In the News

Kansas City Business Journal: KU Cancer Center wins comprehensive cancer center designation
Brian Kaberline | Kansas City Business Journal

The University of Kansas Cancer Center has won designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center — the highest classification given by the National Cancer Institute.

Thursday’s announcement, the realization of a 20-year regional effort, brings the promise of more money for cancer research and more access to cutting-edge care for patients.

Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, announced that the institution has become just the 53rd Comprehensive Cancer Center in the nation. As a sort of down payment on the effect of the promotion, Jensen also announced a related five-year NCI grant worth nearly $14 million.

The effort to build a world-class cancer center in Kansas City went public in 2002, when the University of Kansas Medical Center made gaining NCI designation a key goal. It gained steam two years later when Jensen was recruited to return to his native Kansas to lead the effort.

Alliances of local and state governments, nonprofits and civic leaders pulled together investments of hundreds of millions of dollars with the aims of a cancer center serving a medical need and being a centerpiece of the region’s life sciences ambitions.

KU Cancer Center received NCI designation in 2012, and leaders immediately set their sights on reaching the higher comprehensive status.

Five years ago, Jensen held a news conference like Thursday's, but to announce that KU Cancer Center had not received Comprehensive NCI designation — though the center’s timeline for moving up was deemed extremely aggressive. He pledged that day in August 2017 to start working toward the next opportunity — in 2022.

"Achieving comprehensive designation is a testament not only to our cancer center, but also to our collective institutions in this region," Jensen said Thursday. "Twenty years ago, we were told that this was a pipe dream. Our institutions weren't good enough. Our leadership wasn't up to the task. And we didn't have anywhere near the resources to make that happen, to make cancer center designation happen.

"And I think our success is a reflection of the extraordinary amount of hard work and the talent of our team that we assembled, the unwavering commitment of our institutional leadership and the steadfast support of our community."

KU Cancer Center officials noted in the institution’s application for comprehensive status that it has increased annual research funding to $51 million. The center has become noted nationally for its work in the areas of breast, blood and gastrointestinal cancers.

Jensen said in November that when the effort began around 2005, roughly 15% of Kansans diagnosed with cancer left the state for treatment. He estimated that figure would drop to 7.5% by 2022.

“And just in raw numbers, given the number of patients in Kansas who get cancer, that translates into 1,300 patients who now stay close to home to get their cancer care,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran reiterated that the new designation will bring millions of dollars in new grants for research and science. But he said it's about something even more basic.

"This is about curing a disease," the Kansas Republican said.