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Renewal of Prestigious Designation from the National Cancer Institute

Read Time: 7 minutes

Designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center is the highest level of recognition awarded by the National Cancer Institute, the nation’s principal agency for cancer research and training. This award will bring over $29 million to the state of Utah in the next seven years.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has renewed the designation of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, the highest federal rank possible for a cancer research organization. This grant awards HCI more than $29 million over seven years, an increase of 84% in annual funding from the previous award cycle.

The renewal of its Comprehensive Cancer Center designation is the result of an extensive grant application and review process that culminated with an on-site visit by a team of national cancer research and care experts in fall 2019. HCI earned a near-perfect overall score, placing it within the highest-possible exceptional score category that signifies virtually no weaknesses in the organization’s research efforts. HCI’s overall score is the best in the history of the cancer center.

“This prestigious award is a testament to HCI’s longstanding commitment to conduct life-saving research and how our teams, right here in Utah, are having an impact on improving cancer outcomes in the Mountain West and across the world,” said Cornelia Ulrich, PhD, executive director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at HCI, who also serves as principal investigator of the grant. “We are immensely grateful to the NCI for this renewal, which highlights the exceptional performance of our team of scientists, faculty, staff, and administrators. It will allow us to accelerate and advance our work to improve the health of our communities and ease the cancer burden for all.”

The Comprehensive Cancer Center recognition provides funding to support HCI’s cancer research programs and research resources to enable cutting-edge scientific discovery. In its review, NCI cited that “HCI has demonstrated an exceptional cancer focus, high level of translational science, and exceptional population science impacting the state of Utah and the vast Mountain West region of the United States.”

“Huntsman Cancer Institute was established with a vision to eradicate cancer,” said Mary Beckerle, PhD, CEO of HCI. “More than twenty years later, our vision remains singular as we work toward delivering a cancer-free frontier through scientific discovery and human touch. As we celebrate this remarkable achievement, we reinforce our pledge to bring science-powered medicine, linked to compassionate human connection through collaboration and partnership at all levels.”

The U of U obtained Cancer Center status in 1986. In 2015, HCI was elevated to Comprehensive Cancer Center designation, the highest level possible. This Comprehensive designation recognizes a cancer center’s ongoing accomplishments and worldwide impact in improving cancer prevention, screening, and treatment strategies. Renewal of its Comprehensive designation maintains HCI’s place among a peer group of national cancer research and treatment centers that include MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, among others.

Since its last NCI review in 2015, HCI has recruited more than 70 new cancer researchers. HCI oversees the work of more than 200 cancer research teams drawn from 34 academic departments and nine colleges at the U of U. HCI’s research impact in the last five years includes increasing the annual number of externally funded cancer research projects by 57% and more than doubling the number of patients participating in clinical trials based on HCI science that test news ways to improve the treatment of cancer. “A key asset at HCI is that we partner with our patients to inform our cancer research strategy,” said Ulrich. “More than 95% of HCI patients volunteer to participate in research, making a true difference for those affected by cancer in the future.”

In addition, HCI invested in training for underrepresented high school students and expanded community outreach and engagement efforts. This cultivates new, mutually beneficial partnerships with community-based organizations to address health equity and engage rural, frontier, and diverse populations.

HCI has also doubled the size of its research facilities, opening the Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center in 2017, which was designed to enhance collaboration among research teams. Today, HCI spans more than one million square feet of contiguous state-of-the-art cancer research and care space.

HCI’s research excellence is made possible by the generosity of Huntsman Cancer Foundation, which supports HCI’s research through philanthropic contributions. A 10-member External Advisory Board, comprised of NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center directors, administrators, and scientists, provides planning and evaluation; a 21-member Internal Advisory Board of U of U leaders guides strategic collaboration across campus; and a 38-member Community Advisory Board offers input and fosters community engagement in cancer research, services, and prevention efforts.

Other state and federal leaders shared their thoughts on the meaning of this Comprehensive Cancer Center designation:

“Huntsman Cancer Institute provides stellar cancer research, education, and patient care and is a crown jewel of the University of Utah. Huntsman Cancer Institute continues to achieve new heights in excellence, serving as a model high-impact facility that benefits residents of Utah and surrounding states whose lives have been affected by cancer. We are proud of its continued success.”

Ruth V. Watkins
President, University of Utah

“Huntsman Cancer Institute is a national exemplar, drawing excellence in its cancer-focused missions through institutional collaboration between clinicians, researchers, educators, and staff; working together on a shared and common goal – defeating cancer. University of Utah Health is proud to be a partner in this journey and congratulates Huntsman Cancer Institute on this impressive national recognition and achievement.”

Michael L. Good, MD
CEO, University of Utah Health
Senior Vice President for Health Sciences
Dean, University of Utah School of Medicine

“Huntsman Cancer Institute has experienced phenomenal growth over the past five years, including international recognition and a donor base of one million individual donors who support the creativity and intellect of our researchers, the cutting-edge skills and collaboration of our doctors and providers, and the leadership and devotion of our administrations and staff.”

Peter R. Huntsman
Chairman and CEO, Huntsman Cancer Foundation

“It is an honor to the state that Huntsman Cancer Institute holds the highest federal recognition possible for a cancer center and is the only such center in Utah and the Mountain West. We are proud to have Huntsman Cancer Institute as the official, legislatively designated Cancer Center of Utah.”

Gary R. Herbert
Governor, State of Utah

“The Huntsman Cancer Institute has been a critical resource for many in Utah and the greater Mountain West region. Meeting the requirements for this grant (and outperforming other entities) recognizes that Huntsman Cancer Institute meets the highest standards of excellence as it delivers exceptional research, care, and expertise to so many.” 

Michael S. Lee
United States Senator

“Congratulations to Huntsman Cancer Institute, and especially to Dr. Ulrich, for her leadership. The External Advisory Board is unanimous in our conviction that the future of Huntsman Cancer Institute is to be among the top echelon of cancer centers in the nation.”

Edward J. Benz, Jr., MD
President and CEO Emeritus, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Chair, HCI External Advisory Board

“This national designation demonstrates high-quality collaborative research from dozens of disciplines across departments at the University of Utah, including the colleges of law, science, and nursing, and schools of computing and business. This funding will continue to support innovation through collaboration across campus.”

Elizabeth K. Warner, JD
Dean, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah
Member, HCI Internal Advisory Board

“We are proud of this remarkable accomplishment and look forward to our continued partnership with Huntsman Cancer Institute to better serve our underrepresented communities in Utah and beyond.”

Alan Pruhs
Executive Director, Association for Utah Community Health
Member, HCI Community Advisory Board

NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, one of 11 agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services. It was established in 1937 as the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training. There are 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States.

With this renewal, HCI remains the only cancer center to be designated by the NCI in the Mountain West, an area that includes all of Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming.

Media Contact

Heather Simonsen
Public Affairs Senior Manager
Huntsman Cancer Institute
801 581-3194

About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah is the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center for Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. With a legacy of innovative cancer research, groundbreaking discoveries, and world-class patient care, we are transforming the way cancer is understood, prevented, diagnosed, treated, and survived. Huntsman Cancer Institute focuses on delivering the highest standard of care and the most advanced treatments, ensuring world-class cancer care is available to all communities in the area we serve. We have more than 300 open clinical trials and 250 research teams studying cancer at any given time. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center. Our scientists are world-renowned for understanding how cancer begins and using that knowledge to develop innovative approaches to treat each patient’s unique disease. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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