Cancer – a single word that conjures up all sorts of feelings and emotions, sadness that it’s happened, surprised that it came out of nowhere, fear of what it means for an individual in their loved ones, and perhaps hope that a miracle treatment close to home will give a new lease on life.
In this episode of Hospital in Focus], Chip spoke with Dr. Dax Kurbegov, Vice President and Physician in Chief of Clinical Programs Sarah Cannon, The Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare.
Sarah Cannon is one of the most influential cancer centers you’ve never heard of. It is a unique mix of research and clinical care with a one-of-a-kind name.
Dr. Kurbegov explains, “Sarah Cannon was a TV and radio personality, probably best known for her Grand Ole Opry character of Minnie Pearl, beloved to many. Sarah Cannon had cancer, Minnie Pearl never did. And when Sarah Cannon had breast cancer, she was treated in our founding facility here in Nashville. She was so struck by the care and the teamwork around her case, that she shared her name in support of a vision that was really focused on early detection, clinical trials, and that team-based approach. We’ve carried that name since 2004.”
Sarah Cannon’s affiliation with HCA Healthcare allows it to treat more patients – and closer to home.
“We span the entirety of the HCA footprint across 19 states and internationally in the UK. What HCA has facilitated for us is really an effort to bring together the best and brightest providers from across this expansive network of 177 hospitals, and to allow us to work with physicians upstream of the cancer diagnosis, downstream of the cancer diagnosis and everywhere in between to define what good really needs to look like,” said Dr. Kurbegov.
“It’s really been a game changer, I think, for our physician partners. They’re really about building sustainable, high-quality programs. We are effectively connected to other service lines, pulmonary, GI, women’s and children’s, our imaging partners, so that we can configure and continue to iterate around program improvement in a way that has meaningful impact. And I think at the end of the day, what does that do? One, I think it establishes an ecosystem that really bright, talented physicians want to be a part of. And two, it allows us to disseminate new evidence, new standards of care in a really effective and relatively rapid way.”
Sarah Cannon has also established itself as leader in cancer research and clinical trials.
“In 1997, we really innovated and took what was already unusual and made it really unusual by bringing forward this idea that we could do drug development work, early phase, first in human clinical trials, in a community setting, and that really still represents our sweet spot,” added Dr. Kurbegov. “We work very closely with industry partners, thinking about new molecules, new opportunities to target cancers, and provide the full range of services to those organizations, to develop these new strategies, to bring them forward, develop the evidence. And ultimately then, we leverage that clinical organization to speed adoption. At this point, we have nine drug development units across the nation, and we put more than 1200 patients on phase one clinical trials and have completed more than 601 first in human trials. So we span all phases of clinical trials, late phase and early phase, but there is a particular expertise in those first in human opportunities that are so critical to advancing these new types of treatment.”
That work has led to major advancements in sickle cell disease and breast cancer treatment – just to name a few. But like every aspect of the health care system, Sarah Cannon had to deal with the effects of COVID-19.
“I think we moved very quickly and with great purpose to ensure that patients got the treatments that they needed. I think the second was, as we came out of those first few months and things started to reopen, we really accelerated our outreach to patients and to the primary care community to articulate and rebuild confidence coming into the health system. So I think that is an advantage of the network that we invested in. I don’t think any of us ever wanted to have to leverage the network in that way, but I sure am thankful that our community rallied in the way that it did.”
You can listen to the complete podcast here.