Cancer care and research in Pacific Northwest to be streamlined under proposed reorganization

SCCA and Fred Hutch
A proposed reorganization would create a new institution, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, from the merger of Fred Hutch and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Above, Fred Hutch and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance buildings in Seattle. (Fred Hutch Photo)

Cancer care and research in the Pacific Northwest may undergo a shift next year with a new partnership structure among Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s, the institutions announced jointly today with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).

The new arrangement, which is still in planning stages, would involve greater consolidation of research and adult care and a move of all pediatric cancer care to Seattle Children’s.

“What we’re announcing is that we are exploring this integration,” said Dr. Thomas Lynch Jr., president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in a joint GeekWire interview with the leaders of all four institutions.

The restructure would not move forward until early 2022, pending board and governmental approvals, as well as discussion with faculty, staff, regulatory leaders and other stakeholders.

The new structure will improve patient care and accelerate the pace of new research, said the leaders.

Dr. Thomas Lynch Jr., president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. (Fred Hutch Photo)

“We came to realize that we would be better off if we could explore a new structure that brought our critical care mechanism closer to our research mechanism. And so that is the underlying feature here.” said Dr. Nancy Davidson, president and executive director of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. In addition, all pediatric cancer care would be consolidated at Seattle Children’s, with bone marrow transplantation moving from SCCA.

Key to the new arrangement would be the creation of a new institution, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, from the merger of Fred Hutch and SCCA, which was formed in 1998 to help coordinate regional care and clinical research among the partner institutions. Under the new arrangement, all SCCA clinical sites would be renamed “Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.”

In addition, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center would oversee the clinical oncology programs at both the center and UW Medical Center, according to a press release.

The reorganization will be a boon for the Seattle startup ecosystem, said Dr. Lynch.

“We’ve got all the ingredients you need, outstanding science and an outstanding venture community with great venture capitalists,” said Dr. Lynch, pointing to Seattle-area biotech giants such as Juno Therapeutics and Adaptive Biotechnologies. “What we didn’t have was the integration across the clinical spectrum as well.” Such access to a more efficient clinical trial structure will buoy regional biotech companies.

“We can connect the research that’s conducted at Fred Hutch, at UW and Seattle Children’s more directly to patient care,” added Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine.

As an example, Dr. Ramsey points to the Brotman Baty Institute, a precision medicine organization established jointly by UW Medicine, Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s. Scientists there are developing ways to detect some cancers early by analyzing blood samples — research that can be brought more swiftly to the clinic under the new arrangement.

The institutions have already made some steps towards greater integration. For instance, SCCA and UW Medicine recently rolled out a shared electronic health record system that fosters clinical trial coordination, said Ramsey.

Seattle Children’s CEO Jeff Sperring. (Seattle Children’s Photo)

Dr. Jeff Sperring, CEO of Seattle Children’s, said that the fast growth of Children’s and completion of a new building next year, Building Care, will enable the consolidation of pediatric care, “so that kids and families can get all of their care in one place.” In addition, “we’ll also have a new research affiliation agreement with this new Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.” That affiliation will strengthen research while Seattle Children’s continues to build up its scientific infrastructure, including at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research.

As part of the proposed reorganization, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center would continue to operate multiple research programs, but as part of the larger Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center opened its doors in 1975 on Seattle’s first hill, and inaugurated its first building in South Lake Union about 25 years ago. It now has more than 250,000 square feet of laboratory space and leads hundreds of clinical trials.

The Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation set the stage for Seattle area leadership in cellular therapies, with newer startups including Sana Biotechnology, which recently went public, and Umoja Biopharma, spun out of Seattle Children’s.

Though the reorganization will enable streamlining of clinical trial research, the institutions are light on specifics. One example, however, is an ongoing framework to create more joint faculty appointments, for instance with UW Medicine faculty based at Seattle Children’s having appointments at Fred Hutch, according to a spokesperson.

Coordination of care across the region, such as at affiliated sites in Alaska, will continue and potentially be built upon with the new arrangement, said a spokesperson.

“I think this is an incredible opportunity for Seattle,” said Dr. Lynch. “It’s coming at a time when our ability to investigate cancer and come up with new treatments has never been greater than it is today. Today’s news is great news for patients.”

Health/life sciences Ben towne center Fred hutch Jeff sperring Nancy davidson Paul ramsey Seattle cancer care alliance Seattle children's Thomas lynch jr. Uw medicine