As Kansas University drives ahead with the $331 million goal of creating a comprehensive cancer center, the looming question remains: How will KU pay for it?
It's a question the KU Endowment Association is trying to answer as it undergoes a feasibility study to determine how much of the pie can come from private donors.
"We know, via the business plan, what resources it will take to achieve success for the cancer initiative," said Jerome Davies, the KU Endowment Association's senior vice president for development. "What we don't know at this juncture is what portions of those resources will come from (private donors). That's kind of the $64 million question."
The Endowment Association snapped into high gear on the initiative last fall as Chancellor Robert Hemenway called the cancer initiative one of his top priorities.
The goal is to build a federally designated comprehensive cancer center. The designation would put KU on the map for cancer research and care. It also would pave the way for additional federal funds while making cutting-edge therapies available to the region's cancer patients.
The first step is to gain federal "cancer center" status, which will take $72 million in new investment over the next three years. From there, the university would move toward "comprehensive" status, a goal that KU wants to achieve within a decade.
Typically, cancer centers conduct only lab research and don't provide patient care.
For the three-year goal, the KU Endowment Association will make raising funds for investment in people and researchers the first priority.
This will include funds for endowed positions in clinical cancer care, medical oncology, gynecological oncology, ovarian pathophysiology, experimental therapeutics and cancer prevention.
A public fundraising campaign organized by the Kansas Masonic Foundation is already under way. The foundation has pledged $15 million to the effort and raised about $6 million so far. The foundation's Partnership for Life Campaign aims to raise the remainder.
The Endowment's feasibility study entails approaching community leaders and potential donors to gage interest in the initiative.
"The reaction has been positive," said Stephanie Grinage, assistant vice president for medical development at KU Medical Center. "What we've heard in the community is that indeed this cancer initiative is critically important to individuals in the heartland, to families in the heartland."
But KU isn't the only institution out there attempting to drum up support for a cause.
Grinage said campaigns to support the arts in Kansas City and raise funds for Iowa State University are competition for KU.
"There is a lot of great fundraising going on right now - big initiatives that certainly compete for dollars and people's interests," she said.
That's what makes the assessment process key, she said. KU Endowment must identify what resonates with the community. But those close to the campaign say cancer hits home for many people.
"Most people agree that the devastation takes its toll not only on the individuals, but families," Grinage said. "What this initiative endeavors to do is end the suffering and save lives."
Davies said he does not know when a public campaign might be launched.