Originally created 05/12/02

Cancer plan turns focus to new grant



They won't have to go back to the drawing board, but leaders in Augusta and Athens, Ga., will have to sketch their cancer center dreams onto a new canvas.

By the end of the month, those involved in the Athens-Augusta Cancer Network will apply for a planning grant for a top-tier cancer center through the $1 billion Georgia Cancer Coalition. The new application for what is now being called a Regional Program of Excellence is part of a new process put in place by the coalition's recently appointed board. It also puts off until April the naming of any community or regional network to earn one of the highly prized designations, one of which had initially been expected at the beginning of this year.

Medical College of Georgia will proceed with hiring a cancer center director and beefing up its cancer research and treatment programs, President Daniel W. Rahn said. Work will also continue on the design of a new $30 million cancer research building to house the new researchers and some of the new initiatives, Dr. Rahn said.

"We feel at this juncture that we need to do that," Dr. Rahn said. "We're going to go forward with all of those things while this planning process is ongoing."

The Athens-Augusta group had already submitted a 30-page proposal detailing what it would offer in its collaborative regional network. That will help in putting together the planning grant, Dr. Rahn said. The proposal also brought together everyone who will be needed in applying for the new grant and forming the network, and set up a framework for cooperation, Dr. Rahn said.

"They're all at the table. They've all got to sit down and figure out how to update what was previously submitted in order to develop a plan for regionally comprehensive, integrated, coordinated oncology services," said Dr. Rahn, who is the chairman of the planning committee.

What that initial planning revealed is that Augusta is well-suited for cancer patients, said radiation oncologist Jerry Howington, co-chairman of the network committee.

"We've got pretty much the pieces of the puzzle in place in Augusta right now for quality care for anybody with any type of cancer," Dr. Howington said. "Really, the only thing we wouldn't have to offer somebody in Augusta right now would be some type of experimental protocol."

Quantifying and increasing that research might be MCG's role initially but would quickly become the province of everyone in the community, Dr. Howington said.

"The benefits of MCG, of having the medical school here, and particularly moving forward with the research that we can generate, is in the long run going to benefit all of us, because I'd like to use those research avenues for my patients," Dr. Howington said.

The Georgia Cancer Coalition is following the process used by the National Cancer Institute in bestowing its prestigious Cancer Center or Comprehensive Cancer Center designation. There is no such center in Georgia or South Carolina, but the institute's director, Andrew von Eschenbach, visited Georgia recently to examine cancer research and treatment in the state.

If Athens-Augusta can get the state designation, it will lend itself to the ultimate goal of getting the national institute's designation, Dr. Rahn said.

The kind of collaboration seen locally might also be played out at the state and national level, which would be of great benefit to providers and patients in Augusta, Dr. Rahn said.

"There are increasing efforts to try to engage the strengths of different organizations to focus on common problems," Dr. Rahn said. "A state-level initiative linked to the agenda of the National Cancer Institute on a federal level is very important."

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