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Dana-Farber plans Rhode Island partnership

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is exploring a partnership with Rhode Island's largest health care provider as it pursues patients beyond Massachusetts.

Dana-Farber, the dominant cancer treatment center in Massachusetts, and Lifespan Health System, the parent of Rhode Island Hospital and four other hospitals, have signed a letter of intent to negotiate a partnership but are still working out the details of the relationship.

The partnership could help boost referrals to Dana-Farber, which is nationally known for its cancer care but still draws about 70 percent of its patients from Massachusetts. It also would create a larger pool of patients for Dana-Farber to tap for clinical trials of experimental cancer treatments. This is important as genetic factors become a bigger part of cancer science, and hospitals and drug companies struggle to find enough patients with a particular genetic mutation to test a specialized drug.


"This helps us reach out to broader groups of patients so we will be able to do those clinical trials properly," said Dr. Edward J. Benz Jr., Dana-Farber's chief executive.

The cancer center has been working to grow its market share across New England. In December, Dana-Farber began a similar partnership with MaineHealth, the largest health care provider in Maine.

Lifespan's chief executive, Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, said partnering with Dana-Farber will help Lifespan hold on to patients who currently leave Rhode Island for cancer care. About 13 percent of Rhode Island cancer patients leave the state for treatment, but many of them could be treated locally, Babineau said.

"This will help patients of Rhode Island know if they come here, they will have the added expertise of the Dana-Farber," he said.

Lifespan, which has about $2 billion in annual revenue, is affiliated with Brown University's medical school. Dana-Farber, based in Boston's Longwood neighborhood, has about $1 billion in revenue and is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.