Mainers will gain access to clinical research trials of new cancer-fighting drugs at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston under a wide-ranging partnership between the institute and MaineHealth.

Dr. Scot Remick, physician leader of oncology for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center, said the partnership could benefit many people since Maine has the highest rate of cancer in the country. Maine, the state with the oldest median age, has about 9,000 new cancer patients every year, and about 70 percent of them are treated at Maine Med or in the MaineHealth network.

While it’s impossible to know how many of the patients would qualify for a research trial, Remick said the agreement gives Maine patients access to experimental treatments.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” Remick said. “There’s the potential to access new therapies and medications that patients wouldn’t have the ability to get outside of a clinical research trial.”

A nationally recognized cancer research and treatment center, Dana-Farber is conducting about 700 clinical trials – including treatments for cancers of the prostate, kidney, breast, sickle cell disease, brain cancer and leukemia, to name a few.

Remick said in many cases patients won’t have to leave Maine to participate in the trial, as some of the Dana-Farber research trials would be administered at Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough.

The two entities had been working on formalizing a partnership for nearly two years before an agreement was finalized this month. The partnership – which doesn’t involve any money changing hands – was announced Wednesday.

Dr. Ed Benz Jr., Dana-Farber’s president and CEO, said the partnership benefits Dana-Farber as well.

“This opens up populations of people to us for clinical trials. The kinds of clinical research that can be done are really enhanced,” he said.

For instance, Benz said Dana-Farber may be studying a subset of lung cancer patients who have a rare gene mutation, and having access to patients from Maine will help increase the number participants in the trial.

Benz said that while Dana-Farber has many collaborations, the MaineHealth partnership is “novel” because of the “comprehensive” connections with an entire health system, rather than an individual hospital or clinic.

“This is the first time Dana-Farber has begun such a formalized partnership with another health system outside of Massachusetts,” he said.

MaineHealth employs about 120 health professionals, not including nurses, who treat cancer patients. MaineHealth includes hospitals, physician practices and clinics throughout southern, central, midcoast and western Maine.

Remick said the partnership has other benefits, including possible collaborations on basic laboratory research between Dana-Farber and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute.

Also, Remick said MaineHealth patients will be screened and those who need specialized treatment at Dana-Farber will be identified and get attention more quickly.

Remick said patients who do not need to go to Dana-Farber are more likely to stay in Maine under this agreement, or only go to Dana-Farber for certain treatments. For instance, a patient may go to Dana-Farber for a bone marrow transplant but otherwise be treated in Maine.

Remick said the partnership also will help MaineHealth grow its physician fellowship program by partnering with Dana-Farber.

“MaineHealth wants to expand our educational footprint, and this gives us the opportunity to do it,” Remick said.


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