Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network Affiliates with Johns Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center

The insurer-owned Allegheny Health Network is partnering with a national cancer center to offer new therapies and trials in western Pennsylvania, a sign of heightening regional competition and the emergence of new models for pursuing innovative treatments.

Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network has signed a five-year affiliation contract with Johns Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center to bring AHN cancer patients access to clinical trials and bring AHN clinicians access to continuing medical education and consulting on rare cancers and novel therapies.

The affiliation agreement also calls for the creation of a fund for cancer research, although AHN officials declined to give specifics on financing.

Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network has been seeking various partnerships and affiliations in anticipation of the possible end of its contract with Pittsburgh’s dominant health system UPMC in 2015.

One of the country’s 41 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, the Kimmel Cancer Center has helped innovate in areas such as cancer genetics, bone marrow transplantation and immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy especially is getting a lot of attention for its potential to use the human immune system to fight cancer progression, drawing venture capital biotech funding, interest from Big Pharma and even sparking a legal battle between St. Jude Children’s Research Center and the University of Pennsylvania over the intellectual property rights to an artificial T-cell treatment for leukemia. At Johns Hopkins, oncologists are working on a range of immunotherapy studies and trials, including for multiple myeloma and
pancreatic cancer.

The new affiliation will give cancer patients in western Pennsylvania another choice in providers and access to dozens of new clinical trials. It will also bring new competition to the region’s dominant health system, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which until now had the region’s only comprehensive cancer center.

Highmark’s contract with UPMC is set to expire at the end of year, absent any new agreement, although some UPMC speciality services, including some oncology care, could remain network.

Allegheny Health System helps its patients fight cancer by using some of the most comprehensive diagnostic and treatment services available anywhere. Advancements in cancer treatment for the past 20 years have come from clinical trials and cooperative group research initiatives. The Cancer Institute and hospitals have recognized and remained committed to the utilization of clinical trial research.