Kansas City, Mo. Designation from the National Cancer Institute will open up a world of opportunities for the Kansas University Cancer Center, NCI Director Harold Varmus said Friday, but it will also create a new level of responsibility.
Varmus visited the Kansas City area Friday on a trip he said was prompted by the KU Cancer Center’s newly won NCI designation.
“My principal reason for being here is to offer congratulations to our 67th NCI-designated cancer center at the University of Kansas,” Varmus said Friday afternoon during an event at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.
Varmus, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and a former director of the National Institutes of Health, spoke to an audience of researchers from the KU Cancer Center and the Stowers Institute, which served as a partner in the center’s application for NCI designation.
Varmus signed off on the Cancer Center’s designation, which was awarded this past summer.
The approval of that designation was good news not just for the KU Cancer Center, but for the NCI itself, he said. The biggest reason: It filled a geographic hole in the NCI’s map.
“I want to feel that every citizen of the U.S. has reasonable access to a place where cancer is treated, prevented, studied at a very high level,” Varmus said.
Varmus, who toured the Cancer Center’s new Clinical Research Center in Fairway earlier in the afternoon, said KU had a particular strength in sciences related to the development of drugs, which would be an asset to the NCI.
The designation will provide a great many opportunities to the Cancer Center, Varmus said: more credibility and visibility, as well as increased access to the NCI’s $5 billion annual budget during tight fiscal times. But the new status as part of “the backbone of cancer research in this country” also comes with more responsibility, he said.
“I expect the NCI-designated cancer centers to be thinking very actively about the road we’re on to trying to control cancer more effectively,” Varmus said.
In addition to a new responsibility to take part in the broader effort to control and prevent cancer more effectively, KU will now be charged with training future leading researchers and with providing a great deal of service to nearby people — especially those in disadvantaged communities.
Varmus said he came to Kansas City at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who accompanied Varmus along with Gov. Sam Brownback on a tour of the KU facility in Fairway.
While introducing Varmus at the Stowers Institute, Moran said the NCI is one of the most important uses of federal funds.
“If you are the most frugal conservative bookkeeper accountant, and you’ve got your pencil out trying to figure out how we save money, you should be supportive of NCI,” Moran said. “If you are the caring and compassionate humanitarian, you should be a supporter of NCI.”
Varmus concluded his speech with a conversation involving KU Cancer Center director Roy Jensen about the complexity of cancer, something about which he said researchers are becoming more fully aware. The varied nature of cancer is a big reason that a cure is so elusive, he said — its varieties number in the hundreds of thousands.
“One of the reasons is that cancer is not one disease,” Varmus said. “It’s a lot of diseases.”