(Editor's note: This report was updated at 2 p.m. with additional information and comments.)
Government officials at the state and federal level touted a definitive agreement for a partnership between Memorial Sloan Kettering and Hackensack Meridian Health as a game-changer for the state.
It’s no secret that cancer care is a strategic priority for the survival of health care providers in coming years in the state of New Jersey.
Rather than continuing in competition with each other, the two entities — which see a significant volume of patients in the northern region of the state — have partnered to deliver care; engage in sharing of information, doctors and best practices; and participate in clinical trials.
“When you put two powerful, world-class names together, and you do more than just — this is not just an affiliation. This is not an MD Anderson,” said Hackensack Meridian co-CEO Robert Garrett.
Cooper University Health Care made history in 2013 with a similarly-touted groundbreaking announcement of a partnership with Texas-based cancer brand MD Anderson, which has since opened franchises in the state, the most recent of which is in partnership with Summit Medical Group — the state’s largest multispecialty physicians group.
But, unlike the MD Anderson agreement, Garrett said, there was no exchange of money for branding and franchising with MSK.
“This has actually put together an equal partnership, a joint venture for cancer care. There has been nothing like it that has been done before,” Garrett said. “Our combined bone marrow transplant program is the busiest in the whole world. This is phenomenal for our patients. Cancer care, cancer prevention are huge strategic priorities.”
All cancer care centers currently operated by the two individual entities in the state will now combine, co-brand as Memorial Sloan Kettering-Hackensack Meridian Health and lay the foundation for a framework within which the two partners will pursue new joint ventures.
This means facilities like the $265 million Hope Tower at Jersey Shore Medical University, which was initially a legacy Meridian brand, will be co-branded by the time it opens in 2018.
And new ventures between MSK and HMH would spread statewide, expanding beyond the existing services areas in northern and central Jersey from Meridian’s legacy cancer care network. But neither Garrett nor MSK addressed whether it would be in direct competition with MD Anderson.
“We are looking at some areas where cancer providers are not there, and areas are being underserved,” Garrett said.
Asked whether MSK would be open to other partnerships with health care systems in New Jersey, CEO and President Craig Thompson said the current priority is focusing on Hackensack Meridian.
“We want to make this one successful before we think about any others,” Thompson said.
The signing of the definitive agreement took place Wednesday at the future site of the Seton Hall-Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, at the former Roche site in Nutley and Clifton, which is slated to open in fall of 2018.
HMH co-CEO John Lloyd said the announcement makes good on a promise made during the merger of the two health care systems earlier this year that there will be a focus on research and changing health care.
“We told people we are transforming health care at the speed of life,” Lloyd said. “We weren’t kidding.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told the crowd the transformation of “historic competitors to cancer’s worst enemy” is the “singular most important moment of health care in the state” he has seen in his years in office.
The partnership will also allow for clinical councils, clinical trials, shared information, trading of physicians and a focus on data analysis. This includes MSK’s partnership with IBM’s Watson and Hackensack’s COTA developed by HMH Chief Innovation Officer Andrew Pecora.
Pecora, along with MSK’s chief medical officer, Jose Baselga, are credited with the collaboration efforts — and a professional history — that resulted in the partnership. Both previously worked at MSK in the 1980s.
“In 1988, they were fellows in our program,” Thompson said. “They were two of the stars of their training era. We lost them both initially.”
Thompson touted the duo’s accomplishments while at MSK — Pecora’s focus on bone marrow and cancers of the bodily liquids, and Baselga’s focus on solid organ cancers.
Thompson said MSK has had a presence in New Jersey for more than 20 years, and just the other day opened its Monmouth County location, which has already seen a steady flow of patients.
The exact plans for the partnership and the layout of the joint standards and operations are still in the works, according to the partners.
The partnership will be overseen by an operating board made up of representatives from each organization.