According to Yale-New Haven Hospital President and CEO Joseph A. Zaccagnino, M.P.H., the hospital’s planned new pavilion for cancer care is one of the biggest projects ever proposed in New Haven. The facility’s impact can be measured in cost ($430 million), size (14 stories, 497,000 square feet), new patient beds (112) or the number of permanent jobs the center is expected to bring to New Haven (400).
These figures are undeniably impressive, but the plans for a new clinical center also represent something that numbers alone can’t capture, say Yale Cancer Center Director Richard L. Edelson, M.D.; Edward Chu, M.D., the center’s director of clinical research; and Ira Mellman, Ph.D., its scientific director: a rare opportunity to provide state-of-theart patient care while advancing the science of cancer therapy.
The proposal derives from “an intense focus on cancer that is truly uniting the medical school, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the university as a single effective team,” says Edelson, a cancer immunologist who developed a widely used immunotherapy for T-cell lymphoma. “The people whom we’re recruiting are leaving outstanding positions at other university medical centers to come to Yale because they recognize that this new facility is not just another building at another cancer center. Something quite special is happening in the field of cancer at Yale.”
From the patient’s perspective, too, the proposed 14-story clinical center will be far more than bricks and mortar, Chu says, because it will consolidate services now scattered around the medical complex, including diagnostic imaging, surgery, radiation treatment, social services and palliative care. “For the first time, we’ll actually have a dedicated facility for the clinical care of our cancer patients,” says Chu. “We’re really making the patient the focus.”
To achieve a marriage between basic and clinical research, Chu says, the School of Medicine has hired nine clinical investigators, most of whom will arrive this summer. The heart of the new effort, says Mellman, will be an unusually close collaboration between these investigators and the teams of basic scientists who will develop new therapies and test and refine them in clinical trials.
Mellman says that the construction of the new center comes at an auspicious time, when basic research on the molecular biology of cancer is ripe for translation to human treatments.
“Increasingly, Yale faculty on the basic science side are becoming deeply committed to applying what we have learned in the laboratory to problems of human biology in general and human cancer in particular,” says Mellman, the Sterling Professor of Cell Biology and a prominent figure in cancer research, “because the problems are so great from a human point of view, and the challenges are so great from a scientific point of view.”
And although researchers can learn a great deal studying fruit flies and mice, Mellman says, clinical trials are vital to advancing cancer care: “The only true model for human cancer is human cancer.”
The proposed new Clinical Center is part of a larger Yale Cancer Center endeavor, which will have as a central goal the combination of scientific advances with creative and seamless delivery of the best available clinical care.
According to Mellman and Chu, because understanding cancer requires a multidisciplinary approach, the Yale Cancer Center’s research focus will not be on particular tumor types but on disciplines: cancer immunology, cancer genetics, imaging, stem cell biology and drug development. The new clinical facility is, therefore, a central part of the broader Yale cancer effort.
Once the construction cranes are gone and the hard hats are hung up, Mellman says he looks forward to seeing clinicians, students, laboratory staff and basic scientists brainstorming over coffee in the new building. “The first step in any new scientific collaboration,” he says, “is communication.”