The nine-story tower rising on the campus of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is more than a building under construction. It is evidence of a novel, ambitious project: to recreate one of the United States’ top cancer care and research programs in a new setting 7,000 miles away and adapt it to meet the needs of Middle Eastern patients.
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“Our goal is to raise the bar and transform the approach to cancer care across the region,” says Stephen Grobmyer, MD, Chair of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Oncology Institute, which will be housed in the 200,000-square-foot building that will open in 2022. “We plan to utilize our strong relationships with Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, learn from the many successes that the oncology program has had at our main campus, and apply those lessons here. We think we can both learn from and contribute to the overall global cancer strategy for Cleveland Clinic.”
Planning for the new oncology program began soon after the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi medical center’s opening in 2015. Cancer treatment services presently include positron emission tomography, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging for diagnoses, as well as advanced surgical procedures, chemotherapy and other infusions, supported by disease-specific tumor boards.
When the Oncology Institute’s new facility opens, services will expand to include radiation oncology, and patients will have access to multidisciplinary teams and leading-edge multimodal care in a single location.
“There is a huge opportunity here to standardize care, to streamline care, to improve things like survivorship and palliative care, which historically have not been part of the mainstream of cancer care in the region,” says Dr. Grobmyer, who led Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center’s Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program before coming to Abu Dhabi. “Our goal long-term is to offer everything here that is available at main campus.”
In the new center, reducing time to treatment from cancer diagnosis to treatment initiation will remain a focus. Further, there will be increasing coordination and communication among care providers, leveraging knowledge from Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center’s successes in those areas as well as its expertise in genetic counseling and cancer pathology. The two institutions plan to collaborate on tumor boards.
The Oncology Institute also plans to increase the availability of genetic testing to inform and personalize cancer treatment in the Middle East.
“We’ve gained a lot of knowledge about the genetic causes of cancer, but patients in this region have historically been underrepresented in those studies,” Dr. Grobmyer says. “We want to understand if genetic associations with certain cancers apply here, or whether we have different issues to deal with in terms of addressing cancer prevention and treatment relative to our patient populations. Based on our experience, the region seems to have an increased incidence of thyroid cancer that we really don’t understand. We’re starting some studies to examine possible genetic markers. There may also be environmental factors. It’s our mission to address the specific cancer issues of people in the Gulf region.”
Clinical trials and research
Another major Oncology Institute effort will be to improve access to clinical trials for the region’s cancer patients. “For many types and stages of cancer, clinical trials are the gold standard of care,” Dr. Grobmyer says. “We need to make it possible for our patients to participate if we’re going to be offering cancer care at the highest level.”
The diversity of the region’s population, in turn, will improve the generalizability of results from the clinical trials in which its patients participate.
“We’re developing a research infrastructure” at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Dr. Grobmyer says. “We have our own institutional review board. We have a pool of research nurses that will support the clinical trials we’re bringing here.”
The Oncology Institute is working to enhance cancer data collection with a tumor registry that will contribute to an improved understanding of cancer patterns in the region.
Boosting cancer screening
The institute also is leading the way in cancer screening — an important initiative in a part of the world where the International Agency for Research on Cancer projects that cancer incidence and deaths will almost double by 2030. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi offers cervical and colon cancer screening, recently launched breast cancer screening, and operates the only center for lung cancer screening in Abu Dhabi.
The institute currently is recruiting cancer specialists from around the world for its staff and eventually will establish a residency program to train future oncologists. Dr. Grobmyer says staff members “are attracted by the tremendous opportunity to create something new and to innovate and improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”
Feature image: An architect’s rendering of the new Oncology Institute building (foreground).