A unanimous vote by the City of New Haven’s Board of Aldermen making changes to the city’s zoning regulations and zoning map has cleared the way for the construction of a new clinical cancer facility at Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) fully dedicated to patient care and clinical research. The groundbreaking for the 14-story, $450 million structure will take place this fall, and the facility will open its doors to patients at the end of 2009.

“Every day nearly 50 people are diagnosed with a new case of cancer in Connecticut. The facility will allow us to meet our mission of providing exceptional care to the most acutely ill patients we serve,” says Marna P. Borgstrom, M.P.H., CEO and president of YNHH.

Richard L. Edelson, M.D., Yale Cancer Center (YCC) director and professor of dermatology, agrees. “This is a huge step forward for the Yale Cancer Center’s capacity to provide truly state-of-the-art care,” Edelson says. “It propels forward our entire enterprise.”

The hundreds of physicians, nurses, clinical researchers and laboratory technicians involved in cancer treatment at Yale are now dispersed in several locations at the hospital and medical school. The new “patient-friendly” building will bring all these people under one roof, with immediate benefits for patients, says José Costa, M.D., YCC deputy director and professor of pathology. “Our current facilities are the result of a cancer center that has been in existence for 30 years, and with the passage of time they have grown and have been remodeled to adapt to progress in clinical medicine, but in a less-than-ideal fashion,” Costa says. “The new building benefits from a clean, forward-looking design.”

One of the biggest advantages of the unified facility will be easier access to state-of-the-art care for patients and families facing a challenging illness, Borgstrom says. “This project is all about providing the best care available in the most advanced setting. This building will rival those available anywhere in the world.”

According to Edelson a dedicated facility is critically important because it will enhance interaction between patients and the interdisciplinary medical teams at the heart of modern cancer care.

“Cancer care is multidisciplinary, involving important input from several specialties. For example, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiotherapists, diagnostic radiologists, pathologists and other specialists contribute significantly to the management of breast cancer patients,” he says. “Having highly coordinated and interactive medical teams will be an enormous advantage. Bringing collaborative physicians together for face-to-face discussions to put their heads together to discuss a challenging case when it is fresh in their minds, rather than simply reading one another’s notes in the chart, is simply the best way to do it.”

Although it will be more than three years before the first patient is treated in the new facility, Edelson says the project has had a formidable impact even in the planning stages by helping to bring top faculty to Yale.

“We have to have the best doctors that we can possibly have, and we can do a much better job attracting them if we have the very best facilities,” Edelson says, adding that plans for the new building were instrumental in the ambitious recruiting efforts of Edward Chu, M.D., the YCC’s chief of medical oncology and director of clinical research. In just two years, Chu has brought 11 top clinical investigators to Yale, a “stellar cadre,” according to Costa.

The increased capacity of the new building, combined with the expertise of Chu’s research team, will allow Yale to direct many more clinical trials of investigational treatments discovered by School of Medicine faculty, Edelson says. “To be able to do more clinical trials and to attract support for those trials, whether it be from the federal government or the pharmaceutical industry, depends on our ability to attract sufficient numbers of patients in sufficiently short time to get important answers.”

For Costa, who has been involved in planning of the new pavilion for six years, the building’s advancement of both care and research will mark a new era in the YCC’s 30-year history. “We want to go beyond where we are now to explore with our patients the novel diagnostic modalities that will enable us to diagnose cancer at the earliest moment, and to use the therapeutics that are the most effective and cancer-specific and the least toxic,” says Costa. “We want to be practicing the medicine of tomorrow. Let’s not remodel the house; let’s build a new house that is ideally suited not just for today, but for where we think we will be in 10 years.”