Plans to designate UAMS as a National Cancer Institute are on track with a potential application date as early as 2022, Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson tells Talk Business & Politics.
The Arkansas legislature rallied behind Patterson’s and health officials’ push for NCI designation in the 2019 General Assembly. State lawmakers approved a combination of taxes that would raise $10.5 million annually for the effort.
Patterson said progress is already underway to draw more money to UAMS’ Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. In addition to hiring internationally-recognized medical oncologist Dr. Michael Birrer late last year, Patterson said that letting Birrer build up the research team with staff and dollars is an important next step.
“He’s run an NCI designated cancer center already. He knows how the game is played,” Patterson said. “I am just completely comfortable giving him the keys to the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, and letting him drive us to new places.”
NCI status will allow UAMS to conduce clinical trials with advanced drugs that will be cutting-edge in cancer research and treatment. Patterson said it will allow locals to stay closer to home for important treatment and will draw people to Arkansas to participate in efforts.
“The Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute is internationally renowned in many areas, and we have patients coming from all over the country, and last year, 50 countries around the world, to the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute for their care, but there’s more that we need to do. We need more research funding, we need to have more clinical trials going on, and we need to integrate our clinical services and clinical research across the state,” he said.
To leap a threshold of federal research that must be established related to cancer funding, recruiting more physicians and researchers will be critical.
“[Dr. Birrer] already has a train of people who are on their way to Arkansas to be a part of this team. So we’ve got to demonstrate to people who are coming from around the country, many of whom have never been to Arkansas, that this is a great environment for the research that they need to do, but also, a great environment to live in, a great environment to raise their families in, and Michael is gonna be in charge of making that happen, but we’ve all got to participate,” Patterson said.
He also indicated that an advantage for Arkansas is the rural nature of the state.
“The most recently newly-funded cancer institute is in Oklahoma. They’re clearly paying attention to rural states. They realize that the NCI designated cancer centers have been coastal and that rural states have not been well represented, so I’m confident that if we can check the boxes, that our application will be well received,” he said.
As for a timeframe, Patterson is realistic, yet optimistic.
“I think everybody knows that I like to move fast,” he said. “You know, and I would love, just because he’s been so supportive, I would love for us to at least be writing, or possibly even have submitted our [NCI] application during the current term of Governor Hutchinson. More realistically, it’s probably going to take us another year or two beyond that.”
Watch more of Patterson’s full interview in the video below, including his thoughts on digital medicine, expanding UAMS’ footprint, and addressing a shortage of doctors and medical professionals.