The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center announced an affiliation agreement Nov. 1 that will create a comprehensive and clinically integrated cancer care program in San Antonio.

Beginning in mid-2017, the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center will provide adult cancer patients in South Texas greater access to the most advanced oncology care available.

Through this affiliation, the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) of the UT Health Science Center will collaborate as part of MD Anderson’s international network of hospitals and health care systems dedicated to ending cancer globally. The affiliation will build on MD Anderson’s world-class knowledge and capabilities along with the UT Health Science Center’s expertise and renowned Institute for Drug Development to benefit patients in the 38 South Texas counties served by the UT Health Science Center.

The agreement aligns with the vision of UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven to create a “quantum leap” by building collaborative teams of UT System institutions based on the respective strengths and expertise of the institutions within the UT System.

“MD Anderson is the top-ranked cancer center in America, with unparalleled experience, resources and expertise,” Chancellor McRaven said. “This is a fine example of how we can leverage the expertise of our individual institutions with the size and excellence of the UT System to better serve people in our region, the state and beyond,” he said.

The affiliation will provide increased access to MD Anderson’s treatment protocols, standards of care, extensive clinical trials and translational research in San Antonio. Patients also will have access to the MD Anderson model of patient-centered, comprehensive care provided by multidisciplinary teams that will provide a new dimension in innovative care and treatment options. Through joint tumor boards, MD Anderson physicians will provide additional multidisciplinary opinions for diagnosis and treatment.

The agreement also will bring new funding from the UT System and private sources to improve the infrastructure at the CTRC, including a newly renovated Patient and Family Welcome Center, and an expanded and more efficient pharmacy, an infusion center designed around the patient experience, a diagnostic suite and a wayfinding system to help patients more easily navigate. “These improvements will take time, which is why we will not offer the collaborative services until the middle of next year,” said UT Health Science Center President William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP.

He explained: “We have looked at the projected need for cancer care in our region, and over the next 10 years we are expecting a significant growth in population. Unfortunately, with that growth will come many more cancer cases. For example, San Antonio is a very popular place for people to retire, especially from the military. Aging is one of the biggest risk factors for getting cancer. This affiliation will help us improve our facility and patient care to be ready to serve the needs of our region with the best care possible.”

Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson, said, “We are proud to partner with the UT Health Science Center. Through this affiliation, we are working to deliver groundbreaking clinical advances focused on prevention, early detection, treatment and research. Together we have the opportunity to dramatically reduce the pain and suffering caused by cancer for many people and for generations to come.”

The two organizations will jointly recruit future cancer physicians and allied health staff members. A national search is underway to hire a director to lead the new program.

“Beyond all of these obvious advantages is that we will be able to offer our region the very best care close to home,” Dr. Henrich said. “I know firsthand what it is like to leave my home for treatment, away from family and friends at a crucial time. This is why we want this affiliation for South Texas,” Dr. Henrich said.

UT Health Science Center expertise

 One of only four National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Cancers in Texas (along with MD Anderson), the UT Health Science Center’s Cancer Therapy & Research Center brings to the relationship its Institute for Drug Development, one of the largest early phase drug development programs in the world. IDD scientists work with researchers from the UT Health Science Center, other institutions and cancer centers, as well as the National Cancer Institute, to evaluate investigational news drugs for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Also brought into the relationship is the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, to be held this year Dec. 6-10. Initiated by the CTRC in 1978, the symposium is one of the largest breast cancer research meetings in the world and is now co-sponsored by the CTRC, the American Association of Cancer Research and Baylor College of Medicine. In 2015, the meeting drew 7,576 attendees, with 50 percent coming from countries outside the U.S.

The Health Science Center is conducting first-in-human brain cancer research led by Andrew Brenner, M.D., Ph.D. Through clinical trials, patients are already benefitting from this new approach in which Health Science Center neurosurgeon John R. Floyd II, M.D., inserts nano-sized radioactive fat particles directly into brain tumors with very promising results.

In addition, the CTRC’s breast cancer team, led by Virginia Kaklamani, M.D., is well known for developing genomic tests that allow doctors to predict which treatment will best benefit individual breast cancer patients. CTRC breast cancer researchers also are using drugs to target breast cancer stem cells, believed by researchers to be the first step in preventing breast cancer.

Partnering with a powerhouse

Celebrating its 75th anniversary year in 2016, MD Anderson is a global leader in cancer care, research, prevention and education. It was ranked the No. 1 cancer hospital in 2016 by U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Hospitals” rankings and the leading cancer hospital for nine of the past 10 years.

MD Anderson is home to the largest cancer clinical trials program in the nation. Last year, more than 9,400 patients were enrolled in trials exploring innovative treatments.