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Cancer alliance ‘ready to sail’; Leaders promote team of UT Health, MD Anderson
September 6, 2018

Leaders from UT Health San Antonio and MD Anderson Cancer Center prepare to discuss their institutions' partnership for cancer research and treatment. Lauren Caruba/Staff

By Lauren Caruba, STAFF WRITER, San Antonio Express-News

Nearly two years after announcing a partnership for treating cancer patients in San Antonio, leaders from UT Health San Antonio and MD Anderson Cancer Center said the collaboration’s groundwork now is in place.

“It’s now got to a point that it’s ready to launch. The ship is ready to sail,” William Henrich, president of UTHSA, said during a roundtable discussion at the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center on Wednesday morning. “Now we’re ready to, in essence, take the wraps off and to increase the aperture of the organization for receiving patients with cancer from around the area.”

Health leaders from both health institutions who attended the oncology panel touted the renamed center as an opportunity for San Antonio cancer patients to receive the best possible care and participate in clinical trials, all while remaining close to home.

They said the rapid population growth in San Antonio and the surrounding area lent greater urgency to bolstering the region’s cancer care options.

First announced in late 2016, the affiliation brought UTHSA into the fold of the Houston-based MD Anderson’s network of cancer-treating institutions and promised to increase the number of patients the San Antonio center could accommodate. In addition to allowing UTHSA access to the renowned cancer center’s clinical trials, standards, research and protocols, the partnership yielded a funding boost from the University of Texas System.

Since then, Henrich said, UTHSA has focused on improving communication between the two institutions and building the infrastructure for the center, including recruiting clinicians, investigators, nurses and other personnel.

Ruben Mesa, director of the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, joked that while the organization has “a long name,” its mission is simple-: to “decrease the burden of cancer for the people of San Antonio and South Texas.”

In doing so, the center has plans to focus efforts on cancers that have higher incidences or poorer outcomes in the region and among Hispanic populations, such as liver, cervical and endometrial cancers, Mesa said. He added that the center hopes to boost preventive measures, such as addressing the low rates of children in Bexar County vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical and other cancers.

“This center is deeply about this community,” Mesa said.

Peter Pisters, president of MD Anderson, said he viewed the partnership as “a pathway to create a statewide clinical trials network.” MD Anderson operates one of the most robust programs for cancer clinical trials worldwide, and administrators said San Antonio’s center would likely be part of them in the near future.

With the high number of cancer drugs entering clinical trials, patients should be encouraged to participate in trials, which could lead to quicker discovery of breakthrough treatments, Pisters said.

Patients in San Antonio will have access to health care professionals with expertise in both common and uncommon cancers, Henrich said, as well as an emphasis on screening and prevention.

“We’re endeavoring to meet both of those goals, to provide cancer care that is close to home, that is leading-edge and doesn’t compromise, and to get the outcomes that you expect from the very best places in the world,” Henrich said. @LaurenCaruba

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