Texas cancer center eyes Valley connection

April 22, 2008

By hammersmith

[Source; Kate Nolan, Arizona Republic] – It’s not unusual to find a cancer event in the Northeast Valley.

Scottsdale boasts branches of the Arizona Cancer Center (based in Tucson) and the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center (based in Rochester, Minn.).

Both are among the 39 elite comprehensive cancer centers funded by the National Cancer Institute, and they dependably capture the attention of local donors. Arizona Cancer Center is said to be the national leader in cancer prevention.

What was unusual about a recent cancer promotion held at Camelback Golf Club in Scottsdale, was its focus: the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Party hosts were part-time Paradise Valley residents Jo Ann and Paul Oreffice. He is the retired chairman of Dow Chemical Co., and said he wanted to raise the community’s awareness of M.D. Anderson. Oreffice’s son-in-law was treated successfully there for a brain tumor that Portland doctors said was untreatable.

“He hasn’t had a bad day in eight-and-a-half years,” said Oreffice, who serves on a philanthropic board at M.D. Anderson and is President of the National Parkinson Foundation.

One of the nation’s oldest and largest cancer centers, M.D. Anderson oversees around a half-billion dollars in research projects every year and a total annual budget of $2.8 billion. The place is so vast, it isn’t known for any one specialty.

M.D. Anderson welcomes private contributions from anywhere, but usually seeks support in areas closer to home, as most health institutions do, said a spokeswoman.

Similarly, most of Mayo Clinic Arizona’s donations come from Arizona.

Why is M.D. Anderson here?

Would Mayo throw a promotional party in Houston where major institutions already exist?

Probably not, said Dr. Susan Dolbert, Mayo development chairman in Arizona.

But M.D. Anderson may have its reasons: the Texas center appears to be enlisting in the Valley’s war on cancer.

Not long ago, an extensive downtown Phoenix cancer center was on the drawing boards.

At first, there was talk of collaboration between Arizona Cancer Center, Maricopa Medical Center, Scottsdale Healthcare, Banner Health and others for a downtown facility in conjunction with the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Then came talks between the Arizona Cancer Center and Banner Health, Arizona’s largest healthcare provider.

But last year, the conversations faded with no end-product.

Possible new cancer partnership

Now the talk is back on, between M.D. Anderson and Banner Health, according to sources from both institutions.

“A number of cities are talking with us,” said Dr. John Mendelsohn, the Texas center’s president, somewhat minimizing the Phoenix talks.

Mendelsohn said M.D. Anderson is following the Mayo Clinic expansion model, but on a global scale, with centers in Madrid and Orlando and that his cancer center already collaborates with Arizona Cancer Center on several initiatives.

Banner spokesman Bill Byron said, “A metropolitan area this size needs a comprehensive cancer center. We anticipate the discussions will result in one and are still exploring options.”

Byron declined to comment on details or other possible partners, but said the list of potential partners for such an undertaking is limited.

Ultimately, senior leadership will make Banner’s call. The Texans have been less forthcoming.

As for the golf clubhouse meet-and-greet, M.D. Anderson spokeswoman DeDe DeStefano maintained, “Truly, it was unrelated to the talks.”