St. Luke’s Health System has signed an agreement with Washington University in St. Louis that will allow patients access to clinical trials through the university’s National Cancer Institute-supported research.
The agreement with the university’s Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center puts St. Luke’s in competition with the University of Kansas Health System, which is home to the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the region. Siteman is designated a “comprehensive” cancer center, which is one step above KU’s National Cancer Institute designation.
Timothy Pluard, the medical director of the St. Luke’s Cancer Institute, said the partnership will allow St. Luke’s patients to access about 175 trials of investigational treatments and 35 other population health studies run by Siteman, while under the care of their local St. Luke’s doctors.
“In terms of NCI-sponsored clinical trials, we’ll have access to all the clinical trials KU does,” Pluard said.
Kay Hawes, a spokeswoman for the KU Cancer Center, said being an National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center is different from being a satellite clinic of an institute-designated cancer center.
“Many trials are reserved for NCI facilities with special expertise, such as promising trials in immunotherapy,” Hawes said. “Many NCI trials, including Level One trials, are not available to satellite clinics because of the intensity of the trials and the vulnerability of the patients involved.”
Shannon Hatch, the branch chief of media relations for the National Cancer Institute, said comparing the KU Cancer Center to the Siteman-St. Luke’s partnership would be futile. KU will almost certainly offer some treatments that Siteman/St. Luke’s won’t, and vice versa.
“It’s not as if every NCI-designated cancer center is running the exact same trials,” Hatch said.
The answer to the question of who has the more useful trials will differ from patient to patient, she said.
The agreement with Siteman takes effect June 1, and patients should start gaining access to trials by late summer, according to St. Luke’s.
Pluard said clinical trials will be available at multiple St. Luke’s locations and will require the health system to hire more staff, notably research nurses and data managers.
Siteman is one of 47 National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Centers nationwide. The University of Kansas Cancer Center became an NCI-designated cancer center in 2012 but is still seeking “comprehensive status.” Both labels come with research resources and the chance for millions in National Institutes of Health dollars.
National Cancer Institute cancer centers focus on some combination of laboratory research, population health and clinical research. Comprehensive cancer centers must prove themselves in all three areas.
Pluard came to St. Luke’s from Siteman, where he was clinical director of breast oncology.
“I spent a number of years there, and they were interested in having us as an affiliate as well,” Pluard said. “For both sides, it was a productive affiliation, so it came together actually quite easily.”
Pluard said the agreement with Siteman is an important step for St. Luke’s that will bring more federal dollars to the area and potentially improve outcomes for Kansas Citians with cancer.
“It’s going to, I think, continue to expand the opportunities for patients in this region to access clinical trials and hopefully improve the health care,” Pluard said.
“Obviously, anything that makes potential life-saving clinical trials accessible to more people is good for cancer patients,” Hawes said. “That’s one reason the University of Kansas Cancer Center has clinics in communities throughout Missouri and Kansas.”