Friday, June 29, 2012

Roberts: KU’s National Cancer Institute designation application was successful, formal announcement expected in July

By GEORGE DIEPENBROCK and ANDY HYLAND, The Lawrence Journal-World

Kansas University’s Cancer Center will receive its long-sought National Cancer Institute designation, with a formal announcement expected in mid-July, sources said Thursday night.

The news was first released by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on his Facebook page.

"I am pleased that The University of Kansas has been given a green light and I look forward to a formal announcement of their National Cancer Institute designation," he posted on his Facebook page.

KU applied for the designation in September, after working for seven years and investing more than $350 million toward the effort that would be a boon for the local economy and offer promising new treatments to cancer patients in the region. Last September, KU officials said the effort had already created 1,123 jobs and contributed $453 million to the region’s economy.

“The announcement’s on its way, and I’m excited,” Ed McKechnie, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said Thursday evening.

More details would be forthcoming later, he said.

Tim Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs, would not comment beyond a brief statement Thursday night.

“On the 12th of July, we will make a formal announcement regarding NCI,” he said.

Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, on Thursday said only that KU still had yet to receive official word on its NCI designation. Jensen, KU Chancellor Bernadette Grey-Little and other leaders issued a message to the KU Medical Center campus Friday about news reports on the NCI designation.

"While we are encouraged by this news, we do not yet have our formal notice of grant award and have been asked by the NIH to reserve July 12 for a formal announcement," the statement said.

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.

“All I can say is that we think some good news is headed toward KU,” Sarah Little, a Roberts spokeswoman, said Thursday night. “We received some positive correspondence but understand an official notice is coming.”

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said Friday he was very optimistic and looking forward to the July 12 announcement.

"I know it will not only be great news for the university and Kansas City, but also a fantastic development for the entire state of Kansas and the region," said Moran, a KU alumnus who attended a February site visit during the review process. "Achieving NCI Designation would dramatically enhance KU Cancer Center’s ability to discover, develop and deliver innovative treatments to patients and enable the Center to recruit the best and brightest researchers to our state. It would also help Kansas’ development into a thriving medical research powerhouse and attract thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to our state’s economy."

McKechnie said the successful effort reflected the hard work and vision of many people along the way, including university leaders in Lawrence and at KU Medical Center, hospital leaders across the state in the Midwest Cancer Alliance, and outside agencies like the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

“The list is longer than that,” he said of people who played a big role in the designation.

Still, he said, the work was not complete.

“This is but a waypoint of what the real goal is, and that is to become a comprehensive cancer center,” McKechnie said.

Becoming a comprehensive cancer center would require an additional designation from the NCI that is the highest designation an academic cancer center can receive.

Jensen told the Journal-World last week that KU and state officials were optimistic about the chances to receive the NCI designation based on the score the center received after a review process. NCI reviewers on Feb. 22 visited the KU Medical Center Campus in Kansas City, Kan. But Jensen said a key factor in the decision would hinge on the amount of federal funding available for a new cancer center.

The final hurdle was the president’s National Cancer Advisory Board, which considers NCI grant applications, including those for cancer center designations, in closed session.

That board met Monday in Bethesda, Md., but KU did not hear after the meeting whether its application was approved. NCI press officials said the board forwards its decisions back to a grants review committee that would notify applicants, but word got out Thursday night.

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.