MORRISTOWN, NJ -- Cancer is a disease that touches virtually everyone in some sort of way throughout their lifetime with more than 1.5 million new cases diagnosed in the United States every year, according to the Center for Disease Control. Those who have endured the fight against the disease that claims the lives of half a million Americans every year know how much of a strain physically, mentally and financially. And that battle doesn’t even end when the cancer goes into remission because there is a chance that it can come back.

For instance, more than 200,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer in the next year. Many of whom will be eligible for new innovative therapies, but the costs can range anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 per treatment, which can create a tremendous financial burden for families.

The increasing need for economically viable immunotherapies and breakthrough cancer treatments was the driving force behind Atlantic Health Systems newest partnership with TGen and Origin, which was announced at the Morristown Medical Center on Wednesday, Oct. 3. The Breakthrough Oncology Accelerator flagship platform at Atlantic Health System is based on a partnership that was over a year in the making and aims to provide better access to cancer treatment while improving patient outcomes through the integration of clinicians and researchers.

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“We’ve already brought on 15 new clinical trials of brand new drugs and technology to the Atlantic Health community through our partnership with TGen and Origin,” said Dr. Eric Whitman, M.D. Medical Director of Atlantic Health System Cancer Care. “This is something that would have never made it here otherwise. It’s already made a difference for us.”

While cancer care is at its most promising point over the last quarter century, the industry is experiencing rising costs for new treatments and it is hindering the patients’ ability to access potentially life-saving treatments.

“The desire is not just to run a profitable health system, it is to bring great care to the individuals and their families as we try to find the best way to clear the runway financially, clinically and scientifically as we can,” said Cosmo Smith, Origin’s Managing Partner. “In the next 18 months we are going to see some of the existing therapies cleared for use – the advancement of science is remarkable.”

“At the end of the day we need therapies and an infrastructure that requires a massive effort in the industry and it has to start somewhere,” he added. “This team and people here (at Atlantic Health) will not stop and will not quit and it’s remarkable to be a part of it.”

“We’ve invested heavily in alternative payment models that allow us to work with Medicare enrollees to improve access and quality, but reduce cost of care,” said Brian Gragnolati president and CEO of Atlantic Health System, who explained that there’s been over $90 million in savings through the Medicare program for patients over the last five years. “It’s because we’ve been able to create and connect care in a different way.”

The integration of data and understanding a patient’s history has become increasingly important to the treatment process and that is where the industry is trending. Evaluating how treatments will react to specific strains of diseases and genotypes will strengthen the likelihood a patient will endure short-term and long-term success in their recovery.

“One of the things that we have to make sure we’re protecting going forward is that people are protected (from being insured) because they have preexisting conditions,” Gragnolati explained. “We can’t go back to those days where if you don’t have money, you can’t get treatment. So we have to commit in partnership with others that we’re working hard at that and that’s a core element of what we do here at Atlantic Health.”

As advancements in cancer treatment continue to be made, there is a larger focus on procedures to prevent the cancer from returning, It is no longer just about eradicating the cancer and a patient experiencing that angst of it returning while maintaining a good quality of life after.

“Going forward, we think this is the way that cancer care should evolve – not just in New Jersey, but in the United States and perhaps the world,” suggested Dr. Whitman. “You need a partnership with the people who know how to develop (treatments) and how to administer it safely to patients. The third tier of that is how to make it affordable because the costs are only going to go up.”

Atlantic Health is the first health system to be selected by TGen and Origin to create this new platform.

“We are very excited to be working with Atlantic Health to overcome a challenge that is so essential to the future of cancer care,” TGen Chief Operating Officer Tess Burleson said in a statement. “Our partnership with Atlantic Health is a testament to their commitment to providing the highest quality care to the communities they serve. Together, we are creating a robust platform designed to meet the changing demands of today’s healthcare environment.”