Atlantic Health partnering in landmark program to make cancer care more affordable

It’s the discussion many people don’t want to have.

Science is on the verge of incredible medical breakthroughs in cancer care, but they are happening at a cost that patients often are unable to afford.

New drug therapies, including immunotherapies — a treatment method that supercharges the body’s own immune system to fight cancer — have revolutionized cancer treatment. These emerging therapies will become first-line treatments for many cancers, including lung cancer, melanoma and leukemia over the next five years, extending and enhancing the quality of life for cancer patients.

Atlantic Health System is attempting to makes these treatments more affordable.

This week, the Morristown-based health system announced a partnership with the Translational Genomics Research Institute and Origin Commercial Ventures to create a new platform to deliver economically viable immunotherapies and other breakthrough cancer treatments to the region through expedited access and novel payment options.

The Breakthrough Oncology Accelerator flagship platform at Atlantic Health will create a model to ultimately enable health systems around the country to provide faster access and better patient outcomes by enabling clinicians and researchers to share their knowledge and provide more options for patients.

Through the partnership, Atlantic Health System, TGen and Origin will leverage their proprietary platforms, expertise and collaborations to identify and deploy those resources that best help oncologists meet the needs of their patients.

Eric Whitman, medical director of Atlantic Health System Cancer Care, said the need is there.

“Cancer care is at its most promising point in the last 25 years, yet the industry is witnessing what happens when the science becomes so promising: it outstrips our financial and operational ability to effectively implement these advances in the clinical setting,” Whitman said. “That is simply not an acceptable option for our patients, or the patients around the country who can benefit from these new treatments and technologies.”

New Jersey Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Deborah Hartel said she feels the program is welcome addition to the state.

“With cancer ranking as the second-leading cause of death in New Jersey, it’s vitally important to have partnerships like this, which expand the availability of ‘affordable innovation’ to the residents of New Jersey,” she said. “Through such partnerships and Phase 1 research initiatives, patients will lead longer lives and enjoy an enhanced quality of life.

“We’re happy to see Morristown Medical Center and its partners bring these benefits to our residents.”

Whitman said the cost and complexity of these new treatments force tremendous strain on health systems and payers, placing these therapies in the ultra-high cost drug category. He said he hopes the program will result in a growing number of patients unable to access these potentially life-saving treatments.

Cosmo Smith, Origin’s managing partner, agreed.

“There are significant financial barriers to breakthrough cancer care,” Smith said. “This lack of access is one of the fundamental problems facing U.S. health care today.”

More than 200,000 people in the U.S. will receive a lung cancer diagnosis next year; many will be eligible for promising new therapies that can cost between $100,000 and $200,000 per treatment.

As a result, many individuals and small private plans will struggle to pay for these novel therapies.

TGen Chief Operating Officer Tess Burleson said the partnership will benefit all.

“We are very excited to be working with Atlantic Health to overcome a challenge that is so essential to the future of cancer care,” she said. “Our partnership with Atlantic Health is a testament to their commitment to providing the highest quality care to the communities they serve.

“Together, we are creating a robust platform designed to meet the changing demands of today’s health care environment.”

Atlantic Health is the first health system to be selected by TGen and Origin to create this new platform.