The National Cancer Institute has denied the University of Kansas Cancer Center’s application to upgrade its NCI designation but approved the addition of Children’s Mercy Hospital to KU’s research consortium.
Michael Artman, the chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Mercy, said that means innovative cancer treatments like immunotherapy for more kids.
“I think that’s probably the most profound opportunity, is to get access to new ways to treat childhood cancer,” Artman said.
The NCI renewed KU’s current cancer center designation for another five years.
The addition of Children’s Mercy to a consortium that already includes KU and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research comes with an 11 percent funding bump from the National Institutes of Health, which houses the National Cancer Institute.
KU Chancellor Doug Girod called the increase “a testament to the National Cancer Institute’s confidence in our cancer center.”
KU is the only NCI-designated cancer center in the region and one of 69 nationwide. KU officials submitted an application last year to be upgraded to a “comprehensive cancer center,” which would have brought more NIH funding and research trials.
Roy Jensen, the director of the KU Cancer Center, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” that the application was denied. KU was granted NCI designation just five years ago and he said it takes an average of 15 years for a center to be deemed “comprehensive.”
KU will be able to apply again in 2021.
“We are excited about our future progress, and the NCI has expressed that they believe we have the right people and plans in place to eventually earn comprehensive status,” Jensen said.
Artman said Children’s Mercy will contribute to that effort by promoting cancer prevention through use of the HPV vaccine and supporting ongoing research into childhood brain cancer treatments.
“That will likely accelerate with the new funding KU receives,” Artman said.
Children’s Mercy has been working with the KU Cancer Center since 2015 and the two institutions raised $10 million to establish four endowed chairs in January focused on eliminating childhood diseases by studying genomics, health outcomes, hematological malignancies and immunotherapy.
Artman said none of that changes Children’s Mercy’s main partnership with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Medicine. UMKC has a pediatric residency program at the main hospital on Gillham Road.
Children’s Mercy, which also has a satellite hospital in Overland Park and is building a clinic in Junction City, has found itself at odds recently with Kansas state officials over the level of reimbursements for patients on Kansas Medicaid, or KanCare.
But Artman said that the politics of straddling two states hasn’t affected efforts to combine forces on cancer research.
“So far we haven’t encountered any obstacles,” Artman said. “There may be things that come up down the road but we really see this as a Kansas City metro cancer center that serves kids throughout western Missouri and all of Kansas.”