With $200M investment, cancer practices launch startup OneOncology to help doctors keep independence

With the help of $200 million in backing from private equity firm General Atlantic, a group of three large cancer practices are joining forces to create a new physician-driven company aimed at expanding community-based cancer care.

Based in Nashville, the new company is launching in partnership with an EHR technology platform partner, New York-based Flatiron Health. It banded together three founding practices include Tennessee Oncology, New York Blood and Cancer Specialists and West Cancer Center, representing more than 200 oncology providers.

Their goal? To help cancer physicians to remain independent and thriving in an era that has seen independent practices consolidated into hospitals.

That is a lofty ambition considering over the last decade, more than 1,600 community oncology clinics or practices have been closed, acquired by hospitals, undergone corporate mergers or reported they are struggling financially, according to the Community Oncology Alliance (COA). An average of 3.5 community oncology practices have closed per month since 2016 and nearly 14 practices per month have been impacted by closings, acquisitions and mergers since 2008. 

"Community oncology practices are challenged meaningfully by a lot of significant changes in complexity in their field today," CEO Tracy Bahl told FierceHealthcare in an interview.

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Those challenges include the increasing complexity in the clinical care environment such as advances in technology, drug regimen and treatment approaches. At the same time, there is a challenging regulatory environment at the federal and state level the challenging reimbursement environment as practices shift to value-based care programs, he said.

That can be difficult for physician-owned cancer practices to access enough capital to expand their services to meet the needs of their community, he said.

"Unlike the options they've had, heretofore, which has been to tough it out or maybe rely on their own personal financing—or to essentially sell lock, stock and barrel to a hospital—we've now provided them with a different option where the physician and oncologists continue to lead their own practices and drive their own clinical decision making," Bahl said.

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The three founding groups are sophisticated clinical care and cancer research, Jeff Patton, M.D., the CEO of Tennessee Oncology, told FierceHealthcare.

The group is ultimately trying to use its long-term financial and technological capabilities to change the cancer care model in the U.S., said Jeff Vacirca, M.D., CEO of New York Cancer and Blood Specialists. That includes opening up access to any practice in the U.S. that is part of OneOncology to the drugs and research that larger players have.

Ultimately, they want to make sure more practices can offer that care in a less costly setting than a hospital.

"We want to show physicians can universally deliver high-quality cancer care and do it in a way that is not going to fiscally punish patients," Vacirca said. "Healthcare is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. and we don't want to contribute to that for any patient we take care of."

For now, Bahl said very little will change for the patients and employees of the three founding practices as it establishes the platform and begins bringing other physicians groups into the fold. "Over time, those best practices and access to these capabilities will radically transform the patient experience and liberate doctors to care for patients," he said.