KU Cancer Center update

December 13, 2013

In last week's newsletter, I covered many of the activities we've been undertaking to build stronger relationships with Kansas legislators. I also noted that the University of Kansas has two main agenda items - both involving KU Medical Center - for the next legislative session, which begins next month. We are asking that the Legislature restore the cuts made to our budget and assist us in our effort to meet the state's physician workforce needs by passing the Health Education Initiative, which includes significant investment in new educational facilities in Kansas City and additional funding to expand the KU School of Medicine-Wichita program.

We also have been working closely with the Kansas Department of Commerce, which is the source of our annual $5 million appropriation to support The University of Kansas Cancer Center since 2007. Cancer center Chief Operating Officer Jeff Reene and others have been meeting with representatives from the Commerce Department and providing information to other members of Gov. Brownback's administration, and they report that these meetings have been extremely positive. This isn't surprising because in addition to having a fantastic story to tell about patient care and research, the cancer center is proving to be an excellent return on the state's financial investment.

As I wrote over the summer, the cancer center had shown excellent growth in its first year of National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. And in addition to growth in research and patient care, the public and private investment in NCI designation pays tremendous dividends for our regional economy. Between 2007 and 2012, the university invested $475 million from internal, state and philanthropic sources to recruit cancer researchers and renovate laboratories. Beyond the $475 million in direct economic investment by the university, indirect economic activity generated an additional $456 million for our region's economy. The effort created 574 new jobs at the University of Kansas from 2007 to 2012, and an estimated 1,256 new regional jobs during the same time period. For each dollar provided by the state from 2007 to 2012, the cancer center has been able to leverage those funds 13-to-1.

It took more than a decade of hard work for the cancer center to achieve NCI designation. But getting the designation isn't permanent - we have to re-apply every five years. That means everyone at the cancer center is already preparing for the reapplication proposal, which is due on Sept. 25, 2016. Raising the stakes even higher, when the cancer center reapplies for designation, it will be requesting status as the highest level of NCI designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. In addition to being recognized for scientific excellence, those centers designated as "comprehensive" have substantial cancer education, training and community outreach activities.

Cancer center Director Roy Jensen and his team have developed a strategic plan to prepare for application as a comprehensive center. The plan includes hiring three to five key medical oncology physician/scientists, strengthening our already celebrated cancer screening and prevention programs across the region, and of course, raising the necessary funds to support these efforts.

During the next three years, the cancer center plans to invest an additional $533 million in pursuit of comprehensive status. We estimate this will generate an additional $555 million in indirect regional economic impact. Projections show that the comprehensive effort will create another 331 jobs at KU and another 398 in the region. That means from 2007 to 2016, our efforts to secure the initial NCI designation and the planned-for comprehensive designation will create an estimated 2,559 new jobs (both at KU and outside our institution) and generate $2.02 billion for our region's economy.

To achieve our initial designation, the cancer center had to exceed $4 million in direct NCI funding from the NCI. To have a good shot at being considered for comprehensive designation, Dr. Jensen says we will need to get closer to $10 million in direct NCI funding by September 2016 - a daunting challenge in this era of federal cutbacks. And with state budget reductions to the Kansas Bioscience Authority - which contributed greatly to our ability to recruit scientists - dollars to fund new recruits will have to come from private philanthropy.

What will drive us toward these goals is seeing how NCI designation is saving lives in our region. Dr. Jensen points out that the KU Cancer Center is currently seeing approximately 6,000 new cancer patients every year. That means we are already treating more patients than the majority of other NCI designated centers around the country. But we know we can do more.

We have our sights set on identifying better cancer prevention efforts, particularly in high-risk and underserved populations in our region, and discovering new and more effective drugs to treat cancer. The next three years - as we move toward applying for comprehensive NCI status - will be just as challenging as the successful effort to obtain NCI designation. But with a sound strategic plan in place and a leadership team that is supremely dedicated to building a cancer center that will provide the best cancer care and research in the country, I have no doubt we are in a great position to reach that goal.

Last modified: Dec 13, 2013