The University of Florida Health Cancer Center continues to develop toward a submission for a Cancer Center Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute in May 2019. A presentation to the external advisory board in March 2018 was followed by their endorsement of our plan for submission of the grant.
In June and November of 2018, several of our associate directors and I visited the National Cancer Institute Office of Cancer Centers to present an overview of our University of Florida resources, catchment area, research programs and shared resources that would be supported by the cancer center support grant. We presented an overview of our progress, how we fulfill the six essential characteristics of an NCI-designated cancer center including space, organizational structure and leadership, cancer focus (basic, clinical and translational collaborative research) and UF institutional commitment to cancer research.
The presentation was well-received, and the director of the office believes that we were well-placed to submit a competitive application. In it, we will present three research programs: the Cancer Population Sciences program; Mechanisms of Oncogenesis, a basic science research program; and Cancer Therapeutics and Host Response, a translational science program. There will be a request for support of our clinical research office and our shared resources, including flow cytometry, next-generation sequencing and biostatistics and quantitative sciences.
The biostatistics and quantitative sciences shared resource was initiated after a national search and the recruitment of Dr. Ji-Hyun Lee from the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center to direct the unit. Dr. Lee assembled an array of statisticians, informaticians and other quantitative scientists available for collaborations with Cancer Center members. She instituted a weekly biostatistics walk-in clinic, in which faculty and trainees may come to have immediate questions answered. Additionally, she’s developing a web portal for handling of biostatistics requests and setting up new courses in biostatistics and bioinformatics for faculty and trainees.
In 2018, we instituted an office of community outreach and engagement staffed by medical anthropologist Sarah Szurek, Ph.D. Throughout the fall, the community advisory board engaged in generating ideas for programs to increase cancer awareness screening and prevention in our catchment area, with particular attention to the underserved communities in Gainesville and other rural regions.
Also notable this year was the award from the National Cancer Institute of a U54 grant entitled the Florida-California Cancer Research, Education & Engagement (CaRE2) Center, a collaboration with the University of Southern California and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. The center is led at UF by Diana Wilkie, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, co-leader of the Cancer Center’s Cancer Population Sciences research program, and Folakemi T. Odedina, Ph.D., professor of pharmacotherapy and translational research in the UF College of Pharmacy. These two activities directly addressed NCI and our mission of community engagement and participation.
The cancer center support grant is one of the most complicated grants in the National Institutes of Health; its portfolio consists of 15 different sections describing our program. This is one of the only grants that is accompanied by a site visit, which we anticipate to occur in the fall of 2019. In January 2019, a polished draft proposal was submitted to members of our External Advisory Board for their review. Video conference sessions with these external board members have given valuable feedback to further refine the application.
There have been many notable metrics of achievement of the cancer program that will be pointed out in the application. This includes: a doubling of peer-reviewed cancer funding over the past five years from $11 million to nearly $23 million a year and the recruitment of 35 new investigators to the Cancer Center, including 15 early-stage investigators, an increased number of high-impact publications and collaborations and an increasing number of an investigator-initiated interventions in cancer treatment, cancer prevention screening and supportive care. The reform of clinical trial processes and an adjustment of our clinical trial portfolio has led to a striking increase in clinical research activity. When all interventional trials are included, including screening and prevention trials, over 2,373 patients will have been enrolled in interventional trials in 2018 as compared to 367 in 2017.
I want to thank the associate directors, program and shared resources leaders and disease site leaders who organize and promote high-quality research, and our members who are obtaining grants, writing papers, educating more trainees and enrolling our patients on trials at an accelerated pace. It’s your work that will make an NCI designated center a reality. I also want to thank our institutional leaders for their partnership and the UFHCC administrative staff who so critically support our mission.
In summary, there has been great progress in the development of cancer research programs at the University of Florida Health Cancer Center. We believe that we have met the challenges in becoming an NCI-designated center and look forward to the review of our grants this coming year.