These days, Roy Jensen feels like there’s a countdown clock on his office wall ticking off the seconds until Sept. 25, 2011.
The director of the Kansas University Cancer Center is helping ensure his organization is ready to submit its application to the National Cancer Institute for cancer center designation by that deadline. And he’s optimistic KU is on its way.
So far, the Cancer Center has generated about $6.7 million in NCI grant funding, Jensen said. He hopes to get the number up to $10 million by the time the center applies for designation.
KU also will likely double the number of patients on clinical trials — to more than 200 by the end of this year from fewer than 100 a year ago, Jensen said. A sales tax passed in Johnson County in November should help increase that number even more in the coming years.
The NCI will review the application and will notify the university of its success or failure around May 2012, Jensen said.
The setting of the date itself has some significance, said Linda Weiss, chief of the NCI’s Cancer Center branch. If the NCI thinks a center is not prepared to apply, it may elect not to place the center on its calendar.
“We’ll tell them: ‘This could be premature,’” Weiss said.
Since 2002, when Weiss began in her position, Weiss said four new academic medical centers had successfully applied for cancer center designation — the University of New Mexico, Stanford University, the Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Maryland.
One applied and was denied, Weiss said. She declined to identify that medical center, citing privacy regulations.
KU — at the NCI’s urging — has focused on what the KU Cancer Center already does well in trying to meet necessary benchmarks.
And for KU, that means a focus on developing drug compounds for use in Phase I clinical trials — trials involving drugs being tested on humans for the first time.
Jensen called it the KU Cancer Center’s “hedgehog concept.”
The term is based on a comparison between a fox and a hedgehog drawn by the Greek poet Archilochus. The concept essentially states that for all the fox’s cunning, it can be easily outsmarted by the hedgehog’s one main defense.
Developing drugs for use in the trials using KU’s School of Pharmacy and other partners in the community, Jensen said, represents something that KU feels it can do better than most people trying to do the same thing — its own set of hedgehog spines.
“It makes sense to try and go down that path,” Weiss said, referring to KU’s drug development efforts. She said, though, that ultimately, success or failure will depend on how the university fares in the review process.
About 20 different centers are at various stages in the multi-year process, she said.
Jensen said that the September 2011 date was the first available date on the calendar for new applicants.
Weiss said there are no limits on the number of NCI-designated cancer centers, adding that any center that demonstrates it meets the NCI’s criteria would be considered for funding.
Jensen said while mostly the “competition” is against the NCI standards, in some sense centers compete against one another for funds that are available.
“The group that can develop their center and meet the criteria the quickest clearly has an advantage,” he said.
Many universities choose not to announce their application dates. KU officials did because they wanted to focus the efforts of community and philanthropic partners, Jensen said.
“We, as a region, need to get it together and make it happen,” he said.