Mountain View Voice

News - March 4, 2011

New research center to open at El Camino

Los Altos Hills couple's $4 million gift will enable hospital to attract 'cutting edge' treatment

by Nick Veronin

A new clinical research center is opening its doors this month on the El Camino Hospital campus thanks to a sizeable donation from a Los Altos Hills couple.

Officials from the hospital and the Fogarty Institute of Innovation said the Taft Center for Clinical Research — made possible by a $4 million gift from Edward and Pamela Taft — will provide local residents with increased access to cutting-edge treatment and help attract top medical talent to El Camino.

"It is a very big deal," said Ann Fyfe, CEO and president of the Fogarty Institute — the non-profit medical innovation incubator located on the El Camino campus. The institute works closely with the hospital and will be in charge of running the Taft Center.

Expanding the hospital's clinical trials operation is important for a number of reasons, said Dr. Eric Pifer, chief medical officer at El Camino. According to Pifer, the center will help the hospital grow while at the same time enhance the health of the community.

The Taft Center will make the hospital a destination for clinical trials for top physicians and medical innovators, Pifer said.

"Doctors who are participating in these clinical trials tend to be the leaders in their field and also some of the best at performing the more routine thing," he said.

Not only will the center keep doctors engaged, it will also give patients who have exhausted more traditional options access to experimental treatments that could prove to be therapeutic, or even healing, Pifer said.

While it is true that living in the Bay Area — home to many top-notch universities — gives residents access to more clinical trials than they would find in less metropolitan regions of the country, Pifer said that taking medical research out of academic settings can make for a better patient experience.

It's not that institutions such as Stanford, don't do great work, Pifer said. Rather, it is that universities are also focused on training doctors and publishing meaningful research on top of caring for patients, and "the mix between those things sometimes gets blurred." At the Taft Center, he said, patient care will be the primary focus.

The idea of creating a hub for clinical research at El Camino had been around for some time, Fyfe said. However, the Tafts' donation really expedited the process.

"It's always been our vision," Fyfe said. "It's just so wonderful that the Tafts understood that vision."

"For community hospitals, and hospitals in general, it's understandably just getting tighter and tighter," Fyfe said. Flagging insurance reimbursements and the financial strain of running an always-on organization make donations a "critical" factor in funding the hospital.

The donation will allow the hospital, which will be working jointly with the Taft Center, to more aggressively seek out medical innovators and invite them to conduct their research at El Camino, Fyfe said.

The Tafts have been local philanthropists since they wed in 2003. The couple has also given to the Computer History Museum and the Los Altos History Museum.

Pamela, who has served on the board of the El Camino Hospital Foundation, had been keeping her eye on several up-and-coming projects at the hospital for some time and had always expressed interest in the Fogarty Institute, according to Fyfe.

The center will assume some trials currently underway at El Camino, Fyfe said. It will be headquartered in Melchor Pavillion, adjacent to the Fogarty Institute, at 2490 Hospital Dr.

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