After site visitors pack up and leave Kansas University’s Cancer Center this week, they’ll take with them a recommendation to Washington, and then KU’s Cancer Center, which has aggressively pursued the prize of designation from the National Cancer Institute, will head down one of two paths.
Either they make it or they don’t.
KU’s chancellor says she often finds herself in a position to remind herself most cancer centers don’t make it on the first try.
“In my heart of hearts,” Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said, “we’re going to get it.”
If it’s successful
Cancer center leaders have preached the benefits of designation.
The designation would bring additional federal research dollars — and the high-paying jobs that accompany them.
Those suffering from cancer would also get access to clinical trials only open to patients at NCI-designated centers. Roy Jensen, the cancer center’s director, would begin attending semi-annual meetings with other cancer center directors from across the country.
“A lot of our strategy has been centered around this idea that you’ve got to start acting like an NCI-designated center if you want to be one,” Jensen said.
KU has focused on recruiting strong researchers who are doing the kind of work that’s done at other cancer centers.
Raymond Perez, director of the new clinical trials center in Fairway, came to KU from the University of Dartmouth’s comprehensive cancer center. Just because the center is awarded the designation, he said, doesn’t mean its work is done.
“That’s when the real hard work’s going to start,” he said.
KU would begin work right away on another cancer designation effort. Its leaders have said that the cancer center has an eventual goal to become designated as a comprehensive cancer center, which is an additional designation from the NCI that is the highest designation that an academic cancer center can receive.
“It’s, ‘OK, you’re in the club. We’ll give you some additional funds to play in your playground. Show us how you can really help,’” he said.
The comprehensive designation requires KU to demonstrate that it is exporting its science to the community, he said. The second thing the cancer center would need to demonstrate is how its programs interact so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
If it’s not successful
The short answer for KU is if it doesn’t succeed, it will be in a position to try again.
Jensen said the NCI would supply a large document detailing exactly why it denied KU’s grant if it makes that decision.
“That document would become a blueprint of how we should address the deficiencies and making sure that we comply with their guidelines,” Jensen said.
Gray-Little said that even if the designation isn’t approved, she’s committed to applying again. There are many factors that would weigh in such a decision, she said, including the federal budget. But in the end, she said, it’s not like all the effort thus far has gone to waste.
“We’re already better off,” she said.
Jensen agreed but said that if the university didn’t receive designation, he would continue to focus on growing the $12 million or so in research funded by the National Institutes of Health and focus on shoring up any other issues that the NCI brings up.