Westchester Medical Center will use genomic technology from the Dutch tech company Royal Philips to tailor personalized cancer treatments to patients in its 10-hospital network. The use of Philips’ IntelliSpace Genomics software comes at a time when health care networks in the county and region are expanding and substantially investing in cancer treatment services.
As part of a push toward personalized care, WMCHealth can use genomic testing to study and search for mutations in a patient’s DNA. This can allow oncologists in the WMCHealth network to find a more precise treatment to target certain cancers.
“Depending on what mutations are responsible for a person’s tumor, there are specific medicines that can deal with tumors that have those mutations,” said Dr. John Fallon, director of the department of clinical pathology at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.
The Philips software can build on existing lab and diagnostic equipment at the medical center to analyze the tissue of a tumor from a biopsy or other tests to search for specific genetic mutations. Patients’ DNA can be tested for certain mutations known to cause cancer for which drug treatments are available. Those therapies are more directed at cancer cells and have less side effects than chemotherapy.
“Current chemotherapy, the big-league drugs that are used for tumors, kill everything,” Fallon said. “They wipe out your hair, your GI tract, give you ulcers and all sorts of bad things.”
With personalized treatments, “You are targeting your therapy for the tumor cells,” Fallon said. “None of your normal cells are affected.”
Fallon described genomics technology as in its “embryonic stage.” Initially, the medical center will use genomic testing to search for 29 different types of mutations.
WMCHealth’s use of the technology still must be approved by the state Department of Health, In the meantime, the medical center is focusing the new technology on research.
Fallon said this type of testing is typically only available at major urban hospitals or academic centers. He estimated that only 10 percent to 15 percent of patients in the country are able to access the testing. Patients in Westchester looking for genomic testing would have to travel to either Manhattan or Yale University in New Haven, he said.
Samples drawn from WMCHealth hospitals and health care service providers throughout the Hudson Valley can be brought to Westchester Medical Center for the same testing. “This keeps the patients in our system and close to home,” Fallon said.
Keeping patients closer to home for cancer care has been a goal of health care providers in Westchester and across the nation. Many of those health networks have heavily invested in cancer care in recent years.
In November, NewYork-Presbyterian’s Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville launched a $65 million cancer center. Nine months earlier, White Plains Hospital, part of the Montefiore Health System, completed a $60 million expansion of its Center for Cancer Care. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has also entered the Westchester market, opening a $128 million outpatient center on the Platinum Mile in Harrison in 2014.
Westchester Medical Center Health Network has also expanded its service reach through hospital acquisitions and investment. The health network since 2014 has added seven hospitals in Dutchess, Rockland, Orange and Ulster counties to its three-hospital center on the Grasslands campus in Valhalla.
On the main campus, construction has begun on a $230 million project that will add a 280,000-square-foot ambulatory care pavilion adjacent to Westchester Medical Center.
The health network will spend a total of $175 million on expansion projects at two hospitals it acquired in the last two years. A $40-million project at Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis will create a “health village.” In Kingston, WMCHealth and HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley will spend $133.6 million to expand and renovate HealthAlliance Hospital on Mary’s Avenue and convert HealthAlliance’s Broadway campus into a medical hub.
The access to Philips genomics technology comes as part of a longstanding relationship between the medical center and the Dutch tech giant. While Philips vacated its Briarcliff Manor research facility in 2014, it has continued a working relationship with Westchester Medical Center. In 2015, WMCHealth and Philips signed a 15-year, $500 million deal whereby Philips will provide equipment and services to the health network. That deal followed a strategic business partnership that was forged in 2007.
That partnership has extended to Westchester Medical College’s affiliated academic center, New York Medical College. Last month, Philips became the anchor tenant at the college’s biotech incubator, BioInc@NYMC. The company, which has 16 employees at the incubator, said it will use the 1,300-square-foot space for genomics research.
And the uses for the genomics research extend beyond cancer care. Fallon said genomics was first used by Westchester Medical Center in treating patients with cystic fibrosis. He described Westchester Medical Center as a major center for the genetic lung disease, as thousands of families have sought treatment at the hospital. Using genomics, patients can be tested for specific genetic mutations related to the disease and doctors can use that information to have treatments tailored to that mutation.
Fallon said genomics can also be used to track and identify different strains of infections, one of the main causes of death in hospitals. Westchester Medical Center can sequence the genome of every infectious bug it identifies.
“We know from genomic studies, we can trace in real time where they came from and we can do something about it,” Fallon said. “Either close down the room, do better cleaning or certain other things to prevent that infection from going to another patient.”