Are Academic Cancer Centers a National Treasure?

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George J. Weiner, MD

To ensure academic cancer centers are able to thrive well into the future, we need to do a better job of explaining the unique role they play to the broad range of constituents, including patients, payers, policy makers, university leadership, community oncology partners, and the general public.

—George J. Weiner, MD

The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) is developing a marketing campaign to highlight the value of academic cancer centers to their communities and the nation. Called “The Academic Difference,” the 2-year campaign is the initiative of AACI President George J. Weiner, MD, Director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. In the first phase of the project, AACI is gathering information from its member institutes to demonstrate the many accomplishments of the centers, Dr. Weiner said in his presidential address at the AACI Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in November.

“Academic cancer centers have a major and unique role to play in enhancing cancer science, cancer care, and cancer education. This role will increase in value as our understanding of the complexity of cancer grows and is applied to care of patients,” Dr. Weiner said. “Accelerating progress in cancer medicine will remain dependent on the success of academic cancer centers and development of new models of collaboration between academic cancer centers and community oncology. To ensure academic cancer centers are able to thrive well into the future, we need to do a better job of explaining the unique role they play to the broad range of constituents, including patients, payers, policy makers, university leadership, community oncology partners, and the general public.”

Project Phases

The AACI project identified four areas in which academic cancer centers play a unique role in their communities, their states, and the nation, Dr. Weiner said: cancer research, clinical care, medical education, and economic impact.

The first phase of the project entails gathering and sharing the accomplishments that AACI and its members can use in advocating for support at the local and national levels, Dr. Weiner said. The project will not ask AACI member centers to generate new data or share confidential information, and nor will it conduct an extensive survey, he added.

In the second phase of the project, AACI plans to enlist the help of cancer center directors, public relations and government relations staff from cancer centers, and marketing professionals to develop messaging and materials. Marketing would be targeted to the public and patients, university and cancer center boards, payers, political leaders, corporations, and Chambers of Commerce.

Dr. Weiner listed some of the examples that AACI members have submitted for the project. He invited centers to continue to send these types of accomplishments to the AACI office.


Cancer Research

  • At the University of California Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers have filed for 172 patents from 2011–2014.
  • Researchers at the University of Utah established the Utah Population Database, which has been managed by Huntsman Cancer Institute for over 20 years. This database has led to evidence of familial risk for dozens of diseases.
  • Roswell Park Cancer Institute has delivered more high-dose interleukin 2 therapy for metastatic renal cell carcinoma than any other U.S. center.
  • The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and Moffitt Cancer Center were founding partners in the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network.


Clinical Care

  • Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University conducted a long-term study on multidisciplinary care for prostate cancer, which showed enhanced outcomes and decreased treatment regret.
  • Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University showed, “Specialist collaboration is associated with lower mortality without increased cost among patients with stage III colon cancer.”
  • Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center published a paper stating, “Those treated at hospitals with a National Cancer Institute designation, residency program, or medical school affiliation received more guideline-concordant care.”
  • Moffitt Cancer Center was involved with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a new combination treatment for melanoma, the first major melanoma advancement in 30 years.
  • George Washington Cancer Institute offers free training to all patient navigators in the United States.
  • The University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center offers patient navigators to patients over the age of 65.
  • Huntsman Cancer Institute developed the Native American Outreach Program, to provide culturally sensitive education about cancer.


Medical Education

  • Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University trains a total of 29 fellows each year in 7 programs.
  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is home to the only oncology postgraduate clinical training program for physician assistants in the country.
  • From 2009–2014, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has had an 8% growth in clinical trainees.
  • In the past year, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center has hosted 20 multidisciplinary conferences.
  • The Cancer Biology PhD program at Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute combines an interdisciplinary graduate curriculum and interaction with clinicians to educate the next generation of researchers.
  • The University of California at San Diego Moores Cancer Center (MCC) offers services to the community such as the MCC-funded Healthy Foods Kitchen, which offers culinary classes with a focus on nutrition for patients with cancer and a seminar series informing the public on research advances.

Economic Impact

  • Moffitt Cancer Center employs 4,300 people, with an average salary of $79,000, which leads to $1.6 billion in direct economic output. In the past 3 years, Moffitt Cancer Center has treated 3,074 new patients from outside of Florida.
  • The University of Kansas Cancer Center estimates a $750 million investment from 2014–2018 will drive another 1,584 new jobs: 841 at the University of Kansas and 743 regionally.
  • Knight Cancer Institute estimates that its current plan will create 380 permanent full-time jobs, 6,800 construction jobs in 2 years, $35 million in state and local taxes annually during the life of construction, and $5.6 million in state income taxes annually when operational.
  • For every dollar appropriated by the state of New Jersey, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey returned $13.01 to the state in economic impact.
  • Since 2009, researchers from the Purdue Center for Cancer Research have initiated 12 startup companies.

AACI Awards for Science, Public Service

At the Annual Meeting, AACI presented the 2015 AACI Distinguished Scientist Award to Lewis C. Cantley, PhD, a cell biologist and biochemist who serves as The Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor in Oncology Research and Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Cantley’s research has resulted in revolutionary treatments for cancer, diabetes, and ­autoimmune diseases.

Sen. Patty Murray (D–WA) and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R–KS) received the 2015 AACI Public Service Award. Reps. Fred Upton (R–MI) and Diana ­DeGette (D–CO) received the 2015 AACI Champion for Cures Award in recognition of their work on H.R. 6—21st Century Cures Act—which prescribes mandatory funding of $8.75 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $550 million for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the next 5 years. ■

Disclosure: Drs. Weiner and Cantley reported no potential conflicts of interest.