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The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been awarded a five-year Cancer Center Core Support Grant of $27,477,570 from the National Cancer Institute.
The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been awarded a five-year Cancer Center Core Support Grant of $27,477,570 from the National Cancer Institute. This prestigious federal grant renewal provides support for UAB’s cancer research program through 2026.
“We are honored that the NCI renewed our core grant for the 10th time, bringing us to more than five decades of continuous funding. This reflects the many important accomplishments of O’Neal investigators and staff over the past 50 years,” said Barry Sleckman, MD, PhD, director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It sets the stage for our important work going forward as we continue to focus on reducing cancer burdens and disparities in the state of Alabama.”
The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Alabama and in a four-state region. It is also one of the first eight NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States. Just four years ago, it became the beneficiary of a $30 million naming gift from the O’Neal family and shareholders — UAB’s largest single gift at that time — enabling it to transition from the previously named UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center to the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.
The grant renewal process is rigorous and competitive, requiring a grant application that takes months to prepare. The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center renewal application received the highest impact score in its history, resulting in a ranking of “outstanding” from the NCI. Within the center, the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Research Program received a rank of “exceptional,” while the NCI also bestowed high scores on O’Neal’s overall cancer relevance and the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement.
The NCI CCSG grant complements more than $50 million annually in cancer-focused research grants that fund O’Neal scientists; but it is foundational to achieving the center’s mission to advance our understanding of cancer to improve prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship for all people.
Under the leadership of Sleckman, who joined the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center in January 2020 after serving as the associate director of the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is a significant part of UAB’s economic footprint, with the NCI CCSG constituting the second-largest grant on campus. It enables hundreds of O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center members to continue to advance innovative cancer research, improve cutting-edge patient care, and expand community outreach and access to care, while recruiting and training the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.
Last year, the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center enrolled 439 participants in clinical trials, which is one way physicians and scientists actively participate in efforts to improve cancer therapies, diagnostic techniques and prevention strategies. Doctors at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center offer more than 200 cancer-related clinical trials that explore a wide array of therapies, diagnostics and preventive options, along with community-based trials in cancer survivorship research.
“Today many patients on clinical trials are experiencing remarkable, disease-altering effects on cancers that were uniformly lethal just yesterday,” Sleckman said. “For this reason, offering cancer patients clinical trial opportunities is really the standard of care for cancer at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. Our CCSG ensures that this can continue to be a top priority, and we look forward to expanding our efforts in this endeavor.”
“The center’s basic science and translational research programs are at the forefront of improving cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including leading efforts in triple-negative breast cancer, multiple myeloma, prostate cancer and skin cancer,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, MD, FACS, dean of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, CEO of the UAB Health System and CEO of the UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance. “The NCI support grant is the most prestigious federal grant that can be earned by an institution with significant cancer research and patient care programs. I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the hard work that went into this grant renewal process — one carried out in a virtual environment for the first time, no less. Congratulations on the renewal of this elite designation and the funding to pursue your mission.”
O’Neal researchers are organized into four thematic research programs: Cancer Biology and Immunology, Experimental Therapeutics, Neuro-Oncology, and Cancer Control and Population Science. Program research is supported by shared resources from across the UAB campus; 15 disease-specific working groups are focused on translational clinical research. Eight cancer management teams make up the O’Neal Cancer Service Line, the multidisciplinary patient-care arm of the cancer center.
Of particular importance to the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, a coordinated effort to advance programmatic research focused on seven cancers that present significant burdens to Alabama’s rural and medically underserved communities. These include breast, colon, prostate, brain, lung and cervical cancers, as well as multiple myeloma. This office aims to address disparities in cancer research and care, providing cancer prevention, screening and care education in most Alabama counties. With a focus on the 26 counties with the greatest cancer burdens, this work is no small effort in a state that ranks No. 8 in the country for cancer mortality.
NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers must reapply for their core grant renewal and designation every five years. The NCI defines its Cancer Centers Program as a means of recognizing centers that meet rigorous standards for transdisciplinary, state-of-the-art research focused on developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer. An NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center is one in which cutting-edge cancer treatments are complemented by research conducted in basic science, in clinical science and/or prevention, and in cancer control and population science, but with added depth and breadth, spanning across disciplines to bridge scientific areas of study.
The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of only 52 NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States. This grant renewal award coincides with the 50th anniversary of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, which received its first core grant and NCI designation in 1972. The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center later received its second NCI designation when it was named one of the first eight NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in 1973.