Andre Goy, MD
To great fanfare, Hackensack Meridian Health of New Jersey and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) announced a co-branding partnership that they say would lead to highly fruitful collaborative research and make hundreds of clinical trial opportunities available to their patients.
The announcement came on the heels of Tuesday’s signing of the $6.3 billion 21st Century Cures Act to fund precision medicine and other health initiatives, and, indeed, the 2 cancer treatment centers said they hoped to develop a joint “clinical laboratory” in the spirit of the Cures Act.
In New Jersey, cancer rates are higher than the national average. Representatives of both cancer organizations present said their collaboration would provide higher levels of care through shared expertise and resources, and through expansion via the opening of cancer facilities around New Jersey. MSKCC has been expanding into the staet recently, and Hackensack Meridian, through its involvement with Regional Cancer Care Associates, has been broadening its network of roughly 25 independents into other states on the East Coast. The 2 organizations had been in talks for 2 years, officials said.
Both had been expanding or upgrading their facilities in Monmouth County, for example, where Hackensack Meridian has invested part of $128 million on new linear acceleration equipment, according to John Lloyd, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian. Today, MSKCC opened a new cancer center in Monmouth, according to Craig Thompson, president and CEO of MSKCC.
“This is a truly a transformative day for cancer care in New Jersey and, we hope, in the world,” Thompson said in his remarks on the occasion.
Andre Goy, MD, head of Lymphoma and head of Oncology for Hackensack Meridian, explained that “scale” is vital for achievement in cutting-edge cancer medicine and that the synergies of the 2 organizations would help to accelerate progress toward cancer cures.
The partnership, under which the organizations would co-brand their activities in New Jersey, would also contribute to value-based care through efficiencies and improved patient focus, Goy said. MSKCC and Hackensack Meridian would establish joint case-review boards and work toward establishing common standards of care. The partnership would also involve the use of IBM’s Watson for Oncology, Goy said, referring to the advanced computer program that is becoming popular among oncologists for double-checking their diagnoses against a database of current evidence-based medicine.
The partnership “will allow us to embrace the unprecedented changes that are happening in cancer care,” Goy said. “Although we have made a lot of progress, cancer will increase by 45% in the next 10 years.”
The 2 organizations plan to create a council to set up disease-specific platforms that would define the best standards of care while achieving integration. Goy and other officials at the press conference touted the overlapping strength of the 2 organizations in bone marrow transplants and cellular therapy. But overall efforts to advance in many treatments would create a “clinical laboratory, which will provide each patient the best care possible while moving the needle on accelerating discovery in cancer,” Goy said.
Efforts would also focus on perfecting the art of identifying residual circulating tumor cells, with the goal of achieving remission on the molecular level in the blood. Minimal residual disease-negative in the blood “translates regardless of the disease into a better outcome,” Goy said. Having the technology to do this is critical to refining “only as needed” strategies for treating patients, he added.
In addition, the 2 cancer centers will use their joint resource platform to accelerate understanding of how to combine immune-oncology therapies for best results.
The announcement was made at the future home of the Seton Hall – Hackensack Meridian Health Medical School, and officials said future students at the school would have access to vital training opportunities at the MSKCC and Hackensack Meridian facilities around the state.
The conference included remarks by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. William J. Pascrell (D-NJ, 9th District). Menendez praised the overlapping goals of the Cancer Moonshot, for which $1.8 billion in funding has been earmarked, and the partnership between MSKCC and Hackensack Meridian. Both would lead to historic progress toward finding cures, he said.
“We are on a good path, not a glide path, to really make some breakthroughs,” Pascrell said, adding he would continue to push for more funds for prevention, treatment, and research.
The concluding speaker was Peter Gross, MD, who developed aggressive chronic lymphocytic lymphoma years ago and was treated first with chemotherapy by Goy at Hackensack Meridian. When the disease progressed, Goy laid one of the seeds of the current collaborative effort between Hackensack Meridian and MSKCC by referring Gross to Renier Brentjens, MD, who was doing breakthrough research on CAR T-cells at MSKCC. Gross explained that the treatment at MSKCC resulted in a durable remission that brought him back from the brink. “Dr. Brentjens gave me this magic potion. Frankly, it was a miracle!”