Archive for Monday, May 17, 2010

KU Cancer Center counts days, dollars in NCI quest

May 17, 2010

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Kansas University is continuing to rely on private and state funds in its ongoing quest for National Cancer Institute designation, KU Cancer Center leaders say.

Roy Jensen, director of the center, last week knew exactly how many days remained until application day, Sept. 25, 2011— a number hovering right around 500 at the moment.

He’s counting down not just the days, but the number of dollars needed to meet a $92 million private fundraising goal. The center has currently raised about $40 million, he said. A fundraising council was formed last December to help with the effort.

Those funds are being used to recruit top-level talent to the center. Recent recruitment successes have included people such as Rakesh Srivastava, whose move to KU brought more than $3 million in NCI grant funding to the center.

The cancer center is in its sixth year of an anticipated eight- to 10-year process of achieving NCI designation, and is focused on increasing its available NCI grant funding — a key element on which its application will be judged.

One way KU can do that is by attracting faculty, like Srivastava, who already have NCI funding.

“KU offers a lot of expertise,” Srivastava said. “We have very good chemists who can help me in designing drugs. This is a great place and a really good opportunity for me.”

He came to KU from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, and was supported by a $1.8 million, five-year commitment from the Kansas Bioscience Authority as part of its Eminent Scholars program.

Srivastava said the startup package made his offer “very attractive” when deciding to come to KU.

Jensen said that kind of funding will be “absolutely essential” as the center moves forward. The center is currently working to fill two key associate director-level positions, he said.

When he tries to sell the designation to legislators and potential donors, Jensen said, he tries to hit both the economic development and the life-saving aspects of the center.

Every $1 million in investment in the cancer center equates to $2.21 million in new state economic activity, Jensen told the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce recently.

He also mentioned the lack of an NCI-designated cancer center in the region, meaning cancer patients have to travel long distances to get access to top-level research.

In addition to faculty recruiting, KU continues to work on one of its strengths in applying for designation: drug development, discovery and delivery. KU placed three drugs into Phase I clinical trials last year, something the center’s external advisory board praised, Jensen said.

“We’re going to have a similar track record coming up this next year,” he said.

Jensen said he appreciated support from donors and the state in getting the center this far.

“I think things are going well,” Jensen said. “But there is still a lot to do.”

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