Cancer Connect Collaborative

Innovative Strategies for Cancer Treatment and Care

Cancer Connect Collaborative

First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the Cancer Connect Collaborative, an expansion of Florida Cancer Connect that will assemble a team of medical professionals to analyze and rethink Florida’s approach to combatting cancer.

The Cancer Connect Collaborative will break down longstanding silos between researchers, cancer facilities, and medical providers to improve cancer research and treatment.

  • Florida is home to more than 200,000 cancer patients treated at over 300 world-class health care facilities statewide.
  • It currently averages 10 to 12 years from discovery for a cancer treatment or surgery patent that advances cancer care to be shared and adopted into practice.

View the full roundtable announcement

The Florida Cancer Connect Collaborative’s five main objectives


Data about the proliferation and treatment of cancer should be both timely available and easily accessible. The Collaborative will seek to identify the reasons data is slow to move or hard to access and dismantle those barriers.

Best Practices

When it comes to treating cancer, best practices shouldn’t be proprietary. The Collaborative will seek to streamline, encourage, and incentivize the sharing of treatment best practices among public and private entities so that everyone is treated with the most effective treatment possible.


Cutting the red tape and fully unleash the power of innovation in the battle against cancer. Technology improves at an exponential rate yet application lags. The Collaborative will identify the reasons that technology gets held up – whether it be special interests, over-litigiousness, or bureaucratic red tape – and recommend ways to eliminate these barriers.


The Cancer Connect Collaborative will provide recommendations for the implementation of the Governor’s proposed $170 million in funding to improve the pace of cancer research and novel technologies. For record breaking funding, the Florida taxpayer deserves results. The Collaborative will deliver.


We know a lot about cancer – what causes it, and in many cases, what preventative steps can minimize the risk of a diagnosis. It’s time to open the tap on cancer information, and the Collaborative will be tasked with identifying the ways to ensure this is done.

Cancer Collaborative Members


Scot Ackerman, M.D.

Scot Ackerman, M.D., board Certified in Radiation Oncology, is the Medical Director of Ackerman Cancer Center. After completing his training at Columbia University in New York City, he came to Jacksonville and has been in private practice for more than 30 years. Currently, Dr. Ackerman oversees the Ackerman Cancer Foundation and is a board member of WeCare Jacksonville. He was also appointed to the Florida Board of Medicine and currently serves as the Chair of the Board.


Dr. Nicholas J. Panetta

Nicholas J. Panetta, M.D., FACS is an Associate Professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery at the University of South Florida and the Department of Breast Oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center. While treating the full spectrum of complex reconstructive surgical needs related to cancer treatment, his specific clinical and research interest focuses on the treatment and study of cancer-related lymphedema. From concept to successfully treating hundreds of patients, he has, from the ground-up, developed and implemented a nationally recognized clinical program for the treatment of cancer-related lymphedema (USF/Moffitt Cancer Center Multidisciplinary Lymphedema Program). His most recent investigations have centered on the efficacy of microsurgical interventions in the prevention of breast cancer-related lymphedema (BCRL), identifying patient populations at greatest risk for BCRL, and the efficacy of an applied multidisciplinary care algorithm aimed at the treatment and prevention of cancer-related lymphedema. Here, he aims to validate this therapeutic approach to cancer-related lymphedema, paving the way for broad implementation and significantly increasing patient access.

Dr. Panetta graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine, and subsequently completed his general surgery training at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. He completed a plastic surgery research fellowship at Stanford University, where he served as the Hagey Fellow in Pediatric Regenerative Medicine. Following this, he completed his plastic and microvascular surgery fellowships at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He holds board certifications in general surgery and plastic surgery, and he is a member of the American College of Surgeons, the American Society of Plastic Surgery, and the American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery, the Southeastern Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the American Council of Academic Plastic Surgeons, and the American Association of Plastic Surgeons.

Raj Bendre, M.D.

Raj Bendre, M.D. is a radiation oncologist at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, was studying cellular biology at Columbia University when he decided to switch tracks and pursue a medical degree. Dr. Bendre went on to earn his medical degree from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. In 2000, he joined Radiation Oncology at Saint Mary’s. He joined TMH Physician Partners Radiation Oncology Specialists in March. Dr. Bendre strongly advises women 40 years and older to get a mammogram every year and continue as long as they are in good health.

Dr. Hepgur

Mehmet F. Hepgur, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist at Broward Health who attended medical school at the University of Istanbul and continued to his residency program at the University of Istanbul (2004) and University at Buffalo, (2011). He completed fellowships at, the Americans Sports Medicine Institute (2006), University of Toledo Medical Center (2007), University of Virginia School of Medicine (2007), and Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (2014).

Joseph A. Ladapo, MD, PhD

Joseph A. Ladapo, M.D., Ph.D. is the State Surgeon General of Florida. He also serves as Professor of Medicine at the University of Florida, where his research examines behavioral economic strategies to reduce cardiovascular risk in low-income and disadvantaged populations. Dr. Ladapo graduated from Wake Forest University and received his medical degree from Harvard and PhD in Health Policy from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He completed his clinical training in internal medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Sam Garrison

Sam Garrison is a Florida Representative representing District 18 in the Florida House of Representatives. He first received a BA in International Relations from Sanford University, before continuing on to graduate from the University of Illinois College of Law. He served as the Assistant State Attorney, 4th Judicial Circuit, from 2001-2011.


Jason Weida

Jason Weida serves as the Secretary at the Florida  Agency for Health Care Administration. He is a former Assistant United States Attorney at the United States Department of Justice, where he received the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service. Weida earned his bachelor’s degree in Latin and history from Gettysburg College and juris doctorate from the University of Connecticut School of Law.