University of Cincinnati seeks 'transformative' designation as elite cancer fighting center

CINCINNATI — University of Cincinnati's continuing effort to be designated as an elite cancer research hub is kicking into high gear with the rollout of a $100 million fundraising campaign.

Supporters are off to a big start thanks to a $10 million pledge from Western & Southern Financial Group.

UC wants to build up its cancer research and treatment programs to be named by federal health officials as a National Cancer Institute.

The designation would be transformative for the Tri-State both in health and economic terms, said John Hayden, a co-chair of the campaign.

"NCI status is as important or more important than having an airport," Hayden said. "It just couldn’t be any more important for the community from a health care and economic perspective."

Hayden said building up UC's cancer operation to an NCI level would be the equivalent of bringing two more Fortune 500 companies to Greater Cincinnati.

That's because UC would hire teams of the best cancer doctors, teachers and researchers and build new research facilities for them. In turn, the Tri-State could expect UC to lure new bio-tech companies and draw more cancer patients into the area, all of which will generate jobs and tax revenue.

More important than the economics, though, is the promise of better cancer treatment and better preventative care, Western & Southern President and CEO John Barrett said.

"This is something that should affect everybody. One out of two men and one out of three women around here get cancer," he said. "It's sort of a race against time, isn't it?"

On average, NCI-designated cancer treatment groups have a 25 percent better mortality rate than those without the designation, Hayden said.

NCI facilities tend to run more cutting-edge trial studies that can save lives and also cluster experts who can tackle complex cancer issues creatively.

Hayden said UC and Cincinnati Children's Hospital have been "punching above their weight" in terms of landing federal grants and clinical trials at a high success rate. But he said those days could come to an end without landing the NCI status, given fierce competition throughout the country for those trials and grants.

In fact, Cincinnati is the fourth-largest metropolitan market in the country without an NCI-designated cancer center, according to UC. Not having an NCI designation could become a big liability.

"This could be the difference between being a top-tier city and a third-tier city," Hayden said. "We can't do in the future what we've done in past securing federal research dollars without the designation."

Barrett is optimistic that the $100 million will be raised within a year.

UC Foundation President Rod Grabowski said that number could include charitable giving and state dollars and other resources the university is seeking.

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