues at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center at Sugar Land are working to educate patients about the value of clinical trials and providing support and assistance – such as translation services – to help overcome concerns.


“It’s important for cancer patients to talk with their physician about the possibility of participating in a clinical trial, and ask as many questions as they can,” said Darcourt. “Many of today’s trials are designed to reduce the toxicity of existing treatments. That can mean improved survival rates and a better quality of life.”


For convenience, most of the clinical trials being offered at Houston Methodist Sugar Land can be completed without any visits to the Texas Medical Center. Visit to see a full list of available trials at Houston Methodist.