A group of outside advisers has praised the momentum at Kansas University’s Cancer Center. But the group also has raised questions about whether the center could meet its September 2011 deadline for National Cancer Institute designation.
KU’s center is in the middle of a nearly decade-long process to obtain NCI designation, which would mean an economic boon for the state, in addition to a wealth of new cancer treatment options for residents in the region.
A May report from the KU Cancer Center’s External Advisory Board praised KU’s ability to increase its NCI funding base and recruit some top posts in the previous year, as well as its collaborations with other cancer partners and a strong partnership with the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
But work remains, the board said.
“While we expect the positive trajectory to continue for The University of Kansas Cancer Center, we recommend that you remain flexible as to whether it is best to stick to the current deadline for submission of the (cancer center grant proposal) or consider postponing it for one to two years to allow many of the changes you are currently implementing to come to fruition,” wrote George Weiner, director of the University of Iowa’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and chairman of KU’s External Advisory Board.
The external board consists of top-level academics with experience in cancer centers. It regularly visits the KU Cancer Center to observe progress. When that board speaks, the KU Cancer Center listens, said Roy Jensen, KU Cancer Center director.
But for now, Jensen said, KU leaders are remaining “laser-focused” on recruiting top talent so KU can meet NCI funding benchmarks by Sept. 25, 2011.
“I think it’s a very positive report in that they certainly seem to be affirming the path we’re on,” Jensen said.
Jensen did acknowledge there are challenges ahead.
“We have to continue to meet our benchmarks in terms of filling these key leadership positions,” if the original deadline is to be met, he said.
Jensen said he hopes to have at least $11 million in NCI funding by the time the center makes its application. The center has about $9 million toward that goal.
Jensen hopes to attract two key positions — a deputy cancer center director and a director of hematology/oncology — who he hopes would bring $1 million to $2 million of NCI-funded research with them.
While no specific date has been set to have the posts filled, Jensen said he’s met with several potential recruits, and he’d like to have them in place by fall.
Adding to the potential challenges KU could face, the NCI is revising the standards that govern cancer centers, and the minimum amount of NCI research funding required will likely go up. Currently, the minimum level required to apply is $4 million, but that’s long been an outdated figure, Jensen said.
“If they come out and say the minimum NCI funding is $25 million, we will not make that in 2011,” he said.
But he said he thought a figure that high was unlikely.
If the KU center would have to delay its application date, it wouldn’t mean the end of the world, Jensen said. The focus remains on eventual designation.
Weiner and the advisory board agreed, saying a delay would not be “because of any failure on your part, but because building an NCI-designated-caliber cancer center takes time, and a change in NCI expectations may require you to reassess your plans with respect to the timing of your decision.”