OncoMed Partners with UB to Meet Growing Demands in Oncology Pharmacy

UB's growing expertise in personalized medicine and electronic medical records is key

Release Date: November 5, 2010


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"We realized that what was going on through the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the UB Academic Health Center and the School of Pharmacy could really help fill all the gaps in order to grow our business," says Burt Zweigenhaft, OncoMed's ceo.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When one of the nation's largest providers of oncology pharmacy services, OncoMed, decided to expand from a New York City suburb into a new facility on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus last month, an important factor was the potential to partner with the University at Buffalo.

According to OncoMed officials, the company's interest in locating in the Innovation Center near UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is a result of the outstanding reputation of the university's Doctor of Pharmacy program, the tremendous growth in the number of cancer patients anticipated due to the aging population and the increasing complexity of oncology pharmacy.

It's also a reflection of the growing expertise at UB and its partners in improving health-care outcomes and lowering costs by integrating and optimizing electronic medical records.

"On the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, we're in a great center of activity, which is incubating all the biomedical sciences and technologies," says Burt Zweigenhaft, chief executive officer and managing partner of OncoMed. "We have opportunities to work with the UB pharmacy school, the UB medical school and Roswell Park Cancer Institute not only to produce better clinical excellence but to develop the pipeline of professionals who will be needed to fill the gaps that are coming in oncology pharmacy."

Those gaps result from the field's increasing complexity, he says.

"A patient with a condition like high blood pressure may only take one or two medications," he explains. "But cancer chemotherapy is a protocol of different drugs used in combination that have differing mechanisms of action to treat the cancer, as well as additional mechanisms to minimize side effects. Treatment protocols change rapidly so it's more complex to manage these drugs, according to the most current, evidence-based guidelines."

For that reason, and because of the speed with which cancer treatment protocols change, oncology pharmacists are becoming an increasingly valued member of the oncology health care team.

"If you're a cancer patient, your medications or the doses of your medications may change frequently, sometimes week to week or even day to day," explains Gene D. Morse, PharmD, professor in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and associate director of UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. "The ongoing need for new clinical and translational research to determine dosing strategies, coupled with the huge demand for cancer treatment, is creating an opportunity for companies like OncoMed and for our pharmacy students. With OncoMed's input, we will add to our curriculum more educational opportunities and experiential training in cancer treatment so that our students fully understand the complexities of cancer treatment and can stay on top of this rapidly changing field."

The UB-OncoMed partnership also will provide some UB pharmacy students with a unique opportunity to learn the complexities involved in compounding and dispensing cancer medications, by working in OncoMed's cleanroom facilities on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Morse explains that because cancer is so aggressive, the best chances of fighting the disease depend on an early diagnosis and the selection of the right dose and dosing frequency of drugs for an individual patient.

But, he notes, every six months a new clinical study comes out about a cancer medication, and that pace is only going to intensify, making the intellectual assets at UB and its partners in the Center of Excellence all the more valuable to a company like OncoMed.

"Clinical and translational researchers at UB, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and at other institutions on the medical campus are finding out more and more about personalized medicine and new molecular pathways for cancer drugs," Morse says. "Those discoveries are going to make it even more essential that translational research be conducted to identify the role of therapeutic and diagnostic advances; in the clinical setting, they will also drive the teaming of oncologists with oncology pharmacists whose expertise will help optimize medication use and therapeutic medication management for each cancer patient."

A key focus of the Translational Pharmacology Research Core in UB's Center of Excellence is personalized medicine, which emphasizes the combined clinical use of therapeutic drug monitoring to individualize drug dosing and pharmacogenomics, which considers how each patient's genetic characteristics contribute to health outcomes, drug toxicity and drug interactions.

"By working together, UB and specialized research cores in the Center of Excellence will be able to assist OncoMed in working collaboratively with oncologists and personalizing medication based on patient responses and laboratory monitoring," Morse says.

OncoMed will collaborate with the Medication Management Research Network (MMRN), a UB 2020 Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan initiative and one of the programs of UB's Translational Pharmacology Research Core in the Center of Excellence. The MMRN is working with the New York State Department of Health Patient Safety Center to improve health care outcomes and lower costs by integrating electronic medical records, pharmacy software programs and personal health records.

Together, OncoMed and MMRN in collaboration with computer scientists at CCR and the recently created UB Institute for Healthcare Informatics will develop software and analytical tools that are capable of reflecting results from clinical laboratory and genomic testing so that clinicians can select the best medications, individualize doses to each patient and measure cancer drugs in the blood.

The partnership with UB also will advance the concept of a Patient Centered Medical Home promoted by federal agencies, a team-based model of health care that allows for patients through their primary care doctors to take advantage of the most useful aspects of electronic medical records.

"As we were looking for a new location to expand to, we realized that what was going on through the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the UB Academic Health Center and the School of Pharmacy could really help fill all the gaps in order to grow our business," says OncoMed's Zweigenhaft, who is a UB alum. "We hope that we will also be able to bring some other of our core operations to Buffalo in the future as well.

"Buffalo has a great work environment," he continues. "It's got a highly skilled labor pool with people who want to work in biomedical fields. From a recruiting point of view, it's also a good environment to raise a family. We think it's very exciting what's happening in Buffalo and we are happy to be a part of it."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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