The director of the Kansas Cancer Center on Thursday urged lawmakers to approve $5 million in annual funding to help the state attain national designation for comprehensive research and treatment.
"This annual appropriation is the single most important step this Legislature can take in support of the fight against cancer in Kansas," Dr. Roy Jensen said.
Jensen told the House Appropriations Committee, however, that he opposed legislation that has been introduced that would make the Kansas Bioscience Authority the lead agency in coordinating cancer research efforts.
He said the Bioscience Authority's job is to increase economic development from bioresearch, while the cancer center will be focused on public health.
"Those aims can come in conflict," he said. In addition, he said, the cancer center should answer directly to the Legislature. The Bioscience Authority uses tax dollars generated by growth in the life sciences industry to fund enhancements to university research and business development.
No one from the Bioscience Authority has testified in favor of being the lead agency in the cancer center legislation. Spokesmen for the authority did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, has proposed an annual $5 million grant to help the cancer center attain National Cancer Institute designation as a comprehensive cancer center by 2015.
Earlier this week, Sebelius emphasized the importance of the plan and added, "Clearly the University of Kansas, which is the only hospital that is capable of being designated, is the appropriate place for this budget item."
The center would be a partnership between Kansas University, KU Med Center, KU Hospital, Kansas Masonic Cancer Research Institute and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.
Jensen emphasized that the benefits of the research would be transmitted throughout the state.
Achieving the national designation will cost upward of $200 million to $250 million, but would bring $100 million in research grants per year, Jensen said.
"This work is vitally important because it gives us the chance to find new treatments, therapies, cures and in so doing allows us to extend, enrich and save people's lives," Jensen said.
In Kansas, more than 5,300 people die of cancer each year with an overall medical cost and lost productivity to the state of more than $1.6 billion annually, according to KU.
The Appropriations Committee already has recommended funding for the center, but a group of Republicans on the panel has urged a go-slow approach.
Rep. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Olathe, asked numerous questions about whether the center's research would include human cloning or embryonic stem cell research.
Jensen said it wouldn't. Pilcher-Cook then asked about somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Jensen said if that process becomes a major research initiative "then we may have to evaluate that."
In somatic cell nuclear transfer, the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is replaced with the nucleus from another cell, which is then stimulated to grow in a lab dish. Supporters say the new cells could be used to grow tissues that might lead to cures for many diseases. Opponents say the procedure creates a human life that is then destroyed during research.
The committee took no action Thursday related to the cancer center. Chairman Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said it may be a week or two before the panel holds a hearing on the bill that would require that cancer center research be coordinated by the Bioscience Authority.