Roy Jensen doesn’t need to be reminded: Next year is a big one for him. He’s facing a clock that’s ticking down to Sept. 25, 2011.
That’s the date that the executive director of the Kansas University Cancer Center will submit the grant for National Cancer Institute Designation.
But before that happens, the cancer center will go through a number of additional exercises to make sure all its i’s are dotted and its t’s are crossed.
Designation as a national cancer center would be an economic boon for the state, and would mean better-quality cancer care available nearby for Kansas residents, supporters say.
To earn the designation, KU has a number of checkpoints before September arrives.
Another visit from the center’s external advisory board is scheduled for early in 2011, and a site visit from the NCI is set for around April, Jensen said.
“We’ll have critiques and suggestions to make sure we’re really on target to get there,” Jensen said.
In May and June an entirely new set of eyes will see the cancer center’s submission, as Jensen said he’ll share the information with cancer center directors across the country.
Even though the grant will be submitted in September, Jensen said it’s likely that KU won’t hear back on whether its been approved until May or June of 2012 at the earliest.
“And if Congress doesn’t have a budget by then, that delays things even more,” he said.
Still, 2011 will be a year of making sure its application is in tip-top shape, Jensen said. Even though KU will have some additional opportunities to sway the people who will grade KU’s progress, the written grant is far and away the most important part of the process, he said.
“The score is heavily dependent on your written report,” he said. “It’s awfully difficult to recover from a bad submission of the written part of this process.”
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said that she was pleased with the center’s efforts so far. It has been a top research priority for the university for years.
“Even though there’s still a great deal to be done, the things done in the past few months suggest that a great deal of progress has been made,” she said.
Though Gray-Little and other top KU officials remain confident that the grant will be approved — “That’s the hope and expectation,” Gray-Little said — she added that it’s not unusual for cancer centers to have to apply more than once to earn designation.
Recruiting top-tier researchers to the KU Cancer Center has been crucial to its NCI application. Last fall, the Kansas Bioscience Authority made a commitment of $9 million over five years to cover the salaries, staff and equipment of five researchers. Combined, the group brings with them an annual total of $1.7 million in NCI funding.
“We are growing at an extraordinarily healthy clip, and I think that speaks volumes,” KBA President and CEO Tom Thornton said of the amount of research funding the university has been able to attract.
In the coming months, the KBA plans to cover the costs of recruiting two other top researchers to KU. Along with the five already hired, the group will form the core leadership team at the cancer center.
Another key part of the NCI application is building upon the clinical research and drug trials at the KU Cancer Center.
Recently, the KBA gave $500,000 to support a $2 million drug-development partnership among the KU Cancer Center, the National Institutes of Health and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The partnership will study ways that existing medication can be used to fight leukemia.
“In the NCI designation process, beyond excellent research, excellent treatment and excellent care, they want to see a cancer center that is also focused on developing unique capabilities,” Thornton said. “In the case of the KU Cancer Center, the drug discovery and drug development work is really unique. It sets them apart.”