Kansas has the potential to become a thriving research powerhouse for medical, pharmaceutical and technological advancement. To achieve this success, we must lay the necessary groundwork by educating and preparing a skilled workforce, creating an entrepreneur-friendly environment to attract high-tech companies, and strengthening our research and technology infrastructure. Such efforts are underway at the University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) in Kansas City.

Last month, KUCC formally applied to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to become an “NCI-designated Cancer Center.” NCI is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and our nation’s principal agency for cancer research and training. Obtaining NCI designation would dramatically enhance KUCC’s ability to discover, develop and deliver innovative treatments to patients in our state, improving their quality of life. Currently, there are 66 NCI-designated cancer centers across the country - but none in Kansas. With NCI designation, KUCC patients would have access to the latest clinical trials and the most advanced cancer treatments close to home. 

Because NCI designation is the highest recognition for an academic cancer center, KUCC would also be better positioned to recruit the brightest researchers and scientists to develop cutting-edge treatments and cures in Kansas City. KUCC has already made wonderful progress in raising the necessary funds to enhance its research laboratories, equipment and personnel, including more than $350 million in private and public funds. Furthermore, studies have shown that NCI designation would attract thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to our state’s economy. Economic development on this scale would not only impact thousands of Kansans today, but would benefit residents for years to come.

Medical research creates endless possibilities and can lead directly to improved care and treatment right here in our own state. Earlier this year, I met with Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of NCI and a Nobel Prize recipient for his cancer research, to learn more about the latest developments in research and treatments. Dr. Varmus explained that while cancer is a complex disease, recent advances in research are changing the landscape of treatment.

I had the opportunity to learn firsthand how laboratory discoveries are being translated into new treatments during a recent visit to the Clinical Center at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland – the nation’s largest hospital devoted entirely to clinical research. Currently, there are 1,500 clinical research studies in progress at the Center and 10,000 new patients being cared for annually. The Center is uniquely designed to enable researchers to work alongside a wide range of specialists, who deliver the best possible care to patients with the most advanced treatments available. This a powerful arrangement that has led to a long list of groundbreaking medical discoveries, including the development of chemotherapy for cancer, the first tests to detect AIDS/HIV, and the first treatment of AIDS.

Our nation’s scientists are continuing to make important progress against some of the world’s most devastating diseases and our state stands ready to make a greater impact in the effort to improve health and save lives. I commend the teams at KUCC, KU Medical Center, and other partners for their pursuit of NCI designation and I strongly support their application. KUCC is poised to deliver results that will significantly impact cancer research, drive economic development in our state now and well into the future – and most importantly, offer hope to thousands of patients in Kansas and across our country.