KU Cancer Center building strength

No matter the outcome of NCI bid, state better off for treatment

The Kansas University Cancer Center

Kansas University’s Cancer Center, which faces one last hurdle this week in its ongoing quest to achieve National Cancer Institute designation, will remain focused on its mission regardless of the outcome.

“No matter how things shake out, we’re going to be a better cancer center next year than we were this year and a better cancer center than that several years from now,” said Roy Jensen, the director of the KU Cancer Center.

The cancer center at its core is a place where dedicated scientists and doctors collaborate on the best ways to fight cancer on research and clinical fronts.

Cures for tomorrow

The research programs at KU’s Cancer Center are broken down into different categories: cancer biology, cancer prevention, cancer control and population health, and drug discovery and delivery and experimental therapeutics, said Lisa Harlan-Williams, assistant director for administration at the KU center.

Economic development analysts look to the center as a job creator for the area. Externally funded scientific research can bring in those high-paying jobs.

In 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, the cancer center had 143 faculty members, 430 research staff in labs and 81 administrative workers, for a total of 637 jobs in the research sector alone, said Teresa Christenson, associate director for administration at the center.

The hours can be long. It’s not unusual for Shrikant Anant, associate director of cancer prevention and control at the cancer center, to perform administrative duties during the day and then work on the research in his lab into the night.

The cancer center supports its research with four so-called “shared resources.” A biospecimens shared resource, for example, keeps several tissue or blood samples on hand in case a researcher needs some for his or her research.

One such resource, the lead development and optimization resource, helps support the drug development and delivery operations, which KU officials see as one of the highlights of their research portfolio.

“It’s definitely one of our differentiating aspects,” Harlan-Williams said.

Helping cure patients today

Ever since a merger in June 2011 with the Kansas City Cancer Center, the KU Cancer Center has been able to greatly expand the number of patients it serves, bringing in 8,000 to 9,000 new patients.

“That’s a pretty huge organization,” Jensen said.

The numbers probably put KU in the top 20 of all the cancer centers in the country in terms of patients served.

KU’s new clinical research trial facility will add the capacity to treat between 200 and 300 patients in Phase I Clinical trials, which offer for the first time the latest drugs being tested in humans.

Before the new building came on line, the cancer center had 11 Phase I trials in operation. The building will add the capacity to grow to 25 to 30 such trials.

Leaders at the cancer center said the whole thing has been possible because of the financial support received from the state, the philanthropic community and others, including the voters of Johnson County, who approved a sales tax that funded the new clinical trials building.

“I’m not aware of any other center in the country that has this level and mix of support,” said Raymond Perez, who’s leading the new clinical trials building.

In the end, leaders said, they’re looking to provide a place where people can go to get the best cancer treatments. That’s something the state and the region didn’t have before KU’s efforts.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve built and what we’ve accomplished,” Jensen said.