Highmark grants Penn State Health $25M for cancer research

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Penn State cancer researcher Dr. David DeGraff uses a two-person slide viewer and a microscope to show the difference between healthy and cancerous bladder cells. Penn State Health officials have said the $25 million Highmark grant will fund future efforts similar to DeGraff’s breakthroughs in bladder cancer research. (Brett Sholtis/Transforming Health)

Pointing to a blotch of purple material under a microscope, Dr. David Degraff said, “This is the slide that I based my career on.”

DeGraff works at Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s Cancer Research Institute, where he’s done breakthrough bladder cancer research. He and others at the center hope to do more work like this with the $25 million that insurer Highmark has granted Penn State Health for cancer research.

The grant is the first major funding effort since Highmark partnered with Penn State Health in December, announcing a $1 billion plan to expand Penn State’s presence in the midstate. 

Dr. Ray Hohl runs the cancer institute, where he said his team has found better ways to fight diseases like leukemia and multiple myeloma. He said $25 million is just about enough money to fund one year of cancer research at the institute.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but in the big scheme of things, it’ll go very fast.”

Hohl said the money will be used to run clinical trials and to bring more researchers to the Cancer Institute. 

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Cancer researcher Dr. Monika Joshi speaks to reporters from Penn State Hershey’s Cancer Institute. (Brett Sholtis/Transforming Health)

Penn State University President Eric Barron said the funding is “crucial” for continuing cancer research and supporting the development of new drugs.

Penn State Health CEO Craig Hillemeier said the grant will keep up the kind of work that already has led to breakthroughs in treating diseases like bladder cancer and skin cancer.

The grant comes months after Pittsburgh-based Highmark partnered with Penn State Health, as part of a plan to expand the health system’s services in the region. That partnership is one of several major mergers and affiliations among health systems and insurers in the midstate in the past year.

As a note of disclosure, Penn State Health provides financial support to Transforming Health.