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“A Commonality of Spirit”: How a Cancer Center Partners to Help More Patients

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Monday, June 8, 2020

At ASAP we’re used to talking about all kinds of partnerships: tech industry, cross-industry, biopharma, multipartner ecosystems, and others of many flavors. But what kinds of partnerships are important to a hospital—specifically, a leading cancer center?

That will be the subject of a June 23 keynote presentation at ASAP’s virtual Global Alliance Summit, “A Cancer Center’s Experience Developing Clinical Partnerships and Alliances: Opportunities and Cautions,” to be given by Dr. Louis B. Harrison, MD, FASTRO, vice president, chief partnership officer, and chair of the radiation oncology department at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.

“Everyone Wins”

 Speaking with me recently via Zoom—a conversation briefly interrupted because he had to go check on a patient—Dr. Harrison indicated that the partnerships the Moffitt Cancer Center is engaged in, and that he’ll be speaking about later this month, tend to fall into two categories: clinical care and clinical research. As an example of the former, he mentioned a partnership that Moffitt runs to deliver radiation oncology services at one or more hospitals within a 20-hospital system.

“They did not have radiation oncology expertise, although they did have other key elements to their cancer program, so we develop a partnership with them, and in the context of that partnership, we send faculty there, and treat patients there, and work with them to build a program, and do that together with that hospital,” he explained. “Another partnership relates to bone marrow transplants—that partner did not have a successful transplant program, so we sent a key clinical leader there, added additional faculty, and incorporated key members of their existing faculty, who all collaborate with the faculty at our main center in Tampa. But the key is that we treat patients there. Everyone wins—especially the patients, who are now able to receive state-of-the-art care closer to home.”

Some partnerships involve both treatment of patients and running clinical trials, he said. “Another partnership I’ll talk about [at the Summit] is a large health system where we’re going to open up a clinical trial unit and develop an outpatient cancer center, and do any number of other things in the clinical and research realm—things that they could have done by themselves, but which they felt would be stronger by doing it with us. The synergies here are basically that these hospitals or health systems have special needs in cancer—and those needs are better fulfilled when they partner with a place like Moffitt. At the same time, Moffitt gets to extend our footprint into these other hospitals and health systems. So we grow together: they get services and expertise that they don’t have but they need, and patients in those communities benefit because they get the Moffitt level of care without traveling to Tampa. Everybody wins.”

Definitely a win-win—for the smaller community hospitals that don’t have the types of specialists a major-league cancer center features, but also for Moffitt itself, Dr. Harrison said.

“Not only don’t they have [those services and expertise], but it would be hard for them to develop expertise at that level,” he explained. “A community hospital is just not going to develop that breadth and depth—it would not be worth their while, just in the context of their entire mission. They can’t possibly go that deep into the basic science and biology of cancer, at a molecular level—they don’t see enough cancer patients, and they don’t have the infrastructure to do the kinds of things that an NCI Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center can do. At the same time, there’s no way for us to have our own network of hospitals in Florida. But if our partners have the system of hospitals and we have depth of expertise, that makes for a perfect  combination. [They get] specialists, and access to clinical trials, special drugs, new therapeutics, molecular diagnostics, expert pathology, things like that.”

In addition to its mission of treating cancer patients, Moffitt is also involved in various clinical trials at a number of levels, and some of these necessitate partnerships as well. “Sometimes we develop trials that are our own trials, and sometimes we join cooperative group trials, and sometimes we join pharmaceutical trials, so it’s all of the above,” Dr. Harrison explained. “The more patients we can enroll on trials, the more we can learn and the more progress we can make in helping patients.”

Two Day Jobs at Once

He further noted that his role as chief partnership officer is actually in addition to his “day job,” which is heading up the Moffitt’s department of radiation oncology. “I’m the chair of radiation oncology, I’m a doctor, so this partnership role is not my main job, but it’s part of my job,” he said. “But we’ve developed a fairly robust team, so I have a leadership role on the clinical side, I have a partner, another person, a vice president who is the business lead, and [we] work closely together. Then we have a series of financial analysts and managers and partnership administrators and physicians who take the lead for various projects. We liaise with scientists at some of our partnership hospitals. So if you think about it, there’s a fairly broad and wide infrastructure that supports this, and it all does report up through our senior partnership leadership team.”

As to any challenges or obstacles that arise in these ongoing partnerships, Dr. Harrison pointed out the importance of the cultural and strategic fit between partnership institutions. These relationships make all the difference, he said—and as ASAP members know, they need to be handled with care.

“[In] partnerships and alliances, there has to be a commonality of culture, a commonality of spirit,” he said. “These relationships often, maybe more often than not, boil down to the people who are involved and their ability to work together. On the one hand [they] represent their institutions well, and on the other hand [they] find the commonality and the overlap where there can be synergy, where there can be common success. Taking the time and having the patience to truly understand one another’s goals is a crucial factor in the success of any partnership.”

Finding Opportunity in a Time of Greater Need

Asked about the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Harrison acknowledged that there is “absolutely” more need for such partnerships now, given the ways in which the pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of our lives, including healthcare.

“Yes, of course, it changes everything,” he said. “Like many other things, it’s ‘What’s your framework?’ I think it’s an opportunity. Because at the end of the day, COVID-19 has stressed every healthcare system, every business, every enterprise in the country. With that stress, it becomes harder to do things yourself, and more palatable oftentimes to do things with others. Not only to share resources, but also to share risks. I think a common threat, like any other circumstance, should allow good partnerships to thrive and find new ways to work together that will make the threat we all face more surmountable on the one hand, and then of course on the other hand to be able to do things with shared resources that either of the partners would be challenged to do on their own, especially in this resource-challenged environment. So we have approached COVID-19 as an opportunity—as a partnership opportunity.”

For more information on the virtual ASAP Global Alliance Summit and to register, go to https://www.asapsummit.org/

Tags:  Alliances  cancer program  clinical care  Clinical Partnerships  clinical research  COVID-19  culture  Dr. Louis B. Harrison  hospitals  Moffitt Cancer Center  partner  partnership  radiation oncology 

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