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Director determined to achieve designation

by Mary Helen Yarborough
Public Relations
Less than five years ago when Andrew S. Kraft, M.D., was recruited from the University of Colorado to direct Hollings Cancer Center (HCC), he stated his primary mission to make South Carolina’s only academic-based cancer center among the finest in the country by achieving the status as a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center.
Dr. Andrew Kraft in his lab.

For most, much larger cancer centers, five years would be at least what was expected to join the ranks of a national class of cancer centers. But Kraft and former U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings wanted it  in three years or less, marveled Anita Harrison, HCC associate director for administration.
Having helped Washington University in St. Louis to obtain its NCI designation from 1995-2001, plus serving as an NCI review panelist for centers seeking designation since 2001, Harrison was a perfect fit for Kraft’s assignment. With uncommon success in helping other medical institutions achieve status as cancer research centers, Kraft recruited Harrison in 2005 to help build the foundation necessary for the HCC achievement.
“We weren’t competing with other institutions as much as we were setting our own high scientific bar to obtain,” Harrison said. “We are currently one of the smaller institutions among the prestigious group of NCI designated centers, but the quality of our science and the synergy we were able to demonstrate over the past few years marked us distinctly from other institutions vying for this NCI designation.”
The task included a requirement to meet six essential characteristics the NCI sets for its designated cancer centers. These characteristics are: institutional commitment, research facilities, organizational capabilities, quality of leadership, achievement in interdisciplinary scientific coordination and collaboration, and cancer focus (meaning many different types of scientists are focused on cancer research). “We nailed each of these—four with the highest score of ‘outstanding’ and two with an ‘excellent to outstanding’ rating,” Harrison said.
Much of HCC’s success has been due to faculty recruitment during the past five years. HCC has fully utilized the opportunity availed through the state’s Centers of Economic Excellence (CoEE) program, which is how Kraft accessed critical dollars to lure the best researchers to South Carolina. “That’s how we recruited Kenneth Tew, Charles Smith, Melanie Thomas and John Lemasters,” Harrison explained. MUSC/HCC holds six cancer-related CoEEs which are funded with matching state lottery money.  “We are now actively recruiting with CoEE funding for nationally recognized experts in tobacco-related malignancies, cancer stem cell biology and therapy and cancer disparities,” said Harrison.
In retrospect, appointing all the right people to the right positions at the right time was critical to the designation at MUSC, said Harrison. Since he came, Kraft has assisted in the recruitment of 29 faculty members. College of Medicine Dean Jerry Reves, M.D., has also appointed essential cancer-focused clinicians and scientists to important College of Medicine leadership roles including the recent appointment of David Cole, M.D., a cancer surgeon and an NCI-funded translational scientist, to chair the Department of Surgery.  
“The center has scientific membership that now spans virtually all of the colleges demonstrating that the MUSC leadership has made cancer research a top priority,” said Harrison.

Timeline of events
  • May 25, 2008 was the day that an 800-page-plus written application was submitted to the NCI for review.
  • Sept. 25, 2008, was show time; the day that three years of incredible focus culminated for the NCI reviewers’ site visit. Their arrival occurred slightly more than four years after Kraft arrived at MUSC. “Many other programs expect to submit two to three applications before receiving NCI designation; and we did it with one that is a testament to how hard everyone worked during the past few years.”
  • On Feb. 20, rumors that HCC had succeeded were made official. “We knew we had a good score,” Harrison said. “But we also knew that we were in the midst of unprecedented financial times.”
Not to rest on his laurels, Kraft said immediately upon learning of the designation that he wants HCC now to attain comprehensive status with the National Cancer Institute. Currently, only 39 of the 64 NCI cancer centers are Comprehensive Cancer Centers. “During the next five years, HCC leadership will be working toward this new benchmark which will involve building a robust cancer prevention and control research program and strengthening the translational aspects of our current scientific efforts, ” Harrison said.
Meanwhile, the NCI cancer center designation must be maintained and a renewal application must be made every five years. Kraft not only expects HCC to hold onto to its newly acquired designation, but he expects to exceed this designation with comprehensive status in the next five years, Harrison said.
“This is the first time for him getting an NCI designation as a center director,” Harrison said. “It’s a crown jewel for him, and he’s not resting.”

Kraft speaks on others, South Carolina
Anita Harrison
“She is an amazing administrator who has made getting the NCI possible because of her administrative talents and prior experiences. She is easy to work with, and she is a good listener. She acts on task and always performs in an outstanding fashion. She hits all deadlines working long days, weekends and nights.”

“Dr. Jerry Reves’s leadership and foresight have been essential elements in this process. In fact, Drs. Reves, Raymond and Greenberg have been pivotal in our getting the NCI. It takes the support of leadership at the highest levels of an institution like it does in any organization. Drs. Reves and Raymond made certain we had the resources and commitment necessary to succeed; and Dr. Reves was successful in pulling those resources together. We are fortunate to have had the support and leadership of Drs. Reves and Raymond who helped make getting the NCI designation possible. Dr. Greenberg has stood behind them all of the way.”

What does this mean for South Carolina?
Across South Carolina, HCC has nine sites that serve as satellites for clinical trials and two strong affiliates that are clear partners with the center. HCC intends to utilize these partnerships to translate its latest research findings into the standards of care to reduce cancer mortality, morbidity and disparities across the state. Interestingly, HCC is the only NCI cancer center located between Durham, N.C., and Tampa, Fla.
“Hollings Cancer Center has 100 scientific members and a staff that includes volunteers, administrative and medical staff; and we have three  community boards. The patients take part in clinical trials, increasing our ability to carry out our clinical and basic studies that will improve cancer outcomes.
“Clinical research doesn’t make you a better practitioner than the guy down the street, but it allows you to add to therapies and give patients added hope. NCI designation will allow us to be able to recruit the best scientists and doctors to South Carolina. Designation will provide more funding that will help create additional jobs, and develop novel treatments to cure cancer.”

Friday, March 6, 2009

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