‘The future of cancer care’: Seattle institutions connect research and clinics as Fred Hutch
Cancer research in the Seattle area will become more integrated with area clinics and hospitals under a new effort announced Friday.
“This is the future of cancer care and cancer research,” University of Washington CEO Paul Ramsey said of the change.
Ramsey spoke to GeekWire during an interview ahead of a Friday press event showcasing a new “unified” center for adult cancer research and care, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. The center is the result of a realigned relationship between the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which will operate under the new name, with an expanded mandate.
The new center will provide oversight of adult cancer clinical care at UW Medicine and a structure to more closely coordinate research and care.
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was founded nearly 50 years ago and has grown to five scientific research divisions. And while “research” is no longer part of the institution’s name, the operation of these divisions will continue, and science is still central. The new center has the same chairman and director, Tom Lynch, and also officially sticks to the well-known nickname “Fred Hutch”.
The new center aims to accelerate scientific discovery in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of cancer, UW and Fred Hutch leaders said at Friday’s event. In an interview, Ramsey and Lynch provided more details about the venture, which spanned more than two years.
“Working together, we can span the full spectrum of integrating research, clinical and educational training, and the full spectrum of compassionate clinical care, from cancer prevention to cancer cure,” Ramsey said. .
“We are bringing a cancer program to a world-class healthcare system at UW Medicine,” Lynch added.
The announcement reworks institutional ties established under the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), formed in 1998 by Fred Hutch, the UW and Seattle Children’s. Over the next year, the alliance’s eight sites will be renamed the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.
Key changes are Fred Hutch’s new oversight of UW Medicine’s cancer care and the clinical integration of Fred Hutch’s cancer research program into the UW medical system. Seattle Children’s will ‘continue to operate independently’ of new Fred Hutch but will partner closely with him, says center website.
Many science interactions are already happening at Seattle institutions, Lynch said, but the new structure will add additional fuel to discovery. And it won’t just benefit patients, it could also support the regional startup ecosystem.
“Commercializing the technology and bringing it to patients is a huge priority for Hutch. Always has been, always will be,” Lynch said. Fred Hutch is a constant source of spin-outs such as cell therapy companies Juno Therapeutics, Lyell Immunopharma and, more recently, Affini-T Therapeutics. By tightening institutional interactions, the new arrangement has the potential to foster more spin-off activity, Lynch said.
There is room for increased synergy involving UW researchers and innovation centers, Ramsey said. He notes that the Brotman Baty Institute was founded by Fred Hutch, the UW and Seattle Children’s. UW’s Institute for Protein Design has spawned companies like A-Alpha Bio, Icosavax and Cyrus Biotechnology, and its research has implications for cancer treatment. “We always do joint business and strategic planning,” Ramsey said. “We will accelerate the use of these collaborations.”
But the first to benefit from the changes will be patients, Ramsey and Lynch said. This change is based on decades of research and technological development that opens up the molecular understanding of tumors.
As the new arrangement progresses, patients and clinicians will have greater access to lab results that can catalog and characterize their tumors, clinical trials, and therapies more suited to their cancer. Integrating patient data also means patient outcome information can be more easily fed back to researchers, so they can understand and study the effects of various treatment strategies, Lynch said.
“We’re in the midst of a huge data science revolution. And none of this would make a difference if we didn’t have the data science capabilities that we have in Seattle,” Lynch added. is also a Seattle story, because of this ability to connect with some of the best data science in the world.”
Each patient’s molecular information, such as active genes in their tumors, typically generates petabytes of data, Lynch said. And institutions are building their capacity to analyze that data and present it in a format that clinicians can use.
Cancer centers around the world have moved closer to this model, and the arrangement is accelerating this process in the Seattle area. “It’s a national story, but it’s a Seattle story,” Lynch said.
In Seattle, data understanding is getting a big boost thanks to a recent attempt to integrate the SCCA and UW Medicine electronic health record systems. The project cost around $190 million and converted 70 separate systems into one, Ramsey said. The new unified system will allow for rapid feedback between clinic and lab results, and also has the ability to exchange records with a separate system at Seattle Children’s.
The agreement will also better connect UW clinics across the state to the Fred Hutch system, expanding the pool of patients who can easily enroll in clinical trials. Ramsey and Lynch also anticipate greater consolidation of clinical trial teams in the future.
“We intend to ensure that we meet the needs of all Washington State residents, including people who have not historically been included in cancer research,” Lynch said. The new organization “takes a real equity lens in health care,” Ramsey added.
The larger region outside the state should also benefit. UW Medicine is connected to a five-state area through a medical training organization with research ties including Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI). Going forward, Ramsey sees it “becoming even more of a community-based research network.”
As part of the agreement, the new Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s will invest more in childhood cancer, Lynch said. Seattle Children’s will be the central site for pediatric cancer care, with bone marrow transplant moving to a new facility being built at Children’s.
As part of the change, Fred Hutch recruited a new group of 13 members board of directors. Nine are from the Seattle community and four are UW and Fred Hutch leaders: Lynch, Ramsey, Nancy Davidson, director of Fred Hutch’s clinical division, and Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine Hospitals and Clinics. Kathy Surace-Smith, senior vice president and general counsel of Seattle biotech company NanoString Technologies, is chair of the board; she was previously chair of the board of trustees of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The UW and Fred Hutch will operate as separately governed and licensed hospitals, and during the transition there will be no changes to patient teams and care will continue uninterrupted.