Cooper Health to team with Houston cancer center

Posted: June 11, 2013

In a move with potential to shake up the health-care market in Philadelphia and beyond, Cooper University Health Care in Camden is expected to announce on Monday a partnership with the MD Anderson Cancer Center of Houston, one of the nation's top-ranked treatment and research facilities.

Cooper officials said they had signed a letter of intent to form the partnership with MD Anderson, which will manage a new $100 million cancer treatment center at Cooper's hospital campus in Camden.

The center, scheduled to open in October, will employ MD Anderson treatment protocols, and its physicians will participate in treatment of patients at Cooper. Cancer patients at the Cooper center also will participate in a wide offering of MD Anderson clinical trials of new cancer treatments and medications.

"This is an exciting step in formalizing our relationship with Cooper University Health Care," Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson, said in a statement. "Partnerships help advance and sustain our mission to end cancer."

Cooper officials were expected to formally announce the agreement at a news conference Monday morning at the Statehouse with Gov. Christie.

Officials involved in the negotiations declined to disclose financial details of the partnership.

MD Anderson is one of a handful of top-ranked cancer treatment centers in the nation. It is a research powerhouse, attracts patients from across the nation and the world, and in a typical year, obtains more federal cancer research money than competing centers.

The late Christopher Hitchens, celebrity author and Washington savant, was treated for esophageal cancer there. In 2011, the center announced it had received a $150 million grant from a United Arab Emirates foundation in recognition of the medical treatment it had provided many citizens of that Persian Gulf nation.

Yet it, as well as Cooper, faces an increasingly competitive health-care marketplace. MD Anderson recently announced belt-tightening measures, including modest staff reductions through attrition and other cuts, brought on by intensified government demands for cost reductions.

Joseph Antos, an economist and health-care analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said that in the face of increasing government scrutiny of their spending, hospitals were teaming with better-known research and treatment facilities to improve care and get a leg up in the marketplace.

"This is happening all over the country," Antos said. "In a sense, this is a reaction to that kind of competition. Generally, there is some value added."

Antos said Cooper would get the benefit of the latest treatments, procedures, and management techniques, and MD Anderson would get an opportunity for growth, as well as the chance to recruit talented physicians in the Philadelphia marketplace.

Alan Zuckerman, a health-care consultant in Philadelphia who advises hospitals, physicians, and others, said competition would increase as government regulators shifted more resources away from costly, high-margin treatments for diseases like cancer and focused them on primary care. That has put pressure on hospitals and physicians to improve services.

"This market, like many others, is well-endowed with sophisticated medical and health-care resources that are well reimbursed, and so there is competition for paying patients," Zuckerman said. "Cancer treatment is generally high-margin."

George E. Norcross III, chairman of Cooper's board and an owner of Interstate General Media, parent of The Inquirer, said Cooper and MD Anderson anticipated opening additional cancer-treatment satellites in central and North Jersey, as well as in the Philadelphia suburbs and in Delaware.

"This partnership will bring comprehensive cancer services by the leading cancer center in the world to southern New Jersey, and those services in part do not currently exist in the seven southern New Jersey counties," Norcross said in an interview.

There are prominent cancer-treatment centers just across the Delaware River, though - Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and Fox Chase Cancer Center. Given their proximity, Norcross said, "it is entirely possible that the Delaware Valley could become among the preeminent cancer research regions in the country." Cooper officials said MD Anderson would train physicians at the new cancer center in Camden, although the physicians will remain Cooper employees.

MD Anderson physicians will not relocate to Camden, although there will be frequent travel to and from from Houston, Cooper officials said.

MD Anderson doctors will serve on so-called tumor boards, physician committees that evaluate patients' treatment plans, and will participate in other diagnostic functions. MD Anderson also will determine what medical technologies are employed at the new Cooper facility.

Along with the new cancer center at Cooper, which will function largely as an outpatient and research facility, the hospital is developing a new floor in its inpatient section devoted entirely to cancer treatment that will open next year.

Cooper University Health Care, parent of Cooper University Hospital and 100 outpatient offices in the region, has nearly 6,000 employees, including 500 physicians on staff.

MD Anderson has approximately 19,000 employees, including 1,600 on its medical faculty. It spent $642 million last year on cancer research.


Contact Chris Mondics at 215-854-5957 or cmondics@phillynews.com.

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