April 30, 2004

‘Outstanding’ score puts VICC in elite U.S. group

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The National Institutes of Health, including the National Cancer Institute, score grant applications on a scale of 100 to 500, with 100 being a perfect score. Grants rated between 100-150 are considered “outstanding,” grants between 150-200 are “excellent,” 200-250 are “very good,” and so on.

'Outstanding' score puts VICC in elite U.S. group

When Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Director Hal Moses, M.D., addresses the VICC board of overseers today, he will report an important mission accomplished — receipt of an “outstanding” score on the competing renewal of the VICC’s support grant from the National Cancer Institute.

A “priority score” of 137 on its Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) puts VICC in the company of a very select few centers to score in the best category (below 150).

Because the score is determined in an extensive peer review, it is one of the best objective measures of excellence in a cancer center, said Harry R. Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs.

“The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center leadership and team are to be congratulated on a job well done,” Jacobson said. “The review process for renewal is rigorous, and to receive such a great score is an important commentary on the quality of the cancer center. This confirms what I’ve known all along — the team that Hal Moses has put together is among the very finest in the nation.”

The VICC’s priority score presents the potential for almost doubling the amount of money the grant provides, which would place VICC seventh in CCSG funding among cancer centers nationwide.

The VICC currently receives $3.35 million per year, which supports scientific leadership and administration as well as infrastructure such as shared resources for investigators. Precise funding will not be known until later this year.

The CCSG confers VICC’s designation by the National Cancer Institute as the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in Tennessee and one of only 38 such centers in the country.

This “seal of approval” recognizes excellence in basic, translational, clinical and population-based research as well as a demonstrated commitment to cancer education, information and community outreach.

For patients, the NCI designation indicates that a center offers many of the most advanced and promising new therapies; in fact, many consumer guides for cancer patients recommend seeking care from NCI-designated centers.

These centers play “an important role in their communities and regions and serve to influence standards of cancer prevention and treatment,” according to a description on the NCI Web site, www.cancer.gov.

They also “make significant contributions to advances in cancer research that are key to understanding, preventing and treating this disease.”

“When I agreed to have my father’s name on the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, I knew I would only be comfortable if it was among the very best,” said Orrin H. Ingram, chair of VICC’s board and son of the late E. Bronson Ingram, who died of cancer in 1995. “I am so proud of the many accomplishments that have led to this outstanding score. Everyone at the cancer center is to be commended for the many hours and hard work that went into this achievement.”

Most successful comprehensive cancer centers score in the “excellent” category between 150 and 200, said Moses, former chair of the parent committee that reviews cancer centers.

VICC scored 152 on its last competing renewal five years ago, and the goal presented to the board last fall was to score below 140 on this renewal.

The priority score is more than a matter of pride; it has direct impact on the amount of funding a center receives, especially in the current tight budget climate at NCI.

In 2003, of 13 centers competing for renewal of their grants, only Fred Hutchison Cancer Center in Seattle and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York scored in the outstanding category, the industry publication The Cancer Letter reported in January.

Only they were awarded the full amount of funding recommended by the parent committee; the others received funding on a sliding scale based on priority score.

With the grant renewal, the VICC plans to double the number of shared research resources from eight to 16, Moses said. These “cores” provide the cancer center’s 275 faculty — as well as faculty across the campus — access to technology and expertise too expensive and sophisticated for individual research labs to develop on their own.

Several major initiatives and achievements over the past five years contributed to the outstanding priority score, Moses said.

They include the award of three Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grants focused on lung, breast and gastrointestinal cancers, making VICC one of only seven centers to have three or more of these prestigious grants.

VICC investigators also made significant scientific advances, including continued basic, translational and clinical work with the epidermal growth factor family of receptors and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), and provided leadership in major clinical trials of new therapies such as EGF receptor inhibitors, COX-2 inhibitors and oxaliplatin.

And accomplishments included development of key resources, including a world-class proteomics facility, the informatics infrastructure needed to analyze the tremendous amount of data generated by that facility, and molecular epidemiology with major cohorts, including the Southern Community Cohort and cohorts of men and women in Shanghai.

While the NCI supports center infrastructure through the CCSG, it funds research projects through other grants. VICC’s total NCI funding has also grown substantially, from less than $10 million in 1994 to $15 million in 1998 to almost $50 million currently.