Four Years In: MSK Cancer Alliance Bringing More Clinical Trials for Patients, Research for Clinicians

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More than four years after the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute became the charter member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance, Hartford HealthCare cancer patients now have unprecedented access to the world’s most advanced clinical trials. And more than ever before, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and researchers are working collaboratively to implement cancer treatment standards and protocols developed at MSK, the premier cancer treatment center in the country

This distinctive cancer care and clinical research partnership means the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute brings the most innovative, evidence-based cancer care directly into community settings.

“We have strengthened our clinical trials partnership with MSK and have doubled the number of trials we have opened from MSK in the past year,” says Dr. Peter Yu, Physician-in-Chief, Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute. “We are seeing a steady increase in the number of patients who have gone on to trials sponsored by MSK. More than 100 patients have been placed on studies through this program.”

According to Dr. Yu, the Institute has also expanded the variety of cancer types that are covered by its research portfolio, including breast, lung, bladder, prostate, kidney, brain, pancreatic, and colon cancer.

“More and more these are based on genomic analysis of the patient’s cancers,” he said. “We have started, in fact, doing sequencing of cancer samples here at Hartford HealthCare ourselves. It’s an example of how we are affecting technology transfer from a major academic center to a community system.”

Dr. Yu also said collaboration and guidance from MSK is helping the Institute establish a Phase 1 Clinical Trials Unit at Hartford Hospital later this year.

“Phase 1 studies are really a necessary part of this research endeavor because it brings the most promising drugs in the development pipeline to our patients,” he said.  “This does require a very specialized staff as well as specialized facilities.  And it is usually beyond the capability of most academic centers.  So, the fact that we are able, with the support and guidance of Memorial Sloan Kettering, to open this in Hartford is quite a coup for us.”

Kristi Gafford, Vice President of Operations for the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, said the Alliance is helping the Institute establish itself as a nationally recognized leader in cancer care.

“The bar in cancer is constantly moving,” she said. “On a regular basis we’re seeing new therapies come onto the market and new therapies being tested based on genomics and whole lot of good science.  It’s that much more important for us to stay competitive.”

Members of MSK Cancer Alliance, which has expanded to include Lehigh Valley Health Network and Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida, continuously share research and best practice to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients through multidisciplinary tumor boards, disease management teams and educational seminars on the latest data, technology and advances. In April 2018, for example, more than 100 providers from several specialties, nurses, pharmacists and research staff attended the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Alliance Advanced Prostate Cancer Symposium hosted by the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute and the Tallwood Urology & Kidney Institute.  The event brought together in Hartford MSK faculty and Hartford HealthCare general urologists and urologic, radiation and medical oncologists to focus on best practice, evidence-based decision making in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer.

Dr. Yu says the affiliation with MSK has also helped the Institute recruit some of the most talented physicians in the fields.

“We’ve added both a melanoma/immuno-oncologist as well as an ocular melanoma surgeon to the organization,” he said. “We continue to recruit other surgical specialists in areas of breast cancer, thoracic oncology, head and neck, neuro-oncology and surgical oncology along with an increasing list of medical oncologists. And, we have a number of interesting prospects who are in our recruitment pipeline right now. So that’s very exciting to us.” 

Said Gafford, “When you’re faced with a cancer diagnosis—in some cases a life or death decision—you’re looking for the best care available. In New England, patients have many choices for top-notch cancer care at a reasonable distance from their homes. That means we’re competing on a national scale. We have to offer patients the most advanced care if we want them to stay local.”

For more information about clinical trials, please click here.


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