Columbia St. Mary's Selected for National Cancer Institute Pilot Program to Bring State-of-the-Art Cancer Care to All

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Milwaukee, Wis., June 14, 2007 — Columbia St. Mary's has been chosen by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as a pilot site for NCI's Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP). Columbia St. Mary's was chosen as one of three Ascension Health hospitals nationally to participate in the pilot program. No other health system in Wisconsin was selected for the program. Columbia St. Mary's is sponsored by Ascension Health, the nation’s largest Catholic and non-profit health system, and Columbia Health System.
The three-year pilot program is designed to encourage the collaboration of private-practice medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists — with close links to NCI research and to the network of 63 NCI-designated Cancer Centers principally based at large research universities.

Evidence from a wide range of studies suggests that cancer patients diagnosed and treated in such a setting of multi-specialty care and clinical research may live longer and have a better quality of life.

The pilot program will research new and enhanced ways to assist, educate, and better treat the needs of underserved populations —including elderly, rural, inner-city, and low-income patients — as well as racial and ethnic groups with unusually high cancer rates.

The NCCCP brings the latest scientific advances and the highest level of innovative and integrated, multi-specialty care to a much larger population of cancer patients. NCCCP will complement NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Program, which consists of 63 major academic and research institutions throughout the United States. However, only an approximate 15 percent of cancer patients are diagnosed at these centers.

For most Americans, especially senior citizens and minorities, an NCI-designated cancer center or pilot program may be too far away, too removed from family and other support systems, or simply out of reach for economic, personal, or other reasons.

"Consistent with our mission, the pilot program will provide additional opportunities to care for cancer patients, many who are poor and vulnerable, who would otherwise not have access to the clinical care and cancer trials they need and deserve,"said Leo P. Brideau, President of Columbia St. Mary’s health system.

In order to be considered for the pilot program, Columbia St. Mary’s met three main criteria:

  • Pilot sites must be community hospital-based cancer centers offering multi-specialty cancer care (medical, surgical, and radiation oncology) under one administrative, medical structure and with a qualified physician director with cancer expertise.
  • Pilot sites must see at least 1,000 new cancer cases each year.
  • Sites must have experience conducting clinical trials and have a track record of providing leadership within their communities in providing healthcare outreach programs to serve the needs of underrepresented and disadvantaged populations.

According to Dr. Carl Olson, Medical Director of Oncology Services at Columbia St. Mary's, the program has four ambitious goals for cancer treatment in Milwaukee.

"We hope to attract more people into clinical trials, especially those in underserved areas in Milwaukee," said Dr. Olson. "Only three percent of adults with cancer participate in clinical trials. This pilot program will extend research offerings to patients in more diverse communities.

"The grant also will attempt to reduce health care disparities," said Dr. Olson. Research confirms that equal treatment at the same state of disease yields equal outcomes across all populations. However, cancer care is rarely available to all populations equally."

The other goals include preparing sites for standardizing the collection and storage of biological specimens for cancer research and, linking sites to national databases supporting basic, clinical, and population-based cancer research.

The results from Columbia St. Mary's pilot program will provide recommendations to develop a community-based platform and information network for expanded cancer research, and access to a greater number and cross section of patients. The pilot program will examine methods that will lead to the rapid translation of newly discovered biomarkers (diagnostics) and the sophisticated, molecularly targeted therapies of the future. It will also explore ways in which to speed the development of new cancer drugs, reduce the cost of drug approvals, and provide the best possible care for the greatest number of patients.

The pilot will begin at eight free-standing community hospitals and six additional locations that are part of national health care systems. The sites will be funded for a collective total of $5 million per year.

An NCI panel of experts and an independent group of outside experts will set milestones, monitor progress, and evaluate success of the three-year pilot and then issue recommendations for a full-fledged program.



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