State and national experts on cancer research convened in Little Rock on Thursday (Nov. 7) to discuss opportunities to expand medical services, public policy goals, and potential economic development.
The program, held at Red & Blue Events Venue, focused on cancer research and its effects on the state of Arkansas as part of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s (ACS CAN) annual policy forum. Speakers included Cam Patterson, M.D., chancellor of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS); Laura Hutchins, M.D., interim director for the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute; Jeff Stinson, director of HealthTech Arkansas; and Paul Limburg, M.D., co-chief medical director of Exact Sciences.
State legislators passed bills in the most recent session to designate UAMS as a National Cancer Institute (NCI), which could lead to tens of millions of dollars in federal cancer research funding for Arkansas. The state committed roughly $10.5 million towards NCI status for UAMS through revenue from medical marijuana sales and new taxes on tobacco and cigarette products. Patterson and Hutchins outlined the progress being made since the session ended.
Lung, prostate and breast cancer account for more than 7,500 new cases annually in Arkansas. Lung, colorectum, pancreas and breast cancer rank among the state’s top four most prevalent cancers that lead to death, taking more than 3,400 lives each year.
“One of the things we have to remember is that cancer is pervasive in our state. More than 16,000 people will hear the words, ‘You’ve got cancer.’ About 6,800 people will lose their lives to cancer,” said Michael Keck, Arkansas government relations director for ACS CAN. “By bringing cancer research here and expanding it through the NCI designation at UAMS, we’re going to have clinical trials more readily available right here in Little Rock that people will more easily be able to access. That means that lives are going to be saved because of that.”
Beyond improving health and increasing cancer survival rates, those clinical trials and new research opportunities could also lead to innovative business startups, Keck said.
“This can be a new economic engine for our state. Research dollars can lead to new medical breakthroughs which can lead to new industries which can lead to new jobs right here in our state,” he added.
Jeff Stinson, director of HealthTech Arkansas, is leading investors and MedTech startups in a cohort right now to explore how medical technology and research can generate new businesses. He said that cancer research and other medical breakthroughs can create jobs, but also generate revenue and investment dollars for the future.
“Not just cancer research, but all healthcare and biotech research, it all has the potential for economic development in two ways,” Stinson said. “The technologies that are being discovered and developed can sometimes lead to the creation of startup companies that are formed to take that new technology to market.”
“The other way is that cancer research that leads to the creation of new intellectual property can be licensed out to established companies in the marketplace, and that provides revenue streams back to our institutions that are creating those technologies,” he added. “All research is good from my perspective.”