Originally created 12/15/01

Leaders outline cancer center plan



It is more than a pastel sketch of a research building; it is bigger even than Augusta.

What community leaders spell out in their proposal for the Augusta Cancer Center of Excellence is a regional network that includes Athens and the University of Georgia.

It would mean more than $150 million in investment from the state, hospitals and doctors, foundations and donors. It would change the treatment of cancer patients in the area forever. And it is doable, said Medical College of Georgia President Daniel W. Rahn, one of the leaders of the local effort.

Augusta leaders presented the 30-page proposal earlier this year to the Georgia Cancer Coalition, which is leading a $1 billion effort to upgrade cancer research and treatment in the state. That includes a few top-tier cancer centers, which is what Augusta is seeking. It includes each hospital's five-year projection of what it will invest in cancer treatment and prevention, which altogether totals $53.4 million.

"This is what they're planning to do with the expectation that we're going to be designated," Dr. Rahn said. "Many of these are things that may happen anyway. But certainly it constitutes evidence of investment within the participating centers."

Athens Regional Medical Center's $13 million estimate includes building a Breast Center and the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support and Prevention for alternative and complementary therapies.

At University Hospital, it means spending more than $2.4 million just on education, screening and treating indigent patients.

There will likely be a unified system for patients to participate in clinical trials and receive cutting-edge treatment even as hospitals and physicians still compete for patients.

"The good news is all of the hospitals are at the table and all of the physicians are at the table," said J. Larry Read, the chief executive officer of University Health Care System.

The biggest and most visible piece of funding, however, would land in research, where MCG envisions building a $31.4 million cancer research facility and recruiting 37 physician/scientists and researchers to work on key cancer areas. Continuing the collaborative theme, that research will be conducted in accordance with cancer research at the University of Georgia and Emory University, Dr. Rahn said. And it benefits more than just the academics, he said.

"That will bring people to Augusta who otherwise might not be in Georgia," Dr. Rahn said. "They bring grants with them, federal grants, that are dollars that otherwise would flow to other states."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.