Chomping down on cancer

Chomping down on cancer

New bill aims to tackle one of Florida’s biggest health threats

 By Melissa Lutz Blouin


UF President Bernie Machen (left) talks with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (center) and Dr. Paul Okunieff, director of the UF Health Cancer Center, after a press conference announcing plans to

UF President Bernie Machen (left) talks with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (center) and Dr. Paul Okunieff, director of the UF Health Cancer Center, after a press conference announcing a proposed bill that could provide institutions such as UF more funding to pursue designation from the National Cancer Institute.

A proposed bill to create the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers announced by Florida Gov. Rick Scott Jan. 28 could potentially help the UF Health Cancer Center and the UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health bring even more extensive research and patient care to Floridians with cancer.

The proposed legislation, which would be funded through the William G. “Bill” Bankhead Jr. and David Coley Cancer Research Program, would help enhance the quality of cancer care in Florida through research, patient care and education. The goal is to create more National Cancer Institute-designated centers in Florida to address the increasing cancer rates in the state.

“As UF Health strengthens its commitment to patient care and cancer research through a dedicated cancer hospital and a new partnership with Orlando Health, Gov. Scott’s proposal provides welcome support for the battle against cancer in Florida,” said UF President Bernie Machen. “Such support is critical at a time when cancer is emerging as the state’s most pressing health threat.”

At the joint oncology program at UF Health and Orlando Health, such funding could aid in the expansion of care and treatment options for the 2 million-plus people served, and also will bring it closer to its goal of becoming a designated cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. The designation recognizes institutions with world-class programs in multidisciplinary cancer research and clinical care.

The proposed bill would allocate funding based on programs in cancer care, cancer research and cancer training. Specific metrics in each of these areas help determine the amount of state funding allocated. The proposed bill also assigns weight to different institutions depending upon their current NCI designation, with a category for institutions that are actively pursuing an NCI designation.

“We have more than 100 ongoing cancer studies, and total research funding for cancer alone totaled more than $36 million last year,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “UF Health and Orlando Health announced plans in December to join forces to establish one of the state’s largest, most comprehensive cancer programs. Our joint oncology program uniquely positions us to be successful applicants for NCI designation, which is our goal and intention. We look forward to competing for funds under the proposed budget allocation that would accelerate this process.”

Florida ranks second in the nation in terms of cancer incidence and mortality, with 117,000 newly diagnosed cases each year, and as the state’s population continues to rise, projections suggest that it will become No. 1. Also, Florida is poised to become the third most populous state in the nation. Yet there is currently only one NCI-designated cancer center in Florida, while California has 10, New York has six and Texas has four.