September 22, 2003

Winship celebrates new building, grant

By Vincent Dollard

The Winship Cancer Institute (WCI) will formally dedicate its new facility on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at a 2 p.m. ceremony that will feature remarks from both Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Emory President Jim Wagner.

The 280,000-square-foot building, which began serving patients in July, is designed as a “pavilion” in which cancer patients, doctors, nurses and scientists are all brought together under one roof, said WCI Director Jonathan Simons.

“Our new building will serve as a discovery accelerator,” Simons said, “where care of cancer patients is advanced through groundbreaking discoveries in genomics and molecular medicine. This building reflects Emory’s commitment of energy and resources to improving cancer prevention, treatment and care for all Georgians. The successful NCI grant enables us to continue putting that commitment into action.”

The dedication comes on the heels of a Sept. 2 announcement by Perdue and Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs, that WCI had been awarded a $1.9 million National Cancer Institute (NCI) Planning Grant. The grant is a critical first step in attaining Georgia’s first-ever NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center designation, which long has been a strategic objective of the state’s innovative cancer initiative.

The grant, known as a P-20 grant, will provide a minimum of $250,000 each year for five years to the WCI. NCI established the competitive P-20 grant to provide promising cancer centers assistance in establishing the research programs that are required for the NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center designation.

“This grant is an important step in the NCI designation process,” Johns said. “NCI provides these grants only to academic centers that meet high qualitative and quantitative standards in cancer research and community outreach.”

“We are very excited,” Perdue said. “[This] means we can continue to develop research collaborations among physicians, scientists and health care professionals throughout the state for the benefit of every Georgia citizen.”

The next step in the NCI process is submission of a P-30 grant, which if funded will be another major hurdle cleared in gaining Comprehensive Cancer Center designation. Such a designation would be a first for Georgia and would provide tangible benefits to Atlanta and the state through increased access to important clinical trials not previously available, and a greater emphasis on community education regarding cancer prevention and early detection.

The NCI Centers Program looks at each institution’s particular capabilities and how those capabilities can contribute to advancing scientific research and a better understanding of cancer. According to NCI, there are 61 designated centers in the United States, of which only 39 are “comprehensive.”

“What is unique about Georgia is the state’s substantial commitment of tobacco settlement funds through the Georgia Cancer Coalition,” Johns said. “The coalition will serve to make the NCI program funding more efficient by developing a statewide network of research centers that will collaborate on investigations and develop clinical trials accessible to all Georgians. Most major advances in cancer treatment have been realized through clinical trials.”

Simons will serve as planning director for the five-year grant. After joining Emory in February 2000, Simons developed an aggressive recruiting plan to attract physicians and scientists to Emory and the WCI and to increase the level of peer-reviewed, NCI-funded scientific research; both were key elements in obtaining the P-20 grant. In the three years since Simons’ arrival, 25 new Emory and WCI faculty members—many of whom have been designated as Distinguished Scientists by the Georgia Cancer Coalition—have brought nearly $45 million in federal and foundation grant money to Georgia for cancer research. In addition, 19 new clinical trials are now available to cancer patients.

Thomas Lawley, dean of the School of Medicine, said the WCI is poised to make a true difference in the war on cancer. “WCI’s ability to leverage Emory’s resources as a major scientific research university with its strength in social sciences, public health, nursing and statistics will result in customized, patient-centered therapies not available elsewhere in Georgia,” Lawley said. “The scientists, physicians and health care professionals who are developing WCI’s cancer programs will impact cancer research and treatment throughout Georgia, the Southeast and the nation.”