The University of Kansas Cancer Center has been recognized as a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center since 2012. It is the only such center in the state and one of only 71 in the United States. In order to become designated and maintain designation (renewable every five years), centers must go through a rigorous, highly competitive application process to demonstrate their contributions to reducing cancer burden. Below is an excerpt from the 2017 renewal application, which highlights KU Cancer’s Center vision, goals and notable accomplishments.

Learn more about NCI-designation.

Director's Overview

History and Overview

The University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) received National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer center designation in July 2012, as a result of an expansive university, community and regional effort that began in earnest in July 2004. In conjunction with its consortium partner, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, KUCC was rightfully proud of this achievement, but immediately set about planning to achieve comprehensive status at the next competitive renewal. In fact, KUCC’s famous “countdown clock” was reset for September 26, 2016 on the day following the announcement by then Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, that we had achieved designation. It should be noted, that her announcement was especially meaningful to us, since it was then Governor Sebelius of Kansas who had first put KUCC on the launching pad towards designation with a $5M annual state appropriation in 2007. This appropriation has been renewed each year since by a broad political spectrum of Kansas governors and legislators and continues to be a critical source of unrestricted funds for KUCC.

The drive for NCI designation was part of a deliberate strategy by then Dean Barbara Atkinson to initiate a renaissance at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) when she was appointed in 2002. Dean Atkinson quickly established cancer as the number one priority of KUMC, and commenced a national search for a full-time director of what was then known as the Kansas Cancer Institute. In 2004, she appointed Roy A. Jensen, MD, as director, a nationally recognized breast cancer researcher and pathologist from Vanderbilt-Ingram Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Since his appointment, Jensen has received unprecedented institutional, community and state support to build a world-class cancer center for the region. In 2006, former Chancellor Robert Hemenway declared that attaining NCI designation for KUCC was the number one priority of the entire University. This declaration helped catalyze a significant expansion of the research and clinical programs at KUCC and KUMC in general. In fact, since 2004, KUMC has more than doubled its faculty and Kansas has experienced one of the largest percentage increases in NIH funding of any state in the country, largely due to the NIH portfolio of KUMC. In 2009, for the first time in its history, KUMC passed the $100M mark for total research funding. Community support from the Kansas Masonic Foundation, now totaling more than $30M, solidified the research component of the Cancer Center, which was renamed the Kansas Masonic Cancer Research Institute (KMCRI). In 2007, the commitment to further grow the KMCRI was bolstered by then Governor Kathleen Sebelius and the Kansas Legislature who made a $5M appropriation to the KMCRI that has continued since that time. 2007 also marked the year in which Jensen brokered a new affiliation agreement between the University and The University of Kansas Health System that brought the cancer research (KMCRI) and cancer clinical programs together as The University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC), with Jensen as the director. In August 2009, Bernadette Gray-Little was appointed Chancellor and reiterated the commitment to NCI designation, declaring it the University’s number one research priority. With the achievement of designation as a cancer center in 2012, this goal has been transformed to achieving designation as an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Establishment of a Vision for The University of Kansas Cancer Center

Since designation, KUCC leadership has carefully considered the needs of the catchment area and consulted membership, patients, key stakeholders and institutional leaders in developing a vision for the growth, development and transformation of KUCC into a leading cancer research and treatment organization worthy of NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center designation. Therefore, KUCC resolves to:

  • • Leverage our collective state-of-the-art basic, clinical, translational and population research programs to understand cancer at a fundamental level and catalyze a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to defeating cancer locally, regionally, nationally and globally;
  • • Develop, promote and implement a cancer center culture whose highest priority is to foster the discovery and advancement of new and more effective therapeutic approaches for the benefit of its patients; 
  • • Discover and develop paradigm changing therapeutic advances delivered in a compassionate, caring and cost-effective manner resulting in improved survival and quality of life for our patients;
  • • Proactively execute cancer prevention and control strategies to mitigate the increase in cancer incidence and mortality predicted for the twenty-first century;
  • • Train the next generation of leaders in cancer research, clinical care and advocacy; and
  • • Lead the effort to reduce the burden of cancer in our region and serve as a national model in doing so.

This vision guides KUCC forward and throughout this application many examples of our progress in implementing the vision will be demonstrated.

In 2004, upon Jensen’s arrival, the KMCRI had a total of $23M in total cancer-related research funding, of which $4.9M was from the NCI. Under Jensen’s leadership, KUCC’s members have garnered $61.2M in total overall cancer-related funding, of which $13.4M is from the NCI. KUCC operates as a matrix-organization facilitating horizontal and vertical integration that includes: the KUMC campuses in Kansas City, Wichita and Salina, the University of Kansas in Lawrence (KU-Lawrence) and its #8 ranked School of Pharmacy (per NIH funding), The University of Kansas Health System and (via consortium agreements) the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and Children’s Mercy. The cancer research capabilities fueled by Cancer Center faculty grants, contracts and institutional resources led to the development of four research programs and five shared resources.


 KUCC Research Programs and Shared Resources 
 KUCC Research Programs
KUCC Shared Resources 
 • Cancer Biology (CB)
 • Biospecimen (BSR)
 • Cancer Control and Population Health (CCPH)
 • Biostatistics and Informatics (BISR)
 • Cancer Prevention and Survivorship (CPS) 
 • Clinical Pharmacology (CPSR)
 • Drug Discovery, Delivery and Experimental Therapeutics (D3ET) 
 • Lead Development and Optimization (LDOSR)
   • Transgenic and Gene-Targeting (TGTSR)

KUCC has well-recognized national expertise and critically important, distinguishing assets in three areas that differentiate KUCC from other cancer centers. KUCC has used these assets (listed below) to build an exciting and dynamic cancer research center poised to make major contributions to the fight against cancer.

  • • Innovative Drug Discovery and Development Capabilities
  • • Stowers Institute for Medical Research
  • • Access to Neglected, Critically Underserved Populations (Rural America, Children and Native Americans)

Innovative Drug Discovery and Development Capabilities

KUCC strategically aims to build a dynamic environment for the development and advancement of promising new drug therapies to cancer patients. Critical to this pursuit was the establishment of key competencies and capabilities that translate cancer research insights into validated cancer drug targets, and the discovery and optimization of new therapeutic agents. In addition, KUCC recognizes that streamlining the advancement of new drug therapies through the early drug development process into clinical trials is critical to KUCC’s success. Furthermore, discovering, delivering and advancing new drug therapies requires expertise from a broad range of scientific disciplines including cell biology, biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, physical chemistry, structural biology, drug metabolism, bioanalytical chemistry, pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenomics, pharmacogenetics, biostatistics, bioinformatics, cancer biology, clinical research and regulatory science. Therefore, Jensen and the KUCC leadership team had the forethought to partner with:

  1. The University of Kansas in Lawrence recognizing its rich history of medicinal and pharmaceutical chemistry research conducted by the faculty within the School of Pharmacy
  2. Stowers and its world class cancer biology research; and most recently
  3. Children’s Mercy and its pediatric clinical pharmacology program. Leveraging each institution’s resources and faculty expertise, KUCC is uniquely positioned to accomplish each step along the drug discovery and development continuum.

Development of new therapies, especially in the era of targeted treatments and personalized medicine, is driven by understanding the underlying cell biology, molecular biology and biochemistry of tumor cells and their surrounding microenvironments. Therefore, the goals and objectives of the KUCC Cancer Biology (CB) research program are to understand the molecular mechanisms that define normal and neoplastic cell growth in order to identify and characterize molecules, pathways and processes that are involved in tumor growth and progression which can serve as useful biomarkers or as new cellular targets for cancer therapy. The CB program is positioned to be a major stimulus for discoveries that feed into KUCC’s drug discovery and development pipeline. 

To assist KUCC investigators in translating their basic cancer discoveries and to guide the drug development continuum, KUCC developed the Lead Development and Optimization shared resource (LDOSR). The LDOSR provides faculty access to expertise in target identification and validation, screening compounds, preclinical candidate development, drug delivery and preclinical proof of concept animal studies. Lead chemical candidates are selected, evaluated and optimized for in vivo, nonclinical proof of concept studies. Over the course of the last year these activities have been further enhanced by formation of the Target Acceleration Group, a multidisciplinary team of experts that drive developmental therapeutic projects across KUCC. 

KU Clinical Research CenterTo provide the final component needed to achieve translation from bench to bedside, KUCC gained support from Johnson County, Kansas voters during the November 2008 election to establish the Johnson County Education  and Research Triangle (JCERT) tax, a 1/8th cent sales tax that generates over $5M annually. The JCERT tax has no sunset provision and revenue from this tax supported the establishment of the University of Kansas Clinical Research Center

(KU CRC). The KU CRC opened in January 2012 and houses KUCC’s cancer clinical research infrastructure and the Masonic Cancer Alliance. The JCERT tax enhances KUCC’s ability to attract world-class researchers and to develop new and innovative approaches to prevent and treat cancer. It also ensures maintenance of the facilities for clinical research. Jensen developed the idea for this facility, worked with the legislature to enact enabling legislation and led the public campaign for passage of the ballot initiative. This state-of-the-art facility is described in Essential Characteristics – Physical Space.

As a result of strong intra- and inter-programmatic interactions, and the utilization of KUCC’s shared resources, the KUCC portfolio of innovative drug discovery and development projects has expanded exponentially under the leadership of Jensen and Associate Director for Translational Research, Scott Weir, PharmD, Phd, (listed below). These projects span the continuum of the drug discovery, delivery and development resources brought together by KUCC. 

KUCC Portfolio of Innovative Drug Discovery and Development Projects

  • • Nanotax® - Trial initiated → 2008; Study Published → 2015
  • • Ciclopirox Olamine - Trial initiated → 2009; Study Published → 2014
  • • Melphalan Captisol® - Trial initiated → 2009; Study Published → 2014
  • • 6-Mercaptopurine - Trial initiated → 2011; Manuscript Submitted → 2015
  • • Tigecycline - Trial initiated → 2011; Manuscript In Preparation → 2015 
  • • Auranofin - Trial initiated → 2011; Enrollment Complete
  • • Nicotinamide - Trial initiated → 2014; NCT02558595 Initiated
  • • Niacinamide - Trial initiated → 2015; Enrolling
  • • CB-5083 - Trial initiated → 2014; Enrolling 
  • • Ethacrynic Acid - Trial initiated → 2016; Enrolling 
  • • Pyrimethamine - FDA review in process; Trial initiation planned Fall 2016
  • • Daunorubicin - Trial initiation planned Fall 2016
  • • Ciclopirox Prodrug - IND submission planned; Protocol design in progress
  • • MSCTC-00100 - Pre-IND meeting with FDA complete; IND submission planned 1Q 2017
  • • Metarrestin - NExT proposal; Protocol design in progress

Stowers Institute for Medical Research 

In October 2009, The University of Kansas and Stowers reached an agreement to support cancer investigators and develop a joint cancer research agenda. Both institutions realized and valued the benefits to be obtained from a formal scientific collaboration and in 2015 the consortium agreement was renewed. Stowers is an independent, freestanding research institution founded by the late Jim, and Virginia Stowers. Mr. and Mrs. Stowers were motivated to found Stowers by a combination of their own experiences surviving cancer (prostate and breast, respectively) and their desire to give future generations better choices for treatment in the face of serious illness. Jim and Virginia Stowers endowed the Institute with gifts totaling over $2B. Eleven Stowers scientists are members of the KUCC Cancer Biology research program and have KUMC faculty appointments. Cancer-related NIH funding (non-NCI) awarded to Stowers totals about $1M annually. Regarding other funding, Stowers investigator Scott Hawley, PhD, holds an American Cancer Society Professorship and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Stowers’ scientists have leadership roles within KUCC; for example, Linheng Li, PhD, is co-leader of the Cancer Biology research program. Additionally, several of the Stowers scientists have taught in a KUMC graduate course on Cancer Biology (Hawley, Li, Baumann) and several PhD students in the Stowers graduate program have taken the KU School of Medicine graduate Cancer Biology course. Last but not least, Stowers scientists have assisted in KUCC investigator recruitment, providing the KUCC Director with essential feedback on the quality of the candidates. Stowers specifically played a major role in the recruitment of Danny Welch, Phd, as the Associate Director for Basic Science and Education and Tom Curran, Phd, FRS, as the new director of the Children’s Research Institute at Children’s Mercy.

Collaborative research efforts between KUCC members at KUMC and Stowers have resulted in a number of significant publications. One study, a joint effort between Cancer Biology program members, Wen-Xing Ding, Phd, (CB) at KUMC and Li (CB) at Stowers, described how the Dlk1-Gtl2 locus preserves LT-HSC function by inhibiting the PI3K-mTOR pathway to restrict mitochondrial metabolism (Qian, Cell Stem Cell, 2016). Another study, between Jerry Workman, Phd (CB) at Stowers and Dutta (D3ET) at KU-Lawrence, described how the histone acetyltransferase Enok regulates oocyte polarization by promoting expression of the actin nucleation factor spire (Huang, Genes & Development, 2014).

Critically Underserved Populations

Many Kansas residents, whether they lived in the urban areas of Kansas City and Wichita, or the sparsely populated counties of western Kansas, often had to drive several hundred miles to access the nearest NCI designated cancer center prior to our designation in 2012. In the KUCC catchment area, which includes 105 counties in Kansas and 18 counties in Western Missouri, it is estimated that over 22,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 8,500 people will die from cancer in 2016. Cancer causes ~15 deaths per day in both Kansas and Western Missouri, and accounts for approximately 22% of all deaths. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Kansas and this has been the case since 2010. The KUCC vision consists of not only achieving research excellence and delivering advanced care in the Kansas City metro area, but also ensuring that cancer patients across the state and region have access to cutting-edge clinical trials and cancer care close to home. Many Kansas residents, whether they lived in the urban areas of Kansas City and Wichita, or the sparsely populated counties of western Kansas, often had to drive several hundred miles to access the nearest NCI designated cancer center (Figure 1) prior to our designation in 2012. In a state covering over 92,000 square miles with only four tertiary care hospitals (Kansas City-1, Topeka-1 and Wichita-2) it is difficult to deliver primary care to the entire population, let alone provide sophisticated cancer care. Despite these challenges, in 2015 KUCC’s academic clinical program extended care to over 3,900 new cancer patients and placed 457 patients on therapeutic clinical trials, representing 9% of the index cancer cases. 

Kansas also has a surprisingly diverse population including a rapidly growing Hispanic community, African- American urban poor, significant Native American communities (four reservations), immigrant Asian populations associated with the meatpacking industry and elderly rural whites. KUCC is committed to addressing the challenges and meeting the needs of these populations and other underserved minorities, indeed KUCC believes the strong relationship to these communities is a differentiating asset. With the addition of Children’s Mercy as a consortium partner, KUCC now has direct access to over 95% of the childhood cancer cases that occur within the catchment area and a greatly increased capacity to impact cancer prevention initiatives such as the regional effort to increase HPV vaccination.

The KUCC Cancer Control and Population Health (CCPH) research program was developed explicitly to identify better ways to bring cancer control efforts into high risk and underserved communities. Specifically, the CCPH research program brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers focused on 1) identifying new strategies to improve smoking cessation and enhancing the capability of clinical systems to deliver proven smoking cessation services, and 2) advancing the science of translating cancer control into communities and clinical practice, with a particular emphasis on addressing the translational research needs of the underserved in our catchment area. Since the creation of the CCPH research program, KUCC members have made remarkable progress in developing the infrastructure to conduct cancer control research in underserved, regional rural, American Indian, African American and Latino communities as witnessed by their impressive accrual of underserved populations to cancer control trials.

As the only academically-based clinical and basic cancer research center in the region, KUCC is the only institution  capable of serving as an NCI-designated cancer center for Kansas and western Missouri and meeting the needs of diverse underserved populations. To address specific population-based needs, KUCC utilizes two established programs. The first is the Masonic Cancer Alliance (MCA), which was created in 2007 as a network of regional hospitals to ensure the latest clinical discoveries were extended to patients throughout the region. The MCA members include those institutions depicted in the map (Figure 2). This past year, the scope of the MCA has been significantly expanded by the incorporation of the Kansas Patients and Providers Engaged in Prevention Research (KPPEPR). This network of over 75 primary care practices across the state of Kansas has a longstanding history of supporting cancer prevention and control research initiatives and will greatly expand our ability to conduct trials and implementation research focused at the level of the primary care practitioner. The second is the Community Partnership for Health (CPH) program, a component of the Clinical and Translational Science Award that supports Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at KUMC. The CPH program has considerable reach in the Kansas City region and across Kansas through many practice and research networks. CPH also has investigators experienced with working in and with diverse communities available for consultation and collaboration with KUCC members. Simultaneously developing KUCC and Frontiers has been a coordinated effort to maximize benefit, facilitate shared resources and avoid unnecessary duplication. KUCC and Frontiers leadership see mutual value in both the KUCC MCA and the Frontiers CPH program sharing these respective resources and having a common leadership: The MCA director sits on the CPH Community Council and the CPH director (Allen Greiner, MD) is an accomplished investigator in the CCPH program and is the principal investigator of a newly awarded NCI R01 (R01CA188898).

To fully leverage the patient perspective and KUCC’s critically underserved populations, Sally Maliski, RN, Phd, and other KUCC members are working to develop an initiative known as PIVOT: Patient and Investigator Voices Organizing Together. PIVOT is an evolving community of patient research advocates learning and working with academic research stakeholders to enhance research to more effectively address patients’ needs and desired outcomes. PIVOT aims to engage patients, caregivers and communities to inform, collaborate, support and shape cancer research to optimally reflect what is important to patients. The PIVOT initiative expands on KUCC’s mission to empower patients, reach underserved communities and advance quality cancer research and care. PIVOT will ultimately provide resources to expand KUCC’s focus on patient-centered research and care by offering an engagement venue and framework encouraging a culture that welcomes diverse patient perspectives and experiences.

Given the above historical overview and a strong commitment to serve Kansas and western Missouri, the specific goals of KUCC, significant administrative highlights and research accomplishments leading up to the submission of this competitive renewal are presented below.

Development of The University of Kansas Cancer Center (Highlights and Accomplishments)

Over the last four years substantial progress has been made garnering institutional commitment, recruiting key leadership positions, building nationally significant research programs, developing KUCC’s clinical research program, improving and expanding facilities and fostering transdisciplinary and collaborative interactions. With input from KUCC membership and approval by the KUCC leadership and External Advisory Board, KUCC established three central goals that will ensure KUCC makes a national impact in the fight against cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families:

  • Goal 1: Become a leading academic institution for transforming discoveries from the laboratory into new anticancer drug therapies. This will be achieved through effective collaborative partnerships with academia, industry, government and disease philanthropy organizations and by advancing new therapeutics into Phase I clinical trials.
  • Goal 2: Provide an optimal environment for basic, translational, clinical, and population-based research in oncology by developing and fostering a collaborative, collegial and dynamic culture of scientific inquiry supported by outstanding nationally-recognized cancer research programs and high quality investigator-focused, customer-friendly shared resources utilizing the latest technology.
  • Goal 3: Be a nationally recognized leader in partnering with community oncologists and other key stakeholders to develop, promote and foster the adoption and implementation of evidence-based cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, control and survivorship practices throughout our service area.

Strengthening the KUCC Leadership Team

Since the arrival of Jensen in 2004, the KUCC leadership team has been built to leverage a group of exceptional scientists and leaders. Each of these leaders has proven to be an outstanding addition to the team and all have played key roles in developing and implementing the KUCC vision and continued recruitment of additional faculty. The KUCC leadership team includes three new additions since our initial designation (listed chronologically):

Andrew Godwin, Director, Biospecimen Shared ResourceAndrew Godwin, PhD, Deputy Director, was promoted from Associate Director for Translational Research-Correlative Science in 2012. He also holds the title of Director, Molecular Oncology, Director, Biospecimen Shared Resource and Chancellor’s Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Sciences Endowed Professor. Godwin, an NCI-funded scientist, was recruited in 2010 from Fox Chase Cancer Center (FCCC) in Philadelphia, PA where he held several leadership positions including: 1) Co-leader of the Women’s Cancer Program, 2) Director, Clinical Molecular Genetics Laboratory, 3) Director, Biosample Repository, 4) Co-principal investigator of the FCCC-University of Pennsylvania NCI-supported Ovarian Cancer SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) and 5) Associate Director of the NCI-funded Early Detection Research Network Clinical Validation Center programs at FCCC. He has a research program that focuses on translational oncology research and is a highly published (>350 manuscripts) and cited (nearly 30,000) scientist.

Carol FabianCarol Fabian, MD, Associate Director for Clinical Research, was promoted from co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Survivorship Program in 2016 following the departure of Parvesh Kumar, MD who left to become the founding director of the cancer center at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Fabian is a breast medical oncologist who enjoys an international reputation in translational research in breast oncology. She has served on multiple study sections, is past chair of the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Prevention Committee, serves on editorial boards of multiple journals and for the past six years has led the Southwest Oncology Group's Cancer Survivorship Committee. Fabian is highly regarded as a clinician and was instrumental in bringing the multidisciplinary outpatient cancer treatment center to the University of Kansas. Fabian has received many accolades and awards during her long career at KUCC including the University Distinguished Professor Award. She is widely acknowledged to be one of the most notable clinical and translational investigators in the history of the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Sally MaliskiSally Maliski , RN, PhD, FAAN, Associate Director for Health Equity, was recruited from the University of California, Los Angeles to be the Dean of the School of Nursing and to oversee cancer disparities and health equity research and outreach efforts for the Cancer Center. Maliski has had a distinguished career focusing on cancer disparities in the Hispanic community particularly as it relates to men with prostate cancer. Since her arrival in early 2016, she has been working to develop a comprehensive program that will identify, implement and fund research that is critical to reducing cancer-related health disparities; work to ensure that health disparities are addressed at the levels of basic discovery, clinical trials and community engagement; engage with communities to ensure that the cancer-related interests and needs of underrepresented populations are identified and addressed; develop specific, targeted research interventions in collaboration with those in underserved populations to reduce cancer disparities; facilitate partnerships with community and health care organizations such as safety net clinics, hospitals and the MCA to promote early detection screening, education and cancer prevention strategies; and coordinate efforts across programs to increase recruitment of underrepresented populations into cancer research.  

The Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation (IAMI);

In 2006, KUCC invested $300,000 to create the Office of Therapeutics, Drug Discovery and Development (OTDD). OTDD quickly established innovative drug discovery, development and translational research best practices and initiated multiple developmental therapeutics projects focused on cancer. Through novel partnerships with industry, academia, government and disease philanthropy partners, OTDD was successful in advancing several new cancer treatments to patients from 2006-2008. Leveraging these successes, KUCC was awarded an $8.1M grant by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in January 2009, along with an $8.0M matched investment made by the KU Endowment Association to expand the OTDD to create The Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation (IAMI). IAMI is a nationally recognized proof of concept center focused on transforming basic research into new drug therapies, diagnostics and medical devices, and then translating those medical innovations to patients. IAMI enabled KUCC to recruit additional pharmaceutical industry experts to further enhance the D3ET research program, and expand its capacity to support drug discovery, delivery and experimental therapeutics efforts across the entire Cancer Center. IAMI relies on an Industry Advisory Board to select high-potential projects based on laboratory and bedside discoveries made by KUCC members. Product development-focused investments are made to support execution of project plans by empowered, multidisciplinary, multi-organizational project teams co-led by KUCC members and an IAMI project manager.
KUCC’s investment in translational research is further leveraged by the institution, as IAMI is also positioned as one of the key differentiators in the Frontiers CTSA application. To date, IAMI has invested >$8.1M in 48 drug, diagnostic and medical device projects. Nine investments have resulted in royalty-bearing license agreements and one drug product, Epaned™, has been approved. IAMI's therapeutic areas of focus are cancer and rare diseases. To date, IAMI has invested $2.8M in 15 cancer projects. IAMI is recognized nationally for its product development-focused translational research methods and processes, including its successful partnerships such as The Learning Collaborative (IAMI, NCATS, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) and Sarcoma Learning Collaborative (IAMI, NCATS, Children's Mercy). Furthermore, KUCC is leveraging the "learnings" from these partnerships to establish collaborations with other NCI Cancer Centers including Kentucky, New Mexico, Iowa and Washington University in St. Louis.

Recent Major Scientific Accomplishments

Major scientific accomplishments of KUCC and how each relate to KUCC’s overall vision are presented below:

Leverage our collective state-of-the-art basic, clinical, translational and population research programs to understand cancer at a fundamental level and catalyze a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to defeating cancer locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
KUCC is proud of the fact that two D3ET members (Russ Middaugh, PhD, and David Volkin, PhD) were responsible for the development of the Gardasil HPV vaccines while employed at Merck. This achievement represents one of the most important advances in cancer prevention of the last 50 years and has the potential to prevent over 30,000 cases of HPV-related cancer in the US alone. It is therefore quite ironic that in 2013, Kansas was identified as having the lowest HPV vaccination rate in the country. This stunning and embarrassing finding led to an immediate call by KUCC leadership to develop a comprehensive response to this critical issue. Initially, KUCC recruited new faculty to the CCPH program (Doug Myers, MD, and Kevin Ault, MD) and developed an HPV immunization action team that aims to a) enhance the understanding of the problem; b) raise community awareness of the issue; and c) foster research that could help address the problem. CCPH members Ellerbeck and Cupertino are working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Immunize Kansas Coalition to identify research needs specific to the KUCC catchment area. Additionally, a new data-use agreement with the KDHE allowed CCPH members to analyze and present HPV immunizations by middle school catchment area and highlight the importance of linking HPV immunization to the required 7th grade TDAP immunization. With the support of Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and KUCC pilot funds, these data are now being used to work with and engage pediatricians, school nurses and public health professionals in both Kansas and Missouri to lay out the critical groundwork needed for HPV vaccine implementation research. KUCC will and must do better and has developed a plan to do so. The results of these efforts should be available by early next year.

Develop, promote and implement a cancer center culture whose highest priority is to foster the discovery and advancement of new and more effective therapeutic approaches for the benefit of its patients.
A multidisciplinary, multi-organizational team of basic, translational and clinical scientists co-led by Li (CB) and Melinda Broward, KU Lawrence, (LDOSR Project Director), have advanced a laboratory discovery generated at Stowers to a clinical proof-of-concept trial in acute myeloid leukemia for both adult and pediatric patients. Loss of the PTEN tumor suppressor activates the PI3K-AKT pathway. If Wnt signaling is abnormally activated at the same time, β-catenin is then phosphorylated by Akt at the c-terminal serine 552. Li demonstrated that serine 552 phosphorylation is critical to the successful interaction between Akt and β-catenin (Perry, Genes Dev, 2011). This successful interaction induces proliferation of leukemia stem cells. Anuradha Roy, PhD, KU Lawrence, (D3ET) identified through high throughput screening that anthracyclines inhibit cooperation between Akt and β-catenin in vitro. Li established in vivo proof of principle, demonstrating that anthracyclines administered at 1/40th the cytotoxic dose, depleted leukemia initiating LSCs in a validated mouse model. Tara Lin, MD, (D3ET) and Li established that the target, i.e., phosphorylated serine 552, was present in 6/10 AML patients, 5/10 B-ALL patients and 7/10 T-ALL patients. As a result, Lin and Raymond Perez, MD, (D3ET) have initiated a hypothesis-driven investigator-initiated clinical trial that is enrolling AML and ALL patients to evaluate low-dose daunorubicin as an inhibitor of β-catenin S552 phosphorylation.

Scott Weir, PharmD, PhD, working in the lab.Discover and develop paradigm changing therapeutic advances delivered in a compassionate, caring and cost-effective manner resulting in improved survival and quality of life for our patients.
Weir (D3ET) and Shrikant Anant, PhD, (CPS) discovered and developed Ciclopirox Prodrug (CPX-POM), a potential breakthrough treatment in the management of high-grade non-muscle invasive bladder cancer NMIBC (Issued US Patent 8609637). Ciclopirox (CPX) possesses anti-cancer activity against NMIBC in vitro and in vivo via novel mechanisms of action. In contrast to current standard of care treatment, the patented prodrug CPX-POM delivers the CPX to the entire urinary tract. CPX acts as an anti-cancer agent, in part, by inhibiting the Notch signaling pathway via inhibition of the -secretase complex. In collaboration with John Taylor, MD, the team demonstrated that systemic administration of CPX-POM delivers bioactive concentrations of CPX to the urinary tract, resulting in decreased tumor size, migration to lower stage tumors, and reduction in downstream Notch signaling pathway proteins in vivo. The LDOSR, under the leadership of Michael Baltezor, PhD, KU Lawrence, (D3ET), provided drug synthesis, formulation development, preclinical safety and pharmacokinetic support. CPX-POM has been licensed to a local biotechnology firm, CicloMed LLC. KUCC is partnering with CicloMed to advance CPX- POM to clinical proof of concept, with Eugene Lee, MD, (CB) evaluating this agent in patients beginning early 2017. The LDOSR and Clinical Pharmacology Shared Resource (Greg Reed, PhD, D3ET) support drug development efforts sponsored by CicloMed. In response to the 2012 CCSG critique, CPX-POM represents the first KU-invented anti-cancer agent advanced from the bench to the bedside at KUCC. CPX-POM will represent one of the first new agents directed against NMIBC in decades.

Proactively execute cancer prevention and control strategies to mitigate the increase in cancer incidence and mortality predicted for the twenty-first century.
African Americans (AA) smoke fewer cigarettes per day than the general population, but experience disproportionately greater smoking attributable morbidity and mortality. CCPH members (Babalola Faseru, MD, MPH; Nikki Nollen, PhD, MA and Lisa Cox, PhD) along with collaborators across the country (J. Ahluwalia (University of Minnesota Medical School), N. Benowitz (UCSF), and R. Tyndale (University of Toronto)) are leading efforts to understand the interplay of biology, behavior and pharmacology as it relates to smoking cessation among AAs. Together, this team has received federal funding (NIH or PCORI) for seven clinical trials, enrolled more than 3,000 AA smokers and published more than 50 articles, including work supporting a report to the FDA on the hazards of menthol in tobacco products. Cox and Nollen are currently leading efforts to address the harms of ‘light’ and non-daily smoking among AA smokers and testing new treatment strategies (Cox, J National Cancer Institute, 2012). With important implications for the FDA and regulation of cigarette additives, they extended their prior work to show that menthol is a deterrent to successful cessation, even among light smokers. This work has helped to provide the scientific foundation for the recent FDA proposal to ban menthol and all other flavors in tobacco products currently under review.

Train the next generation of leaders in cancer research, clinical care and advocacy.
In 2015, Welch and Jensen led a national effort to help define the education criteria for CCSG institutions (Welch, Cancer Res, 2015). This initiative played a critical role in the planning and implementation of KUCC cancer educational efforts. Since NCI-designation, KUCC has greatly expanded its educational initiatives and currently provides formal and informal training in both professional skills as well as career development for faculty and staff. In addition to a weekly CME-accruing seminar series, which features internal and external speakers representing all research programs, in 2016, the University of Kansas Board of Regents approved a new graduate (MS and PhD) program in Cancer Biology, which provides foundational knowledge to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows on all campuses using state-of-the-art video conferencing. Faculty members have been active in working with students to secure F-series grants and two T32 in chemical biology and pharmaceutical aspects of biotechnology. Over the last grant period, KUCC increased it’s funding of training grant awards from $1.3M to $2.4M.

Lead the effort to reduce the burden of cancer in our region and serve as a national model in doing so.
KUCC has been very effective in developing, advocating for and obtaining passage of important public policy measures that will have a significant impact on cancer incidence and mortality in our region. Examples of these efforts are listed below.

Populations of the Tobacco 21 Cities

  • • Played a key role in convincing the state of Kansas to pass a strong Clean Indoor Air bill that prohibits smoking in public places;
  • • Obtained a regulatory ruling from the Office of the Kansas State Insurance Commissioner that mandates insurance coverage for routine care for patients participating in clinical trials coverage, including Phase I clinical trials;
  • • Developed and obtained passage of a bill establishing equivalent insurance coverage for oral chemotherapy agents;
  • • Established a special license plate that supports breast cancer care and research throughout the Masonic Cancer Alliance;
  • • Advocated for and obtained passage of the Johnson County Education and Research Tax bill, which is a 1/8 cent sales tax that goes to support the KUCC clinical trials program. Currently this effort provides over $5M in support of our clinical research efforts;
  • • In conjunction with a number of advocacy groups, KUCC backed an increase of the Kansas state tax on tobacco products by 50 cents per pack;
  • • KUCC successfully promoted raising the age requirement to purchase tobacco products to age 21 in 18 municipalities throughout greater metropolitan Kansas City. These ordinances collectively impact over 1.4M people on both sides of the state line;
  • • KUCC successfully supported passage of a bill mandating Radon testing for any home sold in the state of Kansas; and 
  • • In collaboration with the American Cancer Society, KUCC developed, advocated for and obtained passage of one of the strongest Indoor Tanning bills in the country. This bill prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning facility and does not allow for parental exceptions.

Summary and Consideration for Comprehensive Status

The University of Kansas Cancer Center has experienced significant growth, expansion and enhancement of its national impact over the last decade. With the strong support of university, state and local leadership KUCC has engaged in a concerted effort to establish an outstanding cancer research and clinical care facility worthy of recognition as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. With the submission of this first competitive renewal, it is KUCC’s assessment, and the assessment of the KUCC External Advisory Board that KUCC meets the criteria and requests to be considered for comprehensive status. 

KUCC has over $61M of cancer research funding spanning basic research, clinical investigation and cancer control/prevention and population science. KUCC has exceptional strength in stem cell biology, transcriptional and translational regulation, metastasis research, drug discovery and development, tobacco control and breast cancer prevention. In the 2016 US News & World Report assessment, The University of Kansas Cancer Center was ranked #25 for cancer programs, after having been unranked prior to 2011. KUCC also had the 4th best mortality index for cancer care in US News & World Report list  despite having experienced a rapid expansion of the clinical program over the last decade. Indeed KUCC has more than tripled the number of cancer patients cared for at the institution since 2004. Coincident with this expansion KUCC has seen a 10-fold increase in accruals to therapeutic clinical trials from 2004 to 2015, and a 7-fold increase in bone marrow transplants since 2007 (now the 10th largest program in the country). In addition, for the first time, KUCC has enabled local phase I clinical trial access for patients within the catchment area.

KUCC has nearly tripled its cancer research funding from 2004-2015 and doubled its academic productivity from 2011-2015 as measured by peer-reviewed publications. KUCC has seen significant increases in intra-programmatic (86%), inter-programmatic (168%) and cross-campus member (53%) publications; and multi-PI grant funding and collaborations (63%). As a testament to the quality of its research efforts, multiple KUCC members have been recognized by their peers through election to a number of prestigious organizations. KUCC now has three National Academy of Science members (Curran, Hawley, Rob Krumlauf, PhD), National Academy of Inventors member (Stella), one Royal Society of London member (Curran), seven American Academy of Arts and Sciences members (J. Conaway, R. Conaway, Curran, Hawley, Krumlauf, Li, Workman); one Howard Hughes Medical Institute member (Peter Baumann, PhD), one American Cancer Society Research Professor (Hawley) and one Pew Scholar (Baumann). In addition, Brantley Thrasher, MD, is currently the president of the American Urology Association, Welch was elected president of the Cancer Biology Training Consortium (CABTRAC) and Jensen was recently selected as vice president/president-elect of the Association of American Cancer Institutes.

Over the course of their careers, KUCC scientists have been responsible for: helping define the stem cell niche for the intestine and bone marrow (Li); pioneering and validating the role of KRAS testing in defining the treatment for colon cancer (Godwin); developing the major technique to assess efficacy of chemoprevention agents in breast cancer (Fabian); discovering and characterizing multiple metastasis suppressor genes (Welch); discovering the role of mi-RNA expression in BRCA1-mediated tumor suppression (Jensen); establishing DCLK1 as a marker of quiescent/reserve stem cells in the intestine (Anant); providing some of the first evidence that menthol plays a significant role in maintaining nicotine addiction (Faseru, Nollen, Cox); formulating the drugs Taxol®, Velcade®, (Valentino Stella, PhD, KU Lawrence) and the Gardasil® vaccine (Middaugh, Volkin) and providing national leadership in re-engineering the Clinical and Translational Science Award program (Weir). In addition, KUCC was named the academic drug discovery and development partner for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

KUCC’s strategy focusing on leveraging regional scientific assets to build a nationally significant cancer research center that is a leading institution for transforming laboratory and bedside discoveries into new therapeutic approaches is driving the success of its translational and trans-disciplinary research efforts as witnessed by the opening of 15 phase I trials driven by KUCC science since 2009; including three new chemical entities and one novel cellular therapy emerging in the last four years, two of which represent first-in-class inhibitors (the p97 inhibitor, CB-5083 and the perinucleolar compartment disassembler, Metarrestin).

The University of Kansas serves as the flagship research institution and the only academic medical center in the region. As such, it is responsible for the education of approximately half the physicians and a major proportion of allied healthcare professionals throughout the region. The majority of oncology care providers within the catchment area have received at least a portion of their training at KUCC and nearly all graduate students, residents and fellows engaged in cancer research and clinical training within the region are affiliated with KUCC. To facilitate and expand cancer research, education and training opportunities KUCC drove the creation of two new departments with an exclusive (Cancer Biology) or major (Biostatistics) focus on cancer. As a result, KUCC has nearly doubled the training grant support at our center since 2012. In addition, Welch and Jensen led an initiative to define cancer education and training standards for NCI designated centers (Welch, Cancer Res, 2016).

KUCC leadership has carefully defined its catchment area and leveraged the Masonic Cancer Alliance KPPEPR and PIVOT initiatives to address regional needs. As a result of these efforts KUCC has successfully advocated for a robust public policy agenda that has been detailed above. In addition, members of the Cancer Control and Population Health research program have developed substantial engagement efforts specifically designed and tailored for underserved and underrepresented populations including African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and rural Americans. 

Throughout this undertaking KUCC has had exceptional support. For example, as a result of efforts by county officials, voters approved a 1/8th cent sales tax initiative to fund the Cancer Center, making KUCC the only NCI-designated cancer center supported by a local tax. In addition, KUCC has raised over $194M of philanthropic support since 2004 for the development and expansion of the Cancer Center. Finally, KUCC enjoys unparalleled bipartisan support from state and local governments. These achievements, perhaps more than any others, are the ones for which KUCC is most proud.  

Masonic Cancer Alliance   Stowers Research Institute   Johnson County Education and Research Triangle

The University of Kansas Hospital - Kansas City, KS      Children's Mercy Hospital - Kansas City