Roy Jensen often talks of a countdown clock to the date when Kansas University applies for National Cancer Institute designation.
Now, there’s one posted at the Cancer Center’s Web site — cancer.kumc.edu — ticking down the seconds until Sept. 25, 2011.
The prize is a big one for Jensen, the director of the KU Cancer Center, and others across the community. KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway has made the designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center the university’s No. 1 research priority.
Jensen points to the collaborative effort around the state, including a recent “good week” in March, when the Kansas Bioscience Authority approved funding for improvements to the Wahl Hall Hixon complex, and a center of innovation for drug delivery.
Steve Warren, KU vice provost for research and graduate studies, said the Kansas Bioscience Authority has been critical in the effort.
“They have made it very clear that they consider the Kansas cancer initiative as their top priority,” ever since Kansas State University landed the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Warren said.
Warren said a planned bioscience research building on the Lawrence campus would combine biology and chemistry efforts to enhance the creation of new drug development and testing for the cancer initiative.
It’s just the latest in an ongoing cascade of collaborations around the state on the project, Jensen said. Earlier this year, the Cancer Center announced a partnership with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to add to a number of different organizations already participating in the effort.
“All of that really helps move the ball forward,” Jensen said. “It’s been great to have such incredible support coming from so many different areas.”
The stakes are high, as Jensen has been telling numerous groups over the last few months.
“It’s estimated that there is somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 people diagnosed in the state every year,” Jensen said, with well over 5,000 deaths.
“Just from a personal standpoint, it results in a large impact,” he said.
From medical expenses and lost productivity, estimates place the annual cost of cancer to the state at about $2 billion.
Jensen is also fond of saying that investing in the cancer program is a “no-regrets” investment.
“Every resource that we’re committing toward this cause is going to make a difference,” he said.
During the cancer center application process, National Cancer Institute leaders told KU to focus on the things it did well.
And for Jensen and KU, that means focusing on its drug discovery efforts. With the KU School of Pharmacy and other community partners, KU is on the right track, Jensen said.
But challenges still remain.
Jensen is still working to bring together multidisciplinary teams of researchers and to recruit world-class cancer researchers — a critical element in bringing additional national funding to the cause.
The good news for KU is that even the setting of an application date has some level of significance as to whether or not the center’s application is being well-received by the National Cancer Institute.
Linda Weiss, chief of the NCI’s Cancer Center branch, has said previously that 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.
The quest for designation has brought collaboration from a number of different sources, even in the form of aid from rival school Kansas State University.
“I would be churlish not to highlight the support we’re getting from people all across the state,” Jensen said.
Warren agreed with the sentiment, and he highlighted the collaboration among people throughout the state.
“The great news is we’re all on very much the same page,” Warren said. “The benefits will spread lots of different directions.”