The Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine and the Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai received NCI designations this week.
The Duncan Cancer Center—which was named an NCI-designated cancer center in 2007—was awarded the Comprehensive Cancer Center designation, which includes a $14.56 million, five-year grant. The designation moves the cancer center into an elite class of 45 centers in the U.S. whose programs demonstrate significant depth and breadth in basic, clinical and translational research.
TCI has been named an NCI-designated cancer center, making it the 69th cancer center to earn designation, and it received a five-year, $8.5 million grant to complement the $79 million in cancer research grants awarded to TCI.
The applications for both institutions were rated as outstanding, said Henry Ciolino, acting director of the NCI Office of Cancer Centers.
“Mount Sinai showed a particular expertise in immunology and liver carcinogenesis signaling pathways,” Ciolino said to The Cancer Letter. “They described a very unique catchment area in the Upper East Side of New York, including central and east Harlem—40 percent of their accruals to therapeutic clinical trials were from those two areas.
“Baylor was judged to have the depth and breadth necessary to be promoted to the level of a Comprehensive Cancer Center. In particular, we were impressed with their work on the Texas Children’s Hospital in pediatric oncology.”
The Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah and the University of New Mexico Cancer Center also received comprehensive designations this month (The Cancer Letter, July 10).
There will not be any additional designations this year, Ciolino said.
“This was the entire fiscal year 2015 cohort of centers that were reviewed. We don’t make funding decisions until after all centers are reviewed,” Ciolino said. “We won’t have any new information about new centers or comprehensive centers until May or June of next year.”
The Duncan Cancer Center has been focused on achieving comprehensive status since its inception in 2006, said Kent Osborne, director of the Duncan Cancer Center.
“This means you meet the highest standards set forth by the National Cancer Institute,” Osborne said in a statement. “Each cancer center undergoes a rigorous review process to achieve the highly-coveted comprehensive designation.”
NCI commended TCI for excellence in basic science, clinical research, and community-based outreach.
“The NCI designation recognizes our deep commitment to advance the field of cancer research, treatment, and prevention, and to bring these innovations to cancer patients and their families,” said Steven Burakoff, Lillian and Henry M. Stratton Professor of Cancer Medicine and director of TCI. “The designation reflects Mount Sinai’s significant investment in cancer research, world-class faculty, and cutting-edge facilities.”
Over the last five years, the Duncan Cancer Center’s research portfolio has increased dramatically, Osborne said.
“Research funding since the initial NCI-designation in 2007 has grown from approximately $99 million to $152 million annually,” Osborne said. “This is an impressive statistic given that many cancer centers have seen significant cutbacks in research funding.”
In 2011, the cancer center recruited Melissa Bondy, an epidemiologist. Bondy, a McNair Scholar, together with Hashem El-Serag, professor of medicine-gastroenterology at Baylor, lead the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences Program.
Osborne said the program has made significant contributions to molecular and genetic epidemiology and behavioral research in addiction and tobacco cessation, obesity, brain, breast, liver and esophageal cancers—the latter two being the most rapidly increasing cancers in Texas.
“Our affiliated hospitals are critical and key to our research and clinical care programs,” said Osborne. “They each involve a different patient population, allowing us to cover all segments of our community, which is a huge advantage for us.”
Seventy percent of the patients seen in the Duncan Cancer Center affiliates come from Harris County.
The Texas Children’s Cancer Center, one of the largest children’s cancer centers in the country, serves 50 percent of all pediatric cancer patients in Texas and 90 percent from the Houston region. Its research program received the highest possible “exceptional” rating on the recent NCI evaluation.
”The NCI designation of comprehensive status confirms the excellence of the research—both in the lab and the clinic—being conducted in our center and importantly highlights the relevance of our research to the types of cancer most prevalent in our community”, said David Poplack, director of the Texas Children’s Cancer Center and deputy director of the Duncan Cancer Center.
Duncan Cancer Center physicians also provide care through Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, a joint venture of Baylor and Catholic Health Initiatives St. Luke’s Health, as well as through the College’s outpatient practices.
“There are many new exciting adventures ahead as we plan for our new hospital and facilities at Baylor St. Luke’s, as well as design and build our new outpatient cancer center clinical space on the McNair campus to provide our patients with new state-of-the-art facilities for their care,” Osborne said.
At TCI, recent growth has included the recruitment of a number of prominent physicians and researchers—55 overall in the last seven years—including William Oh, associate director for clinical and translational research and chief of hematology and medical oncology; Randall Holcombe, deputy director and chief medical officer for cancer; Marshall Posner, associate director for clinical trials infrastructure and medical director of head and neck cancer; and Paolo Boffetta, associate director for population science and director of translational epidemiology.
In its assessment, NCI praised Burakoff’s leadership in recruiting strong leaders at TCI.
“Through Dr. Burakoff’s leadership, Mount Sinai has become a national leader in basic, clinical, and population cancer research and treatment,” Kenneth Davis, president and CEO of the Mount Sinai Health System, said in a statement. “The strengths in research that were central to our NCI designation include harnessing the immune system to attack cancer cells, studying the impact of environmental toxins on cancer, understanding liver cancer biology, and based on our unique New York ethnic communities, studying the genetic differences and care disparities that drive greater cancer risk in some patients.”
The following TCI research programs were highlighted in the NCI application and commended for their strong foundation and national acclaim:
• Cancer Immunology, led by Nina Bhardwaj and Miriam Merad, which addresses anti-tumor immunity and fosters the development of cancer vaccines;
• Cancer Mechanisms, led by Ramon Parsons and Ross Cagan, which seeks to understand the biology of cancer cell development;
• Liver Cancer, led by Scott Friedman and Josep Llovet, whose focus is to discover novel approaches to diagnose and treat liver cancer; and
• Cancer Prevention and Control, led by Boffetta and William Redd, which addresses the important aspects of primary and secondary cancer prevention.
“The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai reflects a vital trend seen in recent years: real world, complex medical problems being solved by teams that successfully integrate many disciplines,” said Dennis Charney, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and president for academic affairs for the Mount Sinai Health System. “The NCI designation is based on our exceptional leadership, extensive research facilities, and an institution-wide commitment to research, including a focus on the role of genetics, obesity, and diabetes in cancer.
“The NCI designation will facilitate expansion of novel treatment options and clinical trials for patients throughout the Mount Sinai Health System.”