KU Cancer Center director encouraged after National Cancer Institute reviewers’ visit

Roy Jensen, director of the Kansas University Cancer Center, said on Tuesday he was “cautiously optimistic” after a recent site visit from the National Cancer Institute reviewers.

The KU Cancer Center is pursuing NCI designation, which would mean more research funding for cancer, and would be a boon for the local economy and for patients seeking better cancer treatments closer to home.

Jensen, speaking to the Board of Directors of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, said he was pleased with the way KU presented its case one final time to the NCI. Thanks to the work of an external board advising the Cancer Center, KU was able to anticipate every question asked by the reviewers, and Jensen said he wouldn’t change any of the responses.

“I don’t know what we could do differently,” Jensen said. “I think there’s every reason to be cautiously optimistic that we’re going to come out alright on this deal.”

The 21 site visitors, some of whom will be involved in assessing KU’s application for designation, gave few clues as to what they thought about the potential success or failure of KU’s application, Jensen said.

KU is competing against several cancer centers up for renewal and two new applications — from Penn State University and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

On May 3 and 4, KU’s grant will receive a numerical score from 10 to 90, with lower scores being better. The grant will also be assigned an adjectival score, ranging from below “good” to “exceptional.”

An average score over the last two or three years is a 30, Jensen said, and for renewal applications, a score of under 40 is typically funded.

The necessary score for a new grant application isn’t as well-known, Jensen said.

A separate group of people, who Jensen described as Harold Varmus, the NCI director, and his “kitchen cabinet,” will take those scores and make a final determination on the approval or denial of KU’s cancer center grant.

The reviewers told Jensen that no matter how the review turned out, it was clear that the cancer center had come a long way in a very short period of time, Jensen told KBA board members.

“I thought that was encouraging,” he said.

In about a month or so, KU will have an opportunity to review the site visitors’ draft report to correct errors, so the cancer center’s leadership will likely have a sense of how the review turned out then, though a numerical score won’t be included, he said.

John Carlin, a KBA board member, said the improvements made at the cancer center were “a huge positive” and credited Jensen for his leadership.

“I commend you and the cancer center,” he said.