NCI awards UA Cancer Center $20.8M research grant; Mayo another grantee

July 7, 2009

By Flinn Foundation

The Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona has received a renewal of its most important grant, a five-year, $20.8 million award from the National Cancer Institute. The grant is accompanied by continued designation as one of 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the United States.

That classification is reserved for institutions the NCI deems to have demonstrated excellence in basic, clinical, and prevention and population-based research. The grant is particularly valuable because its funding is not designated for project expenses, but instead is available for infrastructure and administrative costs.

Along with the Arizona Cancer Center, Arizona plays host to branches of two other comprehensive cancer centers: Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, operating on the Mayo Clinic Arizona campus in Scottsdale, and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which recently announced plans to build a new cancer center in Gilbert in partnership with Banner Health.

Mayo, whose headquarters are in Rochester, Minn., announced that its five-year grant renewal from the NCI would total more than $28 million, funding that will be shared by its three campuses in Rochester, Jacksonville, Fla., and Scottsdale. Houston-based M.D. Anderson, often cited as the country’s premier hub for cancer research, last year received a five-year, $52 million renewal of its grant from the NCI.

Among the 40 comprehensive cancer centers, the Arizona Cancer Center ranks 25th in total NCI funding. It operates two highly competitive Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) funded by the NCI, in gastrointestinal cancer and lymphomas. And it holds NCI program project grants for novel drug development, novel imaging technology, colon-cancer prevention, pancreatic-cancer drug development, prostate-cancer bone metastases, and skin-cancer prevention.

“Continuation of our funding, for more than 30 years, allows the Arizona Cancer Center to achieve its mission of serving the entire state of Arizona with translational research in cancer prevention and treatment, patient care, education and outreach,” said David Alberts, director of the Cancer Center.

“The receipt of this support grant renewal, and the ‘excellent’ rating, is a direct reflection on the extremely high quality and innovative work of our entire Arizona Cancer Center team,” Dr. Alberts added.

In its announcement of the renewal–a 5 percent increase from the previous grant–the NCI lauded the Cancer Center for making “significant contributions to the national cancer research effort. Strengths of the Cancer Center are in the areas of chemoprevention, drug development and fundamental aspects of imaging. The AZCC has expanded its activities as a consortium across the state with the goal of bringing advances made at the AZCC to all the people of Arizona.”

The five core research programs of the Cancer Center are cancer prevention and control; cancer biology and genetics; cancer imaging; gastrointestinal cancer; and therapeutic development. Its shared services include genomics, flow cytometry, and biometry. The NCI site-review team rated each of those services as “outstanding.”

Before issuing the renewal, NCI evaluators assessed the Cancer Center’s record of conducting basic research, translating that research to patient care, educating and training researchers newly entering the field, recruiting patients into clinical trials, and conducting educational outreach in the community.

The Cancer Center received its first “core” support from the NCI in 1978, when it was awarded $1 million, and it was designated a comprehensive cancer center in 1990. Based in Tucson, it maintains active clinical-research partnerships with Scottsdale Healthcare and the Translational Genomics Research Institute; in recent months, it has been exploring the feasibility of a branch in the Phoenix area, including discussions with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center about the possibility of establishing a major clinical presence on the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus or adjacent to St. Joseph’s own campus in central Phoenix.

Mayo Clinic Cancer Center’s unique three-location model

Among NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is the sole designee to conduct its research activities at three distinct locations. In 2003, Mayo received NCI approval to incorporate its research activities in Rochester, Scottsdale, and Jacksonville, Fla. into one integrated institution.

“The NCI recognized the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center for excellence in basic and clinical research, and for our contributions to cancer prevention, control and population sciences,” said Robert Diasio, director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. “This award enables Mayo cancer researchers on all three of our campuses to build upon knowledge that leads to changes in medical practice which means improved treatment opportunities for our patients.”

The 12 core research programs that Mayo focuses on are: women’s cancers, neuro-oncology, hematologic malignancies, gene and virus therapy, developmental therapeutics, genetic epidemiology and risk assessment, immunology and immunotherapy, gastrointestinal cancers, prostate cancer, cell biology, cancer imaging, and cancer prevention and control.

Mayo’s additional NCI-funded programs include six Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs), in the areas of neuro-oncology, breast cancer, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer. Rafael Fonseca, deputy director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, and head of its Arizona operations, is also one of the project leaders for Mayo’s myeloma SPORE.

For more information:

NCI Renews Mayo Clinic Cancer Center Support Grant, Extends Comprehensive Status,” Mayo Clinic media release, 07/06/2009

UA Cancer Center receives $20.8 million,” Phoenix Business Journal, 06/24/2009

NCI Renews Arizona Cancer Center Core Grant, $20.8 million Awarded to Support Cancer Research,”
UA media release, 06/24/2009