Kansas University leaders are optimistic their long quest for National Cancer Institute designation will be successful, but they are still awaiting word from one final panel that meets next week.
Cancer center applications are judged on a score from reviewers from the NCI but also must be approved by the National Cancer Advisory Board. Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, said KU wouldn’t receive official word until after that board meets on Monday and Tuesday.
“We are cautiously optimistic based on our score, but considering the difficult federal funding environment, we won’t know their decision regarding the funding of a new center until the final vote,” Jensen wrote in an email. “There is nothing certain until then.”
KU applied for the designation in September, after working for seven years and investing more than $350 million toward the effort. At the time, university officials said the effort had already created 1,123 jobs and contributed $453 million to the region’s economy.
“Obtaining NCI designation would dramatically enhance the KU Cancer Center’s ability to discover, develop and deliver innovative treatments to patients in our state and region,” said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a KU alumnus who attended a February site visit during the review process. “I commend the teams at the KU Cancer Center, KU Medical Center, KU Hospital and other partners for their pursuit of this exclusive designation, and I am hopeful we will receive good news after the president’s National Cancer Advisory Board meets next week.”
The designation would mean more federal research dollars and the high-paying jobs that come with them. Cancer patients would have access to clinical trials open only to patients at NCI-designated centers. The designation also would be a mark of prestige and respect for KU and its research team.
George Weiner, director of the University of Iowa’s Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, served as the chairman of an external advisory board that helped KU throughout its application process. NCI reviewers on Feb. 22 visited the KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kan. A parent committee later reviewed and scored KU’s application.
The final decision, Weiner said, hinges on the funding decisions made by the National Cancer Advisory Board. The presidentially appointed group of physicians, researchers and other leaders is scheduled to meet on Monday and Tuesday in Bethesda, Md. The board’s review of grant applications, including those for cancer center designation, takes place in closed session, said Brooke Hardison, a spokeswoman for the National Cancer Institute.
While the first steps in the process judge the grant application on its merits, the board that meets next week typically looks at funding priorities, Weiner said. It makes decisions depending on the amount of funding the National Institutes of Health has to distribute not only to new cancer centers but grants the NIH offers in other areas, he said. While “the odds look very good” for KU’s application, he said, the decision rests with the advisory board.
“The University of Kansas did extremely well on the first two steps of the process,” Weiner said. “It’s looking very good so far.”
The KU Cancer Center has spent millions on recruiting top-level talent to add to its research faculty to help it attain enough federal funding to achieve designation.
“The KU Cancer Center is poised to deliver results that will significantly impact cancer research, drive economic development in our state now and well into the future and, most importantly, offer hope to thousands of patients in Kansas and across our country,” Moran said.
The designation would mark the end of a long journey for KU. Former Chancellor Robert Hemenway made pursuit of NCI designation the university’s top research priority in 2005, and the effort has remained a top priority ever since.
Leaders at KU have said if they achieve NCI designation they would begin working right away on the next goal: becoming designated as a comprehensive cancer center. That’s an additional designation from the NCI that is the highest designation that an academic cancer center can receive.
The effort also has been a top priority for KU donors. A fundraising council in Kansas City helped generate $62 million for the cause, and more money has been contributed since the group concluded its work before the university applied for designation in September, including a $10.5 million gift from the Hall Family Foundation in February.