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Why Northwell Health, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have extended and expanded their partnership

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Northwell is investing $150 million over the next decade to advance cancer research. Dr. Richard Barakat of Northwell talks about their goals and moving advances from the bench to bedside.

Northwell Health and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have been working together on cancer research for nearly 10 years, and their relationship is growing.

Northwell and Cold Spring announced last month that they have extended their affiliation for another decade. In addition, Northwell is committing $150 million over the next 10 years to accelerate cancer research.

Richard Barakat, MD, physician-in-chief and executive director of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, relishes the collaboration between the two institutions. Cold Spring is one of seven institutions to earn designation as a National Cancer Institute Basic Laboratory Cancer Center. Northwell operates 21 hospitals and about 900 outpatient facilities in New York.

“This is a really powerful relationship,” Barakat says. “Because when you're a basic scientist, and you're understanding mechanisms of disease and cancer progression, you're not really involved in patient care. And the power of taking a basic science facility and partnering it with an integrated healthcare system, is you can then perform what's called translational research. You're translating what you discover, in the lab, to the bedside. So it's bench to bedside.”

In an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Barakat discusses the Northwell-Cold Harbor collaboration, their future aspirations, and ensuring cancer research and treatments are reaching underserved populations. (See part of our conversation with Dr. Richard Barakat in this video. The story continues below.)

‘One plus one equals three’

Barakat joined Northwell in 2018, after spending 30 years at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Northwell and Cold Harbor had already established their affiliation in 2015, but Barakat says he worked to build a structure to help shape Northwell’s cancer institute.

Northwell built disease management teams and recruited leaders in surgical oncology, medical oncology, radiation and other areas. Northwell also expanded its cancer clinical trials.

“At the end of the day, the most innovative therapies are in cancer clinical trials, and you want to expand the portfolio of those trials we have, so that we can offer them to our patients,” Barakat says.

Northwell operates a robust research program of its own with the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, which operates 50 laboratories and employs 5,000 researchers and staff.

Ultimately, Northwell is aiming to achieve National Cancer Institute recognition as a consortium with its collaboration with Cold Spring.

“That's what our long-term goal is, that we are integrating deeply. We'd like to be viewed as a consortium,” he says.

When asked about the keys to success in the partnership with Cold Spring, Barakat says it has taken “a lot of hard work.”

He credits the leadership of the institutions, calling Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling a “visionary leader.” Bruce Stillman, president and CEO of Cold Spring, is “brilliant,” Barakat says.

Northwell and Cold Spring researchers have also recognized the value of their collaboration, he says.

“What's making it work is the realization that by working together, one plus one equals three, that we are really impacting how cancer gets delivered, on so many,” Barakat says. “And that's exciting. That's an unbelievable opportunity. Who wouldn't want to do that?”

‘Very diverse patient population’

Northwell Cancer Institute has also invested nearly $550 million to build and expand cancer centers over the past three years, including new cancer centers in Staten Island and Queens. Northwell is also planning to build a new cancer center in a new pavilion being built along Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.

Northwell is committed to making sure cancer care and research trials are available to all communities, including those who have been sometimes left behind, Barakat says.

“What I really love about this place is because of the different geographic locations that we oversee, we have a very diverse patient population. Forty percent of our patients have government insurance and are ethnic and racial minorities,” Barakat says.

He points to the new cancer center in Queens, a New York City borough with more than 100 spoken languages.

“And what's so great about that is we can bring cutting-edge care to those patients, because many of those patients aren't traveling into the city. They're not paying for parking. … They don't have the means to get there,” Barakat says.

As important as it is to reach those individuals in terms of health equity, Barakat points to the research opportunities with such a diverse pool of patients. Northwell is aiming to understand the disparities in cancer, including why Black women are more likely to get triple negative breast cancer than white women, and why Black men with prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer have worse outcomes, he says.

Barakat says he’s hopeful to help transform cancer care “for so many of us, so many underserved, who, for too long, have been ignored.”

‘Cancer doesn’t exist in a vacuum’

Dowling said the goal is to improve care for patients throughout New York, but he’s hoping to see advances in treatment beyond the region.In a statement, Dowling said the extended partnership with Cold Spring “marks a pivotal moment in accelerating our efforts to advance cancer research and revolutionize treatment in the fight against cancer.”

The Cold Spring-Northwell partnership offers other advantages, Barakat says. In addition to utilizing Cold Spring’s research for cancer treatment, Northwell is also meeting the other health needs of cancer patients.

“Cancer doesn't exist in a vacuum,” Barakat says. “Cancer patients have diabetes, they have high blood pressure, they have obesity, they have thyroid disease, etc. And they also develop side effects from the therapies we give them. So when you're a large integrated healthcare system, you have to provide all of the facets of care for a cancer patient. And that will allow them to have the best outcomes and the best future.”

Stillman, the Cold Spring CEO, said the collaboration with Northwell will bring novel research to the clinic.

“This agreement will provide patient communities with greater access to cutting-edge biomedical technology, allowing for more precise diagnoses and treatments, and ultimately facilitating new breakthroughs in cancer care,” Stillman said in a statement.

Teaming a world-class laboratory with a large, integrated healthcare system is “a very powerful win-win situation,” Barakat says.

From the start of his time at Northwell, Barakat says he has been excited about the collaboration with Cold Harbor. “I've always felt that this was an incredible opportunity to build something really tremendous,” Barakat says.

Now, with Northwell committing an additional $150 million to the partnership with Cold Spring, Barakat is hoping to see important advances in cancer research and treatment.

“We have never been at a better place,” he says. “Everybody's excited and enthusiastic about this.”

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