Highlands Oncology buys 51 acres for ‘world-class’ cancer campus in Benton County

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 11,046 views 

Springdale-based Highlands Oncology, the region’s largest cancer-care provider, aims to bring an even higher level of care to Northwest Arkansas. The healthcare group took a big step in that direction this week.

Highlands paid $13.6 million for approximately 51 acres along southbound Interstate 49 in Rogers. The land is along South Bellview Road east of The District at Pinnacle Hills.

The deed was recorded Monday (Aug. 21). Marshall Saviers with Cushman & Wakefield/Sage Partners in Rogers brokered the deal. Arvest Bank provided financing with a three-year loan worth $13.6 million.

Privately held Huffman & Co., a Little Rock developer, and Plano, Texas-based LandPlan Development Corp. previously owned the land. After months of site work and preparation, they filed a preliminary plat for the property in February. According to the documents, the project was dubbed Brookhollow.

A Huffman & Co. affiliate paid the Keenen family $5.25 million for the pasture/farmland — two parcels totaling 51.3 acres — in January 2022.

Kyle Belt, a planning administrator with the city’s Department of Community Development, said the preliminary plat never went to the planning commission and was voided out.

Earlier this year, a LandPlan executive told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal that the land development — indicated on the LandPlan website as The Trailhead — would include office, retail, restaurant and multifamily uses.

LandPlan officials acknowledged the deal with Highlands but did not comment further on the sale.

In a statement provided to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, Daniel Bradford, a founding principal at Highlands, said the provider will develop the land to include a cancer care campus anchored by a state-of-the-art, 150,000-square-foot facility.

“It will have all of the comprehensive services current Highlands [facilities] provide, with expanded capacity to meet the cancer care needs of Northwest Arkansas into the next decade,” the statement said.

The development timeline or project’s impact on existing Highlands locations in Northwest Arkansas is unclear. Belt said the city has not received any land development proposals from Highlands.

Bradford described the development as a medical technology innovation campus, “creating a unique opportunity for having collaborative advanced cancer care in Northwest Arkansas not available anywhere else in the country.”

Bradford said the land purchase and future development continue Highlands’ ongoing commitment to complement the region’s goal of being a comprehensive healthcare destination. He said that in response to the Northwest Arkansas Council’s survey in 2019, which concluded that targeted heath-sector growth initiatives would strengthen the region’s economic future, “Highlands proceeded to purposely and aggressively address these concerns.”

“Our mission has always been that no one should have to leave Northwest Arkansas for world-class cancer care, and we were poised to take this vision to the next level and beyond,” Bradford said.

Highlands Oncology is a group of independent physicians specializing in medical oncology, radiation oncology, palliative care and specialty surgery. It originated in 1996 with medical oncologists Bradford, Thaddeus Beck and Malcolm Hayward. It is one of Arkansas’s most extensive cancer treatment and research centers, with 32 physicians and more than 600 employees.

“We are excited about the tremendous progress and unique collaboration across health systems to address known deficits and improve quality and access to healthcare in Northwest Arkansas,” Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said in a statement to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “This announcement – combined with significant investments by Arkansas Children’s Northwest, Mercy, UAMS, Washington Regional, and the addition of the Whole Health Institute and Alice Walton School of Medicine – place Northwest Arkansas on a positive trajectory to meet the healthcare needs of the region’s growing population.”

In August 2020, Highlands opened a 125,000-square-foot building in Springdale along southbound Interstate 49 at the Don Tyson Parkway exit. The five-story building includes 48 infusion chairs and 34 exam rooms.

Highlands also has a clinic in Rogers with 40 infusion chairs and 24 exam rooms. That two-story facility opened in 2011 west of Interstate 49 on South 52nd Street.

Highlands has additional facilities in Fayetteville near Washington Regional Medical Center, and a new 30,000-square-foot facility opened this past spring in Mountain Home near Baxter Health.

Bradford said the process of designing and building a destination comprehensive cancer center in Benton County began last fall. He also explained that the work of Dr. Eric Schaefer, who has been “nation-leading” in his pursuit to bring theranostics to Northwest Arkansas, will be a significant part of the future campus capabilities.

Theranostics — derived from the words therapeutics and diagnostics — uses a targeted radiopharmaceutical to image and treat a tumor.

Theranostics is currently used to treat neuroendocrine tumors, thyroid cancer and prostate cancer and can potentially be used for many other types of cancer. It can potentially offer earlier diagnosis, more personalized treatments and better outcomes.

“We already have the ability to treat patients [at Highlands] with advanced prostate cancer and carcinoid using this new targeted modality, but this will expand to other cancers in the future,” Schaefer said. “This technology requires the generation of isotopes on a Cyclotron, which are then attached to a cancer-specific targeting agent. This treatment can then be infused into a patient, sending it directly to the individual cancer cells, not the surrounding normal cells.”

Schaefer said the isotopes are now created elsewhere, often overseas before Highlands receives them to administer to patients. But Highlands will bring a Cyclotron — an essential piece of technology for proton therapy — to the new campus and be able to not only produce many of the diagnostic and therapeutic isotopes but also provide the ability to develop new isotope-based treatments in Northwest Arkansas through public and private research and clinical trials collaborations.

“We will become even more of a destination for cancer care, yes, but there will now be the potential to develop new therapies in Northwest Arkansas that will be created here, produced here and distributed to patients in the rest of the world,” Bradford said. “We are also already collaborating with other innovative physicians and companies to develop new therapies in Northwest Arkansas.”

Bradford said Dr. Frankis Almaguel of California, a prominent researcher and innovator in the theranostics field, is joining Highlands. He credited the extensive clinical trials program developed by Dr. Thaddeus Beck for Almaguel’s successful recruitment.

“[Beck] is often quoted as saying ‘no one should have to leave Northwest Arkansas for the latest cancer treatments, and I have dedicated my life to making this a reality,’” Bradford said. “Our entire team is excited to be part of the new destination healthcare vision happening in Northwest Arkansas.”