There's been a lot of wishful thinking about the potential that could be unleashed if Long Island's top-shelf research and health care institutions joined forces to drive innovation.

The agreement that Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System signed last week is one tangible manifestation of that imagining.

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Desperate cancer patients looking to experimental treatments for some hope of recovery will be among the immediate beneficiaries. But in the long term, the Long Island economy could benefit, too, because the affiliation should help researchers move breakthrough products more quickly down the difficult, costly road to commercial success.

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has world-class expertise in basic cancer research, often involving animal testing. North Shore is a vast health care network that treats about 16,000 cancer patients a year. The collaboration will help the two powerhouses break out of those silos. The lab's most promising research will be more readily available to cancer patients via clinical trials at North Shore facilities. And those trials should help advance the research.

North Shore makes participation in one of 195 national clinical trials a possibility for its cancer patients. But most of them involve treatments in later phases of testing than those expected to grow out of research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Local patients with intractable cancers now will be among the first in line for homegrown, cutting-edge experimental treatment options.

Medical breakthroughs are hard to come by. So is hope for the terminally ill. This collaboration could help deliver some of each.