NCI Designations Propel Innovation at Two Prestigious Cancer Institutions

OncologyLive, Vol. 20/No. 16, Volume 20, Issue 16

Residents of Indiana now have a National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in their state, and Floridians have another designated Cancer Center in theirs. Both institutions, the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis and the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, are OncLive® Strategic Alliance Partners.

Douglas R. Lowy, MD

Residents of Indiana now have a National Cancer Institute (NCI)—designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in their state, and Floridians have another designated Cancer Center in theirs. Both institutions, the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center (IU Simon Cancer Center) in Indianapolis and the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (UM Sylvester), are OncLive® Strategic Alliance Partners.

The NCI designations are awarded to cancer centers considered among the best in the United States in both clinical research and scientific leadership. Selected institutions receive NCI funding to provide patients with access to cutting-edge treatments. The designations also recognize institutions for their resources and the depth and breadth of their research in basic, clinical, and preventive work in cancer population science. The Comprehensive Cancer Center designation is awarded to institutions that also demonstrate substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges scientific areas.

In August, IU Simon Cancer Center became the 51st institution and the first in Indiana to receive the Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the NCI. The center received an “outstanding” rating from NCI reviewers and will receive a 5-year, $13.8 million grant, a 43% increase over the past 5 years, to support ongoing research programs and shared facilities. The center was previously an NCI-designated Cancer Center.

“Designated Cancer Centers are recognized for their state-of-the-art research programs and strong commitment to delivering cutting-edge cancer treatment for patients,” said Douglas R. Lowy, MD, acting director of the NCI, during an event at the Indiana University campus. “They are at the core of the nation’s cancer research effort.”

The IU Simon Cancer Center has a rich history of groundbreaking discoveries and contributions in cancer investigation. In 1973, Giants of Cancer Care® awardee Lawrence H. Einhorn, MD, arrived at the IU School of Medicine and began his historic achievement in creating a cisplatin- based triplet regimen for testicular cancer. His leadership increased the overall survival rate from 5% to 95% and significantly reduced toxicity and duration of treatment.

In 2018, the IU Simon Cancer Center managed over 350 ongoing clinical trials, including 104 investigator-led trials implemented by IU researchers. The center is also on the forefront of advanced treatments, offering patients chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy and, through its precision genomics program, targeted therapies. With investigators holding 459 grants totaling over $60 million in external funding, the IU Simon Center fosters an entrepreneurial drive in the life sciences field.

In 2018, the IU Simon Cancer Center received a $500,000 grant to participate in the NCI’s Cancer Center Cessation Initiative to help patients who smoke quit. It also offers human papillomavirus vaccination clinics and promotes colorectal cancer screenings in collaboration with the Indiana State Department of Health, and it collaborates with the Reaching to End Disparities Alliance and Pink-4-Ever to target breast cancer mortality that disproportionately affects African American women.

In July, UM Sylvester, part of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, became the 71st NCI-designated Cancer Center. The institution, known for its contributions to cancer epigenetics, tumor biology, and cancer control, is the second in the state of Florida to receive the designation, joining Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

“This is a testament to the incredible focus and teamwork of every single member of our center,” Stephen D. Nimer, MD, director of UM Sylvester, said during a press conference. “We have more than 300 world-class physicians and researchers who are working together on outstanding collaborative and multidisciplinary research that is benefiting or will benefit patients here in our community and across the globe. This is just the beginning.”

UM Sylvester has a phase I clinical trial program, the earliest stage of clinical investigation in humans, dedicated to evaluating novel agents in qualifying patients with cancer. Under the direction of Jaime Merchan, MD, the program helps lay the foundation for advancing cancer care for patients for whom standard therapies may have limited efficacy. The facility is also host to over 390 clinical trials currently underway.

UM Sylvester is also dedicated to improving public health in the surrounding community. Programs launched at the institute include the Firefighter Cancer Initiative, an ongoing study that aims to reduce cancer risks among Florida firefighters, and the Game Changer mobile outreach center, designed to address health disparities in medically underserved communities experiencing high cancer incidence and mortality.

“Public health and community outreach are a vital part of our mission at the Miller School,” Henri R. Ford, MD, MHA, dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School of Medicine, said. “Through our education and training programs at Sylvester, we are preparing the next generation of cancer researchers and physicians, all as we serve our community.”

NCI-designated Cancer Centers are selected from an in-depth, peer-reviewed evaluation focusing on research programs, faculty, and facilities that provide innovative approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Each year, approximately 250,000 patients receive their diagnosis at an NCI-designated Cancer Center, and even more patients get treatment at these institutions.

Other changes in NCI designations among OncLive® Strategic Alliance Partners include the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, which gained its designation in 2018 as the only NCI-designated Cancer Center in Oklahoma, and NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, which received a designation change to Comprehensive Cancer Center in February. Additionally, in May, John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack Meridian Health of New Jersey, became a research consortium member of the NCI-approved Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC.