The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has renewed the designation of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, the highest federal rank possible for a cancer research organization. This grant awards HCI more than $29 million over seven years, an increase of 84% in annual funding from the previous award cycle.
The renewal of its Comprehensive Cancer Center designation is the result of an extensive grant application and review process that culminated with an on-site visit by a team of national cancer research and care experts in fall 2019. HCI earned a near-perfect overall score, placing it within the highest-possible exceptional score category that signifies virtually no weaknesses in the organization’s research efforts. HCI’s overall score is the best in the history of the cancer center.
“This prestigious award is a testament to HCI’s longstanding commitment to conduct life-saving research and how our teams, right here in Utah, are having an impact on improving cancer outcomes in the Mountain West and across the world,” said Cornelia Ulrich, Ph.D., executive director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at HCI, who also serves as principal investigator of the grant. “We are immensely grateful to the NCI for this renewal, which highlights the exceptional performance of our team of scientists, faculty, staff and administrators. It will allow us to accelerate and advance our work to improve the health of our communities and ease the cancer burden for all.”
The Comprehensive Cancer Center recognition provides funding to support HCI’s cancer research programs and research resources to enable cutting-edge scientific discovery. In its review, NCI cited that “HCI has demonstrated an exceptional cancer focus, high level of translational science and exceptional population science impacting the state of Utah and the vast Mountain West region of the United States.”
“Huntsman Cancer Institute was established with a vision to eradicate cancer,” said Mary Beckerle, Ph.D., CEO of HCI. “More than twenty years later, our vision remains singular as we work toward delivering a cancer-free frontier through scientific discovery and human touch. As we celebrate this remarkable achievement, we reinforce our pledge to bring science-powered medicine, linked to compassionate human connection through collaboration and partnership at all levels.”
The U obtained Cancer Center status in 1986. In 2015, HCI was elevated to the Comprehensive Cancer Center designation, the highest level possible. This designation recognizes a cancer center’s ongoing accomplishments and worldwide impact in improving cancer prevention, screening and treatment strategies. Renewal of its designation maintains HCI’s place among a peer group of national cancer research and treatment centers that include MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, among others.
Since its last NCI review in 2015, HCI has recruited more than 70 new cancer researchers. HCI oversees the work of more than 200 cancer research teams drawn from 34 academic departments and nine colleges at the U. HCI’s research impact in the past five years includes increasing the annual number of externally funded cancer research projects by 57% and more than doubling the number of patients participating in clinical trials based on HCI science that test news ways to improve the treatment of cancer. “A key asset at HCI is that we partner with our patients to inform our cancer research strategy,” said Ulrich. “More than 95% of HCI patients volunteer to participate in research, making a true difference for those affected by cancer in the future.”
In addition, HCI invested in training for underrepresented high school students and expanded community outreach and engagement efforts. This cultivates new, mutually beneficial partnerships with community-based organizations to address health equity and engage rural, frontier and diverse populations.
HCI has also doubled the size of its research facilities, opening the Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center in 2017, which was designed to enhance collaboration among research teams. Today, HCI spans more than one million square feet of contiguous state-of-the-art cancer research and care space.
HCI’s research excellence is made possible by the generosity of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, which supports HCI’s research through philanthropic contributions. A 10-member external advisory board, comprised of NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center directors, administrators and scientists, provides planning and evaluation; a 21-member internal advisory board of U leaders guides strategic collaboration across campus; and a 38-member community advisory board offers input and fosters community engagement in cancer research, services and prevention efforts.