Columbus to partake in pilot cancer program

Columbus' John B. Amos Cancer Center will aid a national pilot research program aimed at bringing top-notch cancer care to patients across the country.

St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah will serve as Georgia's pilot site for the National Cancer Institute's Community Cancer Centers program, which is enlisting 16 community hospitals in 14 states.

The John B. Amos Cancer Center, which is affiliated with The Medical Center, will partner with St. Joseph's/Candler's oncology program to provide cancer data from Georgia's southwestern region.

"It fits in with our overall goal of providing patients with options when it comes to cancer treatment," said Lance Duke, president and chief executive officer of The Medical Center. "It's a wonderful opportunity for us and our patients in the region."

The Harbin Clinic in Rome, Ga., is the St. Joseph's/Candler's other clinical affiliate. The Savannah site will also collaborate with the Georgia Cancer Coalition, which promotes prevention and treatment of the potentially deadly disease.

The three-year program has four goals:

Dr. Andrew Pippas, medical director of the John B. Amos Cancer Center, lauded the extensive database of electronic medical records.

"It's going to allow researchers to get into patients' (cases) and pull those who have unique demographics," Pippas said.

For example, if researchers want to look at a population of 40-year-olds with colon cancer — a rare group — they can go to the database, he said. By examining their plasma and tissue data, researchers may be able to predict how they got cancer, why they have it and more.

"If we're looking for genetic reasons for outcomes, we'll be able to do that," Pippas said.

The John B. Amos Cancer Center — a multi-specialty cancer center serving 14 counties in southwest Georgia — sees about 800 new cancer patients a year.

St. Joseph's — which sees about 1,000 new cancer patients a year — applied to participate in the pilot program and asked the other two Georgia cancer research facilities to come on board as affiliates to provide more comprehensive state data.

Participating in the program means a number of things for the John B. Amos Cancer Center and the community, Pippas said.

The Columbus cancer center currently is conducting 45 clinical trials. With the program, Pippas said, it can easily up that number to 65, and include more types of trials.

This can be beneficial for patients. A number of studies suggest being diagnosed and treated in a setting of clinical research — and multi-specialty care — may extend their lives and improve quality of life.

Pippas said with national support the center will also get the chance to receive sophisticated training from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The John B. Amos Cancer Center has committed to providing $100,000 per year over three years to the program. It will receive $200,000 a year through grants from NCI and the Georgia Cancer Coalition.

"Our center is a new center," Pippas said. "The fact that we've been included in this grant through Candler is a stellar accomplishment."

Participation will put the local cancer center "in a stronger position" when NCI turns the pilot program into a full-fledged program, Pippas said.

Over the next three years, an NCI panel of experts and an independent group of outside experts will monitor and evaluate progress. At the pilot program's 2010 end, they will issue recommendations for the full program.