Cancer research in this state is often associated with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic, but a hospital consortium has been testing treatments for years as well, and just earned its largest federal grant to expand its efforts.

The Metro-Minnesota Community Oncology Research Consortium announced this week a $20 million award from the National Cancer Institute to broaden its role as a go-between for large university cancer studies and local cancer patients, who often don't know that those studies exist.

"While many people know that cancer research is available at academic medical centers, they are less aware of the clinical trial opportunities that exist at local hospitals and clinics," said Dr. Daniel Anderson, a leader of the consortium and an oncologist with Bloomington-based HealthPartners.

The Minnesota consortium is one of the largest in the nation, enrolling 800 cancer patients in clinical trials or studies last year. Its website currently lists more than 140 trials available to patients at any of the 25 participating hospitals or clinics.

The consortium, which has existed since 1983, includes most Twin Cities hospitals, along with rural sites such as Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar. Consortium members collectively contribute more than $1 million per year to supplement federal grants.

Some of the latest studies involve molecular tests to tailor cancer treatments for patients. The consortium was one of the nation's top-enrolling sites for studies of the long-term economic effects of colon cancer treatment, and of drug therapy to address fatigue during breast cancer treatment.

The consortium addresses a gap for patients with early-stage cancers who don't need to go to academic medical centers for treatment — but then don't learn about research options that could help them.

"Say for instance a woman gets diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer," Anderson said. "The university, it's fantastic, but it doesn't have the capacity to see the majority of people with a routine type of cancer that is still life-threatening."

Consortium leaders said one advantage of their approach is the close connection between the participating hospitals and their communities, which allows them to select trials and studies that their patients want.

"Cancer research doesn't happen in a vacuum," said Dr. David King, a consortium leader and an oncologist with Minnesota Oncology. "It takes a community to help advance science and deliver new therapies."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744 • @stribjo