By Staff Writer - May 22, 2020
Comprehensive Cancer Center status is the highest recognition by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that recognizes the depth, breadth and high levels of collaboration in our basic, clinical, population and quantitative science. In addition, this work must impact the needs of the catchment area and beyond. Only 51 centers nationwide have met these rigorous standards. Another 21 cancer centers have successfully achieved NCI “center” or “clinical cancer center” designation but have not achieved “comprehensive” status. Moffitt is the only NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida.
Moffitt attained comprehensive status in 2001 at a remarkable pace, just three years after achieving NCI designation and 15 years after first opening its doors. NCI designation confers funding in the form of the Cancer Center Support Grant, or CCSG. Contrary to what one might think, the CCSG is not a largesse that underwrites all the work being done by Moffitt researchers. Far from it: At around $3 million per year for Moffitt, CCSG dollars only partially support the structure needed to create the collaborative environment where great cancer research can take place. The faculty must still compete for external grant monies to cover their salaries, hire staff, purchase supplies, and pay for use of the shared resources. But the comprehensive designation conveys a level of credibility that far exceeds the monetary value. You may be interested to know that direct clinical care is not part of the overall assessment, but is an expectation. However, clinical trial activity and overall impact in terms of paradigm-, policy-, and practice-changing research are outcomes that drive the overall score.
Once attained, NCI comprehensive status and CCSG dollars are not assured permanently. At least every five years, centers must apply to renew their grant and status. It is a formal, written, peer-reviewed grant application that is very data-driven, followed by an intensive in-person review by a site visit team of leaders in the field. Moffitt’s last application, filed in 2016, weighed in at over 2,100 pages.
Onward to Renewal in 2021
Under the leadership of Dr. John Cleveland, center director and principal investigator of Moffitt’s CCSG, we are preparing for our next renewal in 2021. Preparations started in 2019 and we are currently on our second full draft of most sections. We recently met with our External Advisory Committee (EAC) to seek guidance on our current activities and plan for resubmission. The next major milestone comes in September when we will receive feedback on the draft of the grant application itself. This is essential prior to official grant submission in January 2021.
As we prepare for the renewal, Moffitt also has recently made several key leadership appointments to better align our resources, and to ensure that cutting-edge translational and clinical research continues to flourish at Moffitt. In addition to Dr. Cleveland’s recent appointment, Dr. Eric Haura was appointed associate center director of Clinical Science. Dr. Nikhil Khushalni was named assistant center director of Clinical Research Review & Partnerships, and Dr. Steven Smith was appointed to associate center director of AdventHealth-Moffitt Partnerships. “As our center has grown, these leadership positions are critical to ensure we deliver our highest impact translational science to our patients. Drs. Haura, Khushalani and Smith are exceptional leaders who exemplify our values, and they will ensure that we deliver the very best clinical trials to the patients counting on us, and across a broader geographic area,” said Cleveland.
The official CCSG review process will begin after grant submission, concluding with a site visit in May or June 2021. NCI-selected experts in the types of research conducted at Moffitt will spend a day on campus reviewing overall innovation and impact, research programs, clinical research, core facilities, administration and leadership. It’s a tight schedule, says Brian Springer, MHA, vice president and associate center director of Research Administration. Each research program typically gets just 10 minutes to tell its story. “That may be the life’s work of 25 people in the program,” Springer explained. “Imagine assembling all they’re doing into a 10-minute talk or 12 pages of a report. If you don’t get the point across, you can wind up not being evaluated as highly as you’d hoped.”
When it comes to the CCSG, the quality of patient care is not directly reviewed. “The evaluation is solely based on the scientific impact,” said Lowell Smith, MA, senior director of Research Administration for Moffitt’s CCSG. “Clinical activities and care are not directly evaluated, except for clinical research activity that is considered the gold standard for the most advanced care. However, indirectly, it’s been shown through outcome data and other statistics that patient care is better at designated centers. Quality research means better outcomes.”
Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, Moffitt associate center director of Community Outreach, Engagement & Equity, says our patients contribute to our research mission in several ways. “Some participate in research studies aimed at improving cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship,” she says. “Other patients participate in advisory panels, support groups and forums that allow them to quickly connect with and share their experiences with researchers and to infuse their perspectives into research. These contributions add to the synergistic relationship between Moffitt’s quality cancer care and its innovative research.”
And in that way, said Springer, Moffitt’s CCSG is not just a research effort. “It’s really all of us—team members, patients and supporters—doing things every day that translate into the grant, because research is part of our DNA.” Every single one of us contributes to the research success here. Every single person, no matter what they do.