KU cancer center designation may happen in 2012

The year 2012 will be a pivotal one for the Kansas University Cancer Center. After a site visit from an NCI team in February, KU will await word on whether it has achieved its top research priority of attaining designation as a cancer center from the National Cancer Institute.

The effort has been ongoing since 2005, but 2012 marks a turning point. After the site visit, the KU Cancer Center expects to hear back on whether it has received designation in the summer.

Designation, of course, is no guarantee.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said she has to keep reminding herself that most universities don’t achieve designation on the first try.

“In my heart of hearts, I think we’re going to get it,” Gray-Little said.

The results so far have been good. And in many cases, KU leaders say, the community is already beginning to see the benefits of a lot of hard work.

During the site visit, each section of the 600-page application will get a small group of reviewers associated with it.

“It’s a very scripted process where our programs have 10 minutes to present and they’ll be asked 10 minutes of questions,” said Roy Jensen, KU Cancer Center director.

They’ll also visit other areas of the cancer center until near the end of the day, when the room will clear out except for the site visit team and Jensen himself.

“That’s when I start earning my pay,” he said.

Group members will ask Jensen other questions or clarifications, and will then retreat to their hotel. Each grant section will be graded, and the entire grant as a whole will be graded. Those recommendations will be forwarded back to Washington, D.C., where a separate NCI review team, responsible for reviewing all cancer center grants in the country, will look at it, and decide whether it should be funded.

The waiting game begins after the site visit, and budget wrangling in Washington can make the timing of the decision a little more unpredictable. If KU doesn’t get designation, it will immediately begin the process of reapplying. University officials would receive a document from the NCI detailing areas where they need to improve.

“That document would become a blueprint of how we should address certain deficiencies and making sure that we comply with their guidelines,” Jensen said.

If KU does achieve designation, the cancer center plans to keep working. The grant must be renewed every three to five years.

KU also hopes to work toward the next level of designation as a comprehensive cancer center, which involves a more restrictive set of benchmarks for the center to meet.

Also in 2012, the KU Cancer Center will see the opening of its new clinical research building in Fairway. Ray Perez is the director of that facility, and is a recent KU hire from Dartmouth. The clinical research building is set to open at the end of January, and will vastly expand KU’s ability to perform Phase I clinical trials for new treatments.

Perez said he came to KU to help start an effort that was already going strong at his old school. He also saw the level of support — from the university, the state, the philanthropic community and the voters of Johnson County, who passed a sales tax to help fund the clinical trials building in Fairway.

“I don’t have a single colleague who isn’t really jealous of what we’ve got here at KU,” he said.

He said the voters who provided the sales tax gave the cancer center an extra boost.

“I think that what they’re really enabling us to do is very quickly jump in to the early-trial game,” he said.

Whether the application for designation is approved, Perez said, great strides have already been made.

“The indisputable fact here is that cancer treatment in Kansas City has already been improved by what we’ve put in place,” he said.

Andy Hyland


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