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RCCA oncologists help write history with NCI’s recognition of John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack Meridian Health

When the National Cancer Institute (NCI) accorded the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC), part of Hackensack Meridian HealthHackensack University Medical Center, a rare and important designation this May, the move represented two historic firsts.

The NCI approved the Hackensack-based center as a research consortium member of the NCI-approved Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Consortium in Washington, DC. The approval made John Theurer Cancer Center a member of one of just 16 NCI-recognized cancer consortia based at the nation’s most prestigious institutions, including Harvard University, Dana-Farber/ Harvard Cancer Center; Cleveland Clinic, part of the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center; and the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.

The approval marked the first time that an NCI-approved consortium linked two independent clinical centers across state lines. It also constituted the first time that the NCI approved a consortium member staffed entirely by private-practice medical oncology/hematology, radiation oncology and gynecologic oncology physicians, in this case, of Regional Cancer Care AssociatesLLC (RCCA), one of the nation’s largest networks of cancer specialists.

Andrew L. Pecora, MD, FACP, CPE, hematologist, oncologist

Those two firsts made the coveted NCI designation doubly gratifying for Andrew L. Pecora, MD, FACP, CPE. A board-certified hematologist and oncologist, Dr. Pecora is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts in blood and marrow stem cell transplantation, cellular medicine and immunology research. He spent 30 years in top leadership roles at JTCC, arriving in 1989 to spearhead development of its Adult Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Program, and subsequently helping drive the cancer center’s recruitment and growth in becoming a nationwide leader in research and clinical care for the full spectrum of blood-based cancers and solid tumors. He also is the founder and first president of RCCA.

Dr. Pecora noted, “Until now, the research consortium members approved by the NCI all have been located in close proximity to the affiliated institution, and have been staffed by physicians who served as full-time employees of the academic center. This NCI recognition of John Theurer Cancer Center reflects two developments that, in my view, point the way to the future of cancer care delivery in the United States. First, it shows how well the physicians, nurses, and others at JTCC and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center have collaborated and innovated to overcome the distance-related challenges that once precluded leading centers from partnering on groundbreaking research and outstanding patient care. Second, it demonstrates how oncology specialists, such as the physicians of RCCA, can overcome the barriers that once separated academic medicine from community-based care in order to rapidly translate the latest research findings into widely available, cutting-edge patient care.”

The veteran cancer researcher added, “In the end, it all comes down to what’s in the best interest of the patient. Collaboration between experts to advance our understanding of cancer clearly meets that standard, as does having a network of cancer specialists who are deeply involved in clinical research but who also practice on the front lines of cancer care, as is the case with the physicians of RCCA.”

Iuliana Shapira, MD, chief medical officer, Regional Cancer Care Associates of RCCA

Iuliana Shapira, MD, the chief medical officer of RCCA, agrees. “RCCA physicians are the providers of medical care at the John Theurer Cancer Center. This NCI designation is a hard-won and much-deserved honor not only for the center, but also for them,” said Dr. Shapira, a board-certified hematologist and medical oncologist. “The designation represents the latest recognition for RCCA physicians practicing at JTCC and at our 30 other care centers in New Jersey, the Maryland/Washington, DC area, and Connecticut.”

Dr. Shapira noted that RCCA physicians at the John Theurer Cancer Center each year present dozens of abstracts, posters, and papers at key medical meetings, such as the annual gatherings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Society of Hematology (ASH). Their research work also is published in major medical journals, including “The New England Journal of Medicine,” the “Journal of Clinical Oncology, Blood,” and others. “This commitment to research extends across our network of 120 cancer specialists, with physicians and nurses at all 30 of our care centers participating in clinical trials and offering patients access to those trials,” she said.

Additionally, Dr. Shapira noted that RCCA and all of its care centers were selected in 2016 to participate in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Oncology Care Model (OCM), a program designed to promote innovation in the delivery of comprehensive, value-based cancer care. “We were honored to be among the first cancer-care organizations in the country invited to participate in this transformative program, which requires commitment to meeting the full needs of the patient, to continuous quality improvement, and to assuring that we are taking evidence-based approaches that assure the value of the care we provide,” said Dr. Shapira. “Even before the invitation to be part of the OCM initiative, we had committed to meeting those standards for the sake of our patients, so we considered participating in the Oncology Care Model a natural extension of our efforts to help enhance and shape the delivery of cancer care.”

Terrill Jordan, the president and chief executive officer of RCCA, said, “The NCI designation is a wonderful validation of the excellent care that patients receive at the John Theurer Cancer Center, and of the RCCA physicians who are the exclusive providers of that care. Along with their RCCA colleagues practicing at all of our care centers, the hematologists and oncologists at JTCC truly are at the forefront of the fast-paced progress we are making in the fight against cancer.”

With more than 120 cancer specialists and 800 staff members at care centers throughout New Jersey, the Maryland/Washington, DC area, and Connecticut, RCCA provides comprehensive, compassionate, and convenient care to more than 24,500 new patients and 245,000 established patients each year. It offers those patients immunotherapy, targeted treatment, cell-based therapy, and other cutting-edge treatments and diagnostic modalities, as well as access to clinical trials.

Terrill Jordan, president, chief executive officer, Regional Cancer Care Associates of RCCA

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