St. Elizabeth Healthcare revealed details today of a new partnership with the University of Kentucky system that could change how cancer care is provided in Greater Cincinnati.
The affiliation with UK’s Markey Cancer Center will enable St. Elizabeth patients to receive new, targeted drugs sooner than ever before, said Dr. Doug Flora, president of the St. E medical staff and interim medical director of the Edgewood-based hospital system’s cancer center.
The agreement will also mean patients can stay closer to home and their families for most treatments, sparing them from what can be exhausting travel and expensive plane tickets, Flora said. St. Elizabeth cares for more than 315,000 patients annually, about 10,000 of whom seek treatment for cancer.
“We are meeting with the Markey research team this week to discuss how we can coordinate a seamless patient experience with regard to clinical trial screening and patient enrollment,” Flora said. “We are also planning to discuss integrating our own experience with precision cancer medicine with theirs, making sure that our patients have access to the safest, most targeted therapeutics possible to fight their cancer. We have been working to build our own precision medicine initiative here for the last several years, and I think this is a great place for our two institutions to join forces.”
St. Elizabeth is finalizing plans to build a massive cancer care center at its main campus in Edgewood, and the affiliation with the UK Markey Cancer Center will further enhance treatment options, Flora said.
The new center will include St. E medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, oncology surgeons, nurse navigators, research nurses, genetic counselors and others who work collaboratively with patients to provide cancer detection, diagnosis, treatment and prevention services all in one location.
“This approach is one that is already being pursued for patients who seek care at the Markey Cancer Center, so it would seem another great fit here for the patients of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky regions as well,” Flora said. UK’s Markey Center has “a particular expertise we don’t have on Phase 1 trials and translational research that will give (St. E) patients access to first in class drugs.”
In 2013, the National Cancer Institute designated the Markey Cancer Center to receive federal research funding. It is the only NCI-designated center in Kentucky and one of only 69 in the country. Because of the designation, UK Healthcare patients have access to new drugs, treatment options and clinical trials offered only at NCI centers.
“This affiliation fits well with St. Elizabeth’s vision of leading Northern Kentucky to become one of the healthiest communities in America,” said Garren Colvin, CEO of St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “We expect this affiliation to enable us to deliver truly exceptional cancer care and better the lives of our patients, their families, and the greater community we serve.”
The UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network was created in 2006 and comprises 20 hospitals throughout the Bluegrass State, including St. Elizabeth’s flagship hospital in Edgewood.
Markey is involved in more than 200 clinical research studies each year, and one of the primary objectives of the affiliation is to allow St. Elizabeth patients to participate in new therapies, said Dr. Tim Mullett, medical director of the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network.
In addition to access to new drugs, the affiliation could enable St. E patients to participate in new surgical, radiation and genetic trials as well as cutting edge biologic agents, Mullett said.
“Kentucky is home to some of the worst cancer rates in the country,” Mullett said. “The affiliate network provides a way for us to directly address this problem by providing access to programs and services that each hospital needs to fight cancer in their own region. We want patients to receive treatment close to home if they can, but Markey is here to provide advanced care and clinical trials for patients who have more complex cancers.”
Cincinnati-based Christ Hospital, which is seeking to expand its footprint in Northern Kentucky, affiliated with the UK Markey Cancer Center in 2015. However, that affiliation was short-lived. Later that year, Christ Hospital struck a financial agreement with Ohio State University’s James Cancer Network to provide innovative drugs to cancer patients in Greater Cincinnati.
Flora said St. Elizabeth’s affiliation with the UK Markey Center was essentially revenue neutral. Both health systems will pick up some of the costs.
“This is not a marketing ploy,” Flora said. “This is a tight agreement. There are specific things we’ve agreed to so we can advance care throughout the state, coupling the resources of both of the centers.
“There is a significant amount of financial support offered by Markey,” Flora added, citing cancer screening and prevention efforts. “It also helps Markey because it generates more clinical trial enrollment for their own researchers. It enhances their reputation within the commonwealth.”
The UK Markey Cancer Center is working toward designation as a comprehensive cancer center, and teaming with St. Elizabeth could help meet that goal. That could result in more federal funding for cancer research in Kentucky. Currently, 45 of the 69 NCI-designated cancer centers in the country hold comprehensive cancer center status.
Colvin said St. Elizabeth is determined to stick with UK Healthcare, building on a collaboration that began in 2017 when the two systems revealed plans to develop a regional medical school campus at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights. UK College of Medicine classes could start at NKU as early as fall 2019. Admissions will be handled by UK with input from NKU and St. Elizabeth, which will provide clinical instruction for students who train to become doctors.