BREWER, Maine — Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Cancer Care of Maine has spent years doling out experimental drugs to fight cancer. Now, with a new partnership announced Wednesday with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Cancer Care will be able to offer even more local clinical trials.
“This will help to bring some of our clinical trials right up here, so [patients] don’t have to travel to Boston,” David Jackman, senior physician and medical director of clinical pathways at Dana-Farber, said Wednesday at a press gathering at the Eastern Maine Healthcare System headquarters on Whiting Hill in Brewer. “These are the very best and most up-to-date trials available.”
The Whiting Hill campus also is home to Cancer Care, which is located inside the Lafayette Family Cancer Center and on Wednesday became the newest member of the Dana-Farber Cancer Care Collaborative.
The partnership will be a two-way street, said Jackman, who also is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Membership in the collaborative enhances educational opportunities for EMMC staff, and offers opportunities for consultation with medical specialists at Dana-Farber in Boston for complex Maine cases.
The collaboration also will add to the Dana-Farber database on patients and how they react to experimental cancer-killing drugs.
“We think we have as much to learn,” Jackman said of Maine’s rural populations, who are typically served in community settings.
“The folks up here in Maine are different than what we see in Boston,” he added later. “Our patients are much younger.”
Cancer Care nurse Brenda Clements explained that the partnership will expand opportunities for patients with less common cancers to participate in more trials. Each trial requires a certain number of participants, she said, which often meant there were not enough patients in rural Maine to qualify. These patients would have to travel to more populated areas, such as Boston, to find clinical trials for their cancers.
“Now, we have access to all of Dana-Farber’s trials,” Clements said, adding that as part of the Dana-Farber collaborative, Maine patients can participate in the trials without leaving the state.
Thomas Openshaw, medical director of oncology research at Cancer Care, said many of his patients who qualify for clinical trials in Boston could not afford the trip.
“It’s very difficult to travel back and forth,” Openshaw said.
“Many are forced to choose between supporting their families … or participating in these clinical trials,” oncologist Sigrid Berg of Cancer Care said.
As part of the membership process, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute clinicians and other specialists did an extensive review of EMMC Cancer Care’s outpatient adult medical oncology practices and procedures, including patient safety protocols, nursing and pharmacy practices, chemotherapy administration and the patient information systems.
“To be recognized for our quality of care by an institution like Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is also a testament to the quality of care provided by our team,” Eastern Maine Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Deborah Carey Johnson said in a press release. “They’re truly a remarkable group.”
It was also announced that Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems is becoming an affiliate of Dana-Farber, which will enable streamlined access to medical reports and facilities in Boston.
“Collaboration knows no boundaries, especially when it comes to ensuring the people of Maine have access to the highest quality of care,” Michelle Hood, EMHS president and chief operating officer, said in the released statement.
Cancer Care medical director Merrill Garrett could barely hold back her enthusiasm about the new collaboration.
“We are very, very excited about all this,” Garrett said to end the press conference. “This is the beginning.”