U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Thursday morning delivered remarks on the Senate floor congratulating Kansas University’s Cancer Center on becoming a National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center.
The university planned a formal announcement of the designation Thursday afternoon in Kansas City, Kan.
Roberts is a member of the two committees with oversight on the Department of Health and Human Services: the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Senate Committee on Finance. He is the co-chairman of the Rural Health Caucus.
Here are Kansas’ senior senator’s remarks:
“I come to the floor today to congratulate the University of Kansas on its prestigious designation as a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center.
“I regret I can’t be at the KU ceremony today to mark this designation by the NCI because of anticipated votes in the Senate, but I am certainly there in spirit.
“This designation is such an important development for my state because it means that many Kansans and their families who have faced frightening diagnoses -- and trying treatments -- will no longer have to seek cures in Texas and Minnesota.
“They can, and will be able to, stay closer to home and their support systems. Simply put, it’s great news for Kansas patients.
“I am personally gratified by this designation because it represents more than a decade of work with so many outstanding partners. It has truly been a team effort to achieve this important federal designation.
“When I was first elected to this body in 1996, I created a blue ribbon committee of Kansas leaders in government, academia and the private sector to advise me on the state’s science and technology needs. The goal was to make us more competitive in a global marketplace increasingly reliant on research and technology and to provide economic opportunity to stop out-migration of our best and brightest.
“The Roberts Advisory Committee on Science, Technology and the Future set out to implement policies and secure federal investments to further the research goals of Kansas State University in plant and animal science, Wichita State University in composite and aviation research and the University of Kansas in life science research.
“I personally took this goal to the statehouse in 2001 and again in 2002 – encouraging my colleagues in the Kansas state legislature to help promote state investment in research infrastructure.
“At the time, I spoke about how the statistics showed that Kansas was lagging behind other states in the race for federal and private research dollars.
“In response, the Kansas legislature more than stepped up to the plate with special thanks to leaders like Kenny Wilk, Kent Glasscock, Nick Jordan and Dave Kerr.
“The legislature voted in favor of bonding authority – and we built buildings at the KU Cancer Center and the Biosecurity Research Institute at K-State. Likewise, Wichita State’s work in composite research today is revolutionizing industries from aircraft to health care. And about this same time, Stowers Biomedical Research Institute came into existence, which provided a key private source of research excellence.
“In short, the stars aligned.
“KU’s then-Chancellor Bob Hemenway and I sought out other angles to help raise KU’s profile in Washington.
“In 2004, we invited then-NIH Director Elias Zerhouni to KU for a tour and discussion about KU Medical Center’s research facilities.
“Dr. Zerhouni recognized -- as many federal research directors do -- that there is great promise in research conducted at Kansas’ universities.
“Chancellor Hemenway and I worked in concert to design congressionally directed programs to supplement KU’s internal NIH cancer research successes. This included those won by Dr. Jeff Aube who leads one of four NIH drug discovery centers.
“Furthermore, this coordinated effort with Chancellor Hemenway and his leadership team also provided KU with the flexibility to recruit new cancer research faculty who brought considerable expertise and NCI cancer research programs to KU.
“In 2006, with the critical mission of the National Cancer Institute in mind, from my post on the Senate Health Committee, we fought to reauthorize funding for National Institutes of Health which oversee the NCI.
“This reform bill reaffirmed the various centers of NIH including the Cancer Institutes and reauthorized their funding.
“In fact, this was a continuation of Congressional efforts from 1999, when we were successful at doubling NIH funding over five years, at a time when many wanted to divert federal funds to other research.
“My then-partner in the Senate, Sam Brownback, now our state’s governor, and I worked together to advance this push.
“In 2009, Senator Brownback and I secured $5.5 million in federal investments for KU to purchase equipment needed to further its cancer research. Sam’s leadership – both then and now – is immeasurable.
“Over those ten years, there were many other excellent team members supporting this effort who must be recognized – and I apologize that I will not be able to name everyone who played such a big role:
“First, Dr. Howard Mossberg, Dean Emertius of the KU School of Pharmacy. He was the force behind the regular meetings of my Science and Technology committee. Howard, who lives in Lawrence, did this work for free because he recognized the opportunity to use the task force to provide us with the key facts to support our research and technology initiatives. KU, in fact, hosted many of our task force meetings through the years.
“Riding shotgun back in Kansas on this effort has been my tireless staff member, Harold Stones. Harold provided the hard work of collecting and distilling the valuable contributions among our technology leaders for more than a decade, helping me turn them into policy and progress.
“Credit must also go to former KU research directors Bob Barnhill and Mike Welch. They were instrumental in my early education about the KU Cancer Center. Jim Roberts, who sadly passed away from cancer himself, was a valuable KU adviser to me as is Steve Warren still today.
“I have appreciated getting to know Dr. Roy Jensen who leads the KU Cancer Center. I know Roy will continue to stay close in touch with me and the entire Kansas delegation on the KU cancer center as it progresses. Our work is not done.
“I’d also be remiss not to mention the contributions of Keith Yehle, my former Legislative Director. Keith was the point person for KU to contact whether it was about the KU cancer center, the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center – where we also secured $1.8 million in federal investment for equipment -- or special education.
“Keith went on to work for KU -- for Chancellor Hemenway and helped him and current Chancellor Gray-Little navigate the corridors of Capitol Hill.
“My former Chief of Staff Leroy Towns, former Deputy Legislative Director Jennifer Swenson, and my current Senior Health Policy Advisor Jennifer Boyer round out the list of the Roberts team who have spent countless hours working on behalf of KU – whether it’s the Cancer Center designation or one of many other KU initiatives.
“My current colleagues in Congress, Senator Moran, Congresswoman Jenkins and Congressman Yoder have each carved out important initiatives to promote this designation and have helped make this day possible. It will continue to be a good partnership for KU. …
“What we have today with the NCI designation is proof of what I said to the Kansas state legislature in 2001 -- that public, private, and academic partnerships are critical to developing our state’s economy over the long term. I applaud the generosity of the Kansas Masonic Foundation, Annette Bloch, the Hall Family Foundation and others for their key contributions to this effort.
“In the Senate this week, we’ve talked a lot about the need for job growth in the country. According to KU, since 2006 the NCI designation pursuit has created 1,123 jobs and had a regional economic impact of $453 million. We can only expect with the announcement of the Cancer Center designation today that these numbers will grow.
“Our work does not end today. We’ll always be focused on ensuring better treatment of cancer victims. A great thanks go to so many – past and present. I am honored to have been there at the beginning, but in some ways, I believe, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ Congratulations to KU and to the entire state of Kansas.”