Wednesday, June 27, 2012

KU eager to hear NCI ruling


Although a board that considered Kansas University’s application to become a National Cancer Institute met this week, KU leaders are saying it still could be weeks before they are informed of a decision.

The president’s National Cancer Advisory Board considers NCI grant applications, including those for cancer center designations, in closed session. That board met Monday in Bethesda, Md., but the university did not hear whether its application was approved.

Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, said he had been told from officials in Washington that “official notification of the outcome will happen in two to four weeks.”

“We are all waiting with bated breath to see what we will learn,” said Tim Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs.

KU applied for the designation in September, after working for seven years and investing more than $350 million toward the effort. In September, KU officials said the effort had already created 1,123 jobs and contributed $453 million to the region’s economy. NCI reviewers on Feb. 22 visited the KU Medical Center Campus in Kansas City, Kan.

KU officials have said the prestigious 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.

Caboni said Jack Cline, KU’s director of federal relations, attended the National Cancer Advisory Board’s meeting in Maryland on Monday, but Cline was not part of the closed session in which board members were scheduled to discuss grant applications.

According to the National Cancer Institute’s press office, the advisory board that met Monday would forward its decisions on applications back to a grants review panel that would notify applicants, including institutions seeking cancer center designation, of decisions the board made.

After the February site visit, reviewers assigned a score to KU’s application.

Jensen told the Journal-World last week that KU officials were “cautiously optimistic,” based on the score KU received as part of the process. But he said the board’s decision could hinge on the availability of federal funding for a new cancer center.

George Weiner, director of the United of Iowa’s Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, who served as chairman of an external advisory board that helped KU in the process, said the advisory board makes decisions depending on the amount of funding the National Institutes of Health has to distribute not only to new cancer centers but also grants in other areas the NIH offers.

Leaders at KU in 2005 made pursuit of NCI designation the university’s top research priority. A fundraising council in Kansas City helped generate $62 million for the effort, and the Hall Family Foundation separately contributed a $10.5 million gift.

“We understand and are really proud of the fact that so many people are interested in a designation like this,” Caboni said. “And we’re waiting right alongside them.”