Bringing newly approved treatments, nuclear medicines, next generation sequencing, and participation in expanded access trials, Illinois CancerCare, P.C., is making sure cancer patients receive the affordable treatments they deserve.
In the medical field, terms such as “specialized medicine” and “cutting-edge treatments” crowd the airwaves and brochures with promises of receiving the best care possible. But for the team of experts at Illinois CancerCare in Peoria, these terms are more than just buzzwords. They epitomize the practice’s mission and methods for caring for patients with compassion, professionalism, and respect.
“We emphasize Patients First,” says Illinois CancerCare President Paul Fishkin, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, hematology, and medical oncology. “Our commitment to patients is the driver in our complex organization.”
Michele Rice, PharmD, BCOP, director of pharmacy at Illinois CancerCare adds: “When we have a patient that needs a new treatment, our employees mobilize to make it happen. To this end, quality care is more than just marketing for us. It is how we bring cancer care to rural central and western Illinois.”
Leadership on the National Stage
Drs. Stephen A. Cullinan and James B. Gerstner founded the practice 35 years ago, becoming the first in the country to take its physicians and nurses to outlying communities. Today, Illinois CancerCare is central and western Illinois’ largest network of cancer care specialists, as well as one of the largest private oncology practices in the United States with 17 physicians, 16 mid-level providers, and more than 230 staff members.
An award-winning national leader in community cancer care, in 2012, Illinois CancerCare received national recognition from the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®) Certification Program, the largest oncology society in the United States, by receiving a 3-year certification for outpatient hematology-oncology practices for meeting the highest national standards for quality cancer care.
“Decades of experience, determination, and hard work have made our success possible,” says Michele. “It’s awesome to be able to benefit our patients in their home communities.”
Leading the Way in Adopting New Treatments
Dedicated to furthering science, physicians at Illinois CancerCare bring state-of-the-art cancer treatment and prevention research to patients, giving them access to newly approved treatments.
“In many cases, patients have exhausted all available treatment options,” explains Michele. “Having access to the next ‘hopeful’ treatment is excellent for our patients. As an example, a patient with a rare type of peripheral T-cell lymphoma diagnosed a decade ago underwent standard treatment and went into complete remission until two years ago when she relapsed. Currently, few treatments are available for relapsed disease, and the patient had problems tolerating these treatments. This year the FDA approved Beleodaq®, also known as belinostat, a new drug from Spectrum Pharmaceuticals.
“With the participation of every department in our practice,” Michele says, “we were able to obtain Beleodaq as soon as it shipped to wholesalers and make it available to our patient. We gave the first dose of this commercial brand-name drug in the country! This is what cutting-edge treatment means to us.”
New Technologies and Nuclear Medicine
Keeping on the cutting edge of patient care also means allowing patients to experience the benefits of nuclear medicine. Illinois CancerCare has participated in many “firsts” in nuclear medicine treatment.
“We administered our first dose of Xofigo® (radium Ra 223) on June 12, 2013,” according to Michele. “The University of Chicago was the first in the nation to give this drug — just one week prior to our dose. Our dose was the seventh dose given nationwide and the second dose in Illinois administered after the FDA’s approval.”
Following the FDA’s decision to approve the drug, Illinois CancerCare required approval from the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety, a division of IEMA, to amend its Radioactive Materials License to allow the practice to administer the drug in the community.
“They were very responsive to the urgency of getting this therapy to patients and published their rulings and approved our amendment in record time,” explains Michele. “We were very fortunate to make this therapy available to our patients as soon as possible.”
Today, 20 patients have participated in the program, and 13 have completed the therapy.
“This is something we do every day,” says Dr. Fishkin. “And because we’ve done this so many times, when something new comes out, we’re ready.”
Benefiting From Next Generation Sequencing
Illinois CancerCare recognizes the importance of diagnosing and treating genetic cancers. The practice provides genetic testing and counseling to help individuals and families understand how a genetic condition is inherited and provide information so life decisions
can be made.
For the purpose of aiding in the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with genetic cancers, the genetics team engages in next generation sequencing of tumors to acquire targeted therapies to combat hereditary cancers.
“It’s important to remember that cancer is not just one disease,” explains Michele. “There are about 150 types of cancer. Traditional chemotherapy from 10, 15, or 20 years ago was a ‘shotgun approach’ involving many side effects and collateral damage to healthy tissues. Next generation sequencing of tumors allows us to study the genetics of a tumor sample and target therapies specific to that type of cancer by pinpointing a specific treatment. Sequencing also allows us to identify family members at risk and give them a better chance at survival.”
Bringing Clinical Trials to Central Illinois
As one of only seven community oncology practices in the United States having received national awards for clinical cancer research participation, Illinois CancerCare is helping lead the way for improving cancer care through high-quality clinical trial programs.
“We have one of the highest participation rates in the country,” Michele says. Because of our reputation, we are able to bring clinical trials to our practice that they could normally only receive at major national academic centers.”
Additionally, due to high enrollment in the expanded access trial for first-line chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), Illinois CancerCare has the most experience in the nation with the recently approved leukemia treatment, Gazyva® (obinutuzumab). “Our nurses became experts in administering this drug before other institutions were even able to order it,” says Michele.
The Key Concept
Michele credits not only the expertise of physicians with decades of experience for the practice’s success, but also good old-fashioned teamwork. “Teamwork is vital. All departments work together to coordinate patient care. Physicians watch the research protocol results as they are published to know which potential treatments to offer. Pharmacists watch for drug approvals from the FDA. Business office staff communicates with Medicare carriers and private insurance companies to make certain new drugs will be covered so patients will be able to afford them. Nurses gain experience administering new treatments. Pharmacy technicians obtain the new treatments as soon as they
“Team is the key concept,” says Dr. Fishkin. “These are complex and difficult treatments. It takes a great deal of work to ensure our patients get the treatment they deserve.”
Even more amazing than the endeavors Illinois CancerCare is able to accomplish on patients’ behalf are the rewards the team experiences along the way.
Says Michele: “As a team, we’re always learning. Everyone pulls together and brings their own perspective to solve a problem. I have learned so much about the ‘big picture’ from working with such amazing people.”
But more than anything, the Illinois CancerCare, P.C. team learns about the patients. “I would hope that for our patients, cutting-edge care means that someone is looking out for them and caring for them… that we are doing the best we can — doing everything we can to lead them back to full health.”
For more information on Illinois CancerCare, P.C.,visit www.illinoiscancercare.com or call 309-243-3000 or 866-662-6564. Illinois CancerCare, P.C. is located at 8940 N. Wood Sage Road, Peoria, IL 61615-7828.
Illinois CancerCare Clinical Trials
What used to be known as Illinois CancerCare’s Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP) is one of three clinical trial programs that will share a five-year $12.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.
The new research entity, Heartland NCORP, is short for Heartland Cancer Research NCI Community Oncology Research Program. Heartland NCORP is comprised of three nationally recognized community cancer programs located in Peoria, IL, Decatur, IL and St. Louis, MO.
“We have been fortunate to be able to offer cancer clinical trials to our patients for 30 years through the previous Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP). It is wonderful to be able to continue to offer cutting edge therapies through the new NCORP program”, said Nguyet A. Le-Lindqwister, physician at Illinois CancerCare and co-principal investigator of Heartland NCORP.
More than 550 patients per year are expected to go on NCI cancer clinical trials through the Heartland NCORP.