New Jersey's Hackensack University Medical Center is launching a Multiple Myeloma Institute to augment research and improve patient outcomes at Hackensack Meridian Health - John Theurer Cancer Center.

The institute was started in October with a donation to the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation by Summit, N.J.-based Celgene Corp., a major producer of myeloma drugs. Plans call for the institute to move into new space at the Seton Hall - Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in June 2018.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that occurs in bone marrow. Hematologist David Siegel, M.D., chief of the John Theurer Cancer Center's Multiple Myeloma Division, says the number of multiple myeloma diagnoses is growing rapidly. That's because the median age of diagnosis is in one's 60s, which targets the baby boom generation. Siegel says survival rates for multiple myeloma patients have greatly improved in recent decades but the disease still is almost always fatal.     

"We probably have more patients with multiple myeloma walking through our doors than any place in the world," Siegel says. "We've been very successful in terms of participating in clinical trials. We've been a central institution in drug development."

But research that contributes to understanding melanoma is important to advances in clinical care, Siegel says. "We've had scientific collaborations with outside institutions, but we haven't been the creators of that science. The people like me, who are primarily clinicians, need to listen to the scientists, and the scientists need to listen to us. We both have insights that are going to be invaluable to each other."

Siegel says that unlike the case with most cancers, the genetic mutations that drive multiple myeloma have not been largely identified. "So the science is still in its infancy, as much as we've learned. The goal of this myeloma institute is to bring in scientists with technologies or biological insights that we think are important to curing melanoma."

Siegel says the institute will stand in contrast to the trend of such research being undertaken by industry. "We still need academic programs to contribute to research, because the motivations are different. I see what's happening to my patients. It gives me insights into their disease, and it's a powerful motivator."

Siegel says Celgene did not wish to disclose the amount of its donation, but he characterizes it as "extraordinarily generous." And while Celgene's donation made it possible to create the institute, additional funds will be raised to ensure the institute's success, he says.

When asked how the Multiple Myeloma Institute fits in with the ongoing evolution of hospitals, Siegel says "it's all about being efficient and providing the highest quality care possible at the lowest cost. You get the best value for your health care dollar when you understand the enemy. And in this case, the enemy is multiple myeloma."