Despite budget challenges at the National Institutes of Health, the Kansas University Cancer Center is pushing forward with its application for National Cancer Institute designation this fall.
The National Institutes of Health is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and sponsors all kinds of medical research nationwide. It is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world.
The National Cancer Institute is part of the NIH, and it funds cancer research. It also designates National Cancer Centers. KU is pursuing that designation, which would be an economic boon for the region and would mean greater access to cancer care for residents of the state.
The NIH absorbed a $260 million cut — less than 1 percent of its budget — during the latest round of budget negotiations, but House Republicans had wanted to cut the budget by $1.6 billion, according to The Associated Press.
“We can’t control that,” said Paul Terranova, vice chancellor for research at KU Medical Center. “What we want to do is put in the best application possible.”
Applying for designation is never a sure thing, he said, and if KU doesn’t do well, it will revise accordingly and go back for another try. He said that KUMC officials were happy to see that the budget was not cut as much as it could have been this time around.
The KU Cancer Center’s external advisory board praised its efforts overall earlier this month, but touched on the budget situation.
“The (external board) unanimously agrees that you should proceed with your plans to submit (an application) to the NCI this fall despite the many uncertainties related to the budget for the National Cancer Institute, and its ability to designate new cancer centers,” wrote George Weiner, director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, who leads the external board that is reviewing KU’s efforts.
An NCI spokesman wrote in an email this week that the agency has not had sufficient time to analyze the recent cuts, and probably wouldn’t know how the cuts would affect cancer center allocations for a number of weeks.
In an interview this week, Weiner said he didn’t think anybody quite knows what’s going to happen with the NCI budget.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the Cancer Center program at NCI is going to be affected by these cuts,” he said.
Weiner said the external board recommended that KU proceed because of the progress made to date. He said he felt that if KU submitted an outstanding application, it wouldn’t get held up because of budgetary reasons.
KU’s drug discovery and development program stands out as a strong point in comparison with other cancer centers, and it’s one that many other cancer centers — including his own, Weiner said — would love to have.
Weiner said financial support of the NIH is important locally for the KU effort but also has implications across the nation as many projects and studies are reliant on those funds.
“It’s an extraordinary time right now, and we have an extraordinary opportunity,” he said.
The cuts will also affect basic science research at KU and KUMC outside of the cancer effort, Terranova said.
“There will likely be a slight reduction in the amount of money that’s already been awarded to us,” he said, adding that more people would be competing for a smaller amount of total grant dollars in the future. “With new grants coming in, of course, they would be reduced also.”