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Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
Commentary

Gov. Scott’s bold cancer initiative


Published:

For years, Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute has been a source of hope and pride not only for the people of the Tampa Bay region, but for the entire state of Florida.

It is the only “comprehensive cancer center” in Florida designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and one of only 41 such institutions nationwide. But this accomplishment is not enough in a state of 19 million people. Other large states have many more. For example, California has 10, New York has six, and Texas has four.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed to invest $60 million annually on cancer research, teaching and patient care over a period of five years. This is an increase of $39 million annually for cancer research, teaching and patient care, and results in a $300 million investment in the fight against cancer over the next five years. This additional funding will help the University of Florida Health Cancer Center, the UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health, and the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center become NCI-designated as “comprehensive cancer centers.” The NCI is an affiliate of the National Institutes of Health, and its designation is the gold standard for cancer centers and cancer care and research nationwide.

Scott’s initiative is a bold, foresighted move that will have a positive impact for virtually everyone in Florida for many years to come. Scott’s announcement was widely cheered by the leaders of Florida’s university-based cancer research centers and the state’s Surgeon General. Here’s why.

The biggest killer in Florida is cancer. This year, about 115,000 Floridians are going to be diagnosed with some form of cancer. And this number keeps growing.

Our state ranks second in the nation in cancer incidence and mortality. By some estimates, we could move into first place soon. Our population is again growing, and it’s estimated that we have passed New York to become the third most populous state in the nation.

And yet, despite our growing population, New York has five more NCI-designated institutions than Florida. We need to do better.

In order to be awarded the NCI designation, a hospital must compete successfully for the Cancer Center Support Grant through a rigorous three-stage peer-review process. This process evaluates the breadth and depth of the cancer center’s research programs with special focus on how the cancer center adds value to the research conducted by its members.

Having NCI-designated cancer centers is important because it helps move Florida into a national leadership role for cancer research and treatment. This would be very good news for cancer patients and their families, especially those who live in Florida who would have more treatment options available closer to home.

The more talented researchers and medical professionals we can bring to Florida in finding cures and treatments for cancer, the better.

In addition to adding important capabilities to cancer research and treatment, the NCI designation has significant economic impacts on the institutions and communities in which they are based.

For example one recent economic study suggests the NCI designation could help create more than 200 new jobs and several hundred million dollars in regional economic impact for a single institution. That is a dramatic return on investment.

This same study found that NCI designation significantly improves a facility’s ability to attract top-tier cancer physicians, researchers and their teams, helping provide Florida patients with more innovative cancer treatment options.

The presence of top-tier medical talent, in turn, attracts more patients who are seeking the best care available closer to home.

And this, in turn, will lead to a positive cycle that generates more opportunities to fund higher levels of research, potentially saving and improving more people’s lives. By calling for a bold budget allocation to help more Florida research institutions achieve NCI designation, Scott made a strategic move that has the potential to help Florida move into a national leadership role in cancer research, teaching and patient care.

Mark Delegal is a partner with Holland & Knight’s Government Advocacy Team and represents UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital.

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