One of the best: UF Health Cancer Center earns NCI designation

Ben Sasse UF
The designation brings with it the promise of additional state funding

The University of Florida Health Cancer Center announced Tuesday it has met the rigorous requirements for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation.

The UF Health Cancer Center is the 72nd cancer center to achieve the designation in the United States and becomes the fourth in Florida to earn the prestigious honor. The designation sharpens UF Health Cancer Center’s competitive edge when vying for cancer research grants and brings with it an annual $2 million commitment from the NCI for the university to use to help attract more world-class researchers and clinical investigators.

And all that means better health care for cancer patients.

“This is a big deal — and it’s going to make a difference for many of Florida’s families as their loved ones fight cancer,” UF President Ben Sasse said. “This designation keeps UF Health and the UF Health Cancer Center on the cutting edge of research and innovation — and ensures top-notch care.”

The designation also brings with it the promise of additional funding from the Florida Legislature, which wrangled over how much additional funding to appropriate to the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program and which academic cancer centers should qualify for the money.

Historically, the additional cancer funds have been limited to three Florida-based cancer research centers: Moffitt Cancer Center, The University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer and UF Health Cancer Center, the first two of which had been NCI designated.

The amount of additional state funding the centers receive is tied to their NCI designation level. Because UF was working on its designation, it received less funds than Moffit or UM Sylvester.

NCI is the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training. Based on the type and breadth of research conducted, the NCI awards one of three designations: comprehensive cancer centers, focused on substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges all cancer-related research areas; cancer centers, focused on one research area such as clinical, prevention, cancer control or population science research; or basic laboratory cancer centers, focused on laboratory research and work collaboratively with other institutions.

During the 2023 Session, Rep. Sam Garrison and House Speaker Paul Renner proposed spending an additional $27.5 million per year on the program but also pushed to allow Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center in Jacksonville — which has its NCI designation — to qualify for funding through the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Program.

But that required getting the Senate to agree to change the underlying 2014 law (initially known as the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers Program but later renamed after the First Lady) to eliminate the requirement that the cancer center be Florida based.

Meanwhile, UF graduate and chair of the Senate’s health care spending panel, Sen. Gayle Harrell, wanted to increase the amount of additional funding UF Health Cancer Center qualified for. She made the move after being forwarded an email from the NCI that it would be announcing the designation in June.

Ultimately, though, the Legislature agreed to allow Moffitt to participate in the cancer program but rejected the move to increase funding for UF Health Cancer Center. At the time, Garrison told Florida Politics that the designation was not “done-done.”

Garrison told Florida Politics Tuesday he was “thrilled” with the news UF Health Cancer had received its NCI designation.

“It’s a big win for all Floridians and a testament to the hard work and professionalism of the entire UF team,” he said. “As we start looking ahead to next year’s legislative budget cycle, I’m confident their research funding will be commensurate with the status they have earned.”

Meanwhile, the university is expanding space for cancer researchers with the opening this summer of the Malachowsky Hall for Data Science & Information Technology. In addition to adding space, the center will help attract new faculty. UF Health Cancer Center hopes to triple cancer research funding over the next decade.

John R. Wingard, M.D., is the deputy director of the UF Health Cancer Center and the Price Eminent Scholar and professor in the division of hematology and oncology at the UF College of Medicine. He said the designation is an assurance to the local community and state that the center’s clinical research programs are making a major impact on cancer outcomes.

“It is an important recognition that we are on the right path to usher in a future in which the expected outcome of a cancer diagnosis is a cure and everyone in our community has ready access to personalized care,” he said.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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