The Kansas University Cancer Center announced a $4 million boost in private donations on Monday that will support the center’s efforts to achieve National Cancer Institute designation.
The donations announced were $2 million from Tom and Teresa Walsh of Leawood and the Walsh Family Foundation, and $2 million from two Kansas City foundations, the Victor E. and Caroline E. Schutte Foundation and the John W. and Effie E. Speas Memorial Trust.
The KU Cancer Center is seeking to obtain NCI designation, which would aid the local and regional economy, creating thousands of jobs and pumping billions of dollars into the area.
But that wasn’t what got Tom and Teresa Walsh to donate. Tom is a KU alumnus and entrepreneur, and Teresa co-founded Silpada Designs, which Avon purchased in 2010.
Having personal exposure to cancer among friends and family members, some of whom have died from the disease, Tom Walsh said he and his wife were motivated by the possibility of saving lives.
They got interested in KU after hearing a presentation about the efforts going on at KU, and the potential that could be gained if KU were to receive designation.
“The survivorship rates increased dramatically,” Tom Walsh said. “It really got our interest.”
They met with KU officials and learned how their donation would be most effective, and targeted it for patient care and faculty recruitment.
The donation from the Schutte Foundation and the Speas Memorial Trust will create the Schutte/Speas chair in hematological malignancies, a position already filled by Kapil Bhalla, deputy director of the KU Cancer Center.
Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, called the $2 million commitment “a critical part of the package” that brought Bhalla to KU from Georgia in 2010.
David Frantze, co-trustee of the Schutte Foundation along with Bank of America, is a past chairman of the national board of directors for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He said he heard from that organization about the good work KU was doing in drug development and discovery.
“Between developing a great cancer center here and the research efforts that go along with that, I think we as a community have an opportunity that’s fairly unique,” Frantze said.
KU will submit its application for designation in September. That document already sits at about 650 pages, Jensen said, and will likely grow to 750 or 800 pages before being submitted.
Though the cancer center has raised $50 million in private donations since 2009, it is still looking for $11 million more to help with faculty recruitment and support.
Jensen said the cancer center received a visit last week from its External Advisory Board, a group made up of fellow cancer experts, including members from NCI designated centers.
He said the group recommended that KU proceed with its application and was very pleased with the progress that’s been made.
They also offered a long list of “tweaks and suggestions” for how KU could better present its story.
Jensen said the cancer center is continuing to leverage the very strong progress it has made in its drug discovery and development research, a key part of its research portfolio it will present to the NCI, as well as the private donations it has received from the community.
“Without all of that, none of this would be happening,” Jensen said.