Greater Kansas City has a lot to be proud of. During the last five years, the metropolitan area has experienced phenomenal growth and become a place that consistently makes the rankings for top communities in the country. And let’s not forget the sheer joy we all experienced in seeing our Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series.
During that same time, the University of Kansas Cancer Center was quietly forging ahead with efforts to improve access to cutting-edge treatments, discover new treatments and emphasize prevention and early detection of cancer. That work has been supported by many individuals and organizations across the region, and Thursday we celebrated the official announcement that the National Cancer Institute has enthusiastically renewed the University of Kansas Cancer Center’s five-year designation and increased its score from “excellent” to “outstanding.” This means the KU Cancer Center will retain its exclusive cancer center status, as well as renew and add to its multimillion-dollar support grant for an additional five years.
Also, Children’s Mercy Hospital has now joined as a full consortium partner, expanding the opportunities to provide pediatric cancer patients with the best possible care.
The initial cancer center designation was a victory, but also a foundation from which to build an even better future. During the five years since that announcement, the KU Cancer Center has recruited more than 35 leading researchers and physicians, enrolled more than 20,000 participants in important clinical trials, further developed capabilities in immunotherapy, precision medicine and drug development, and worked in close collaboration with the Midwest Cancer Alliance. Among the outcomes from their efforts are a significant increase in HPV vaccination rates and the implementation of important public policy changes, including passage of the Tobacco 21 ordinance in 24 municipalities and passage of indoor tanning legislation.
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Much of this would not have been possible without the more than $423 million in federal grants received by KU since 2007. The renewal of the cancer center designation and the “outstanding” score demonstrate the confidence NCI has placed in the KU Cancer Center, which will receive an 11 percent increase in its cancer center grants during the next five years.
The University of Kansas Cancer Center is the region’s only NCI-designated cancer center and one of only 69 nationwide to receive this distinction. The KU Cancer Center has the largest team, conducts the most in-depth research and provides the most comprehensive care to cancer patients in the area. Patients treated at NCI-designated cancer centers have a 25 percent greater chance of survival.
The entire Kansas City business community recognized several years ago the opportunity to improve the region’s quality of life and prosperity by focusing on the growth of life sciences research in the region. The cancer center began as a dream, at a time when many cancer patients and their families were forced to travel long distances to gain access to promising treatments. The realization of that dream is producing tangible results — better, more convenient health care for Kansas Citians; a thriving research effort producing new medications and treatments; the attraction of top students, faculty and researchers; establishment of new companies; and job growth.
Cancer center leaders have a bold plan to achieve comprehensive cancer center status in five years, already working to fill key positions with nationally recognized talent, strengthen collaboration and address NCI feedback related to population health and drug discovery.
We’re incredibly proud of KU Cancer Center, and we encourage the community to celebrate the center’s continued commitment to providing this region with outstanding care and research. Congratulations to the KU Cancer Center leadership and staff for a job well done.
Joe Reardon is president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.