With a stroke of a pen Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal boosted cancer care in Georgia with more than $57 million for a new building and enhanced services at Georgia Regents University Cancer Center.
That money includes $45 million to help build a building that could bring an important national designation but also funding to establish outreach and prevention and fund clinical trials in new therapies discovered at the center, the director said.
The $45 million in general obligation bonds is part of the more than $200 million envisioned to build a cancer center that would be a critical step toward getting a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center designation, the state’s second such center, Dr. Samir N. Khleif said.
The funding would “give us the green light to start working with architectural firms, with planners, to start to set the path forward,” he said.
The new building would provide a number of advantages, such as putting research and clinical care under one roof and having all of the research together, Khleif said.
“That would enhance tremendously the level of productivity for research, productivity for cancer care and most importantly to understand the disease of our patients in this region and develop specific treatments for them,” he said.
It would consolidate care that is now scattered across the campus, Khleif said.
“A breast cancer patient can go to 10 different places within the university campus to get care,” he said.
Included in the funding is $10 million this year to boost cancer research, which could include creating packages to aid recruitment but also help push along early-stage clinical trials stemming from insights garnered at the center that might not be available anywhere else in the country, Khleif said.
“It would help us in conducting clinical trials that are innovative, that are initiated by the cancer center, that are novel and new within the nation so that’s really very important,” he said.
Part of that money could also be used to help establish programs needed for NCI designation in cancer control and community outreach through education, awareness and prevention, Khleif said.
“You need to make connections with the community, clearly, you need to build the bridges, but also build the infrastructure,” he said.
One of the most intriguing in the new cancer funding is $2.5 million for the biorepository of tumor samples, a statewide program housed at GRU, that has been underused for years, Khleif said. The NCI has already appealed to the GRU biorepository for help in the past couple of months, he said.
“They are looking for tumor samples from African-American populations because they don’t have them,” Khleif said.
That could be a strength for the biorepository and also help it to address some key questions in health disparities, such as why black men are twice as likely to get prostate cancer as whites and three times more likely to die from it in Georgia, he said.
“That would absolutely help us in teasing out why that is the case, how we can prevent that from happening and are there any specific treatments we could utilize that could affect that particular incidence or mortality,” Khleif said.
Much more funding will need to be raised by GRU to complete the building and pursue many of the projects, but the big boost of funding and support from Deal was much appreciated, he said.
“He really gets it,” Khleif said. “He understands the importance of it. And his support is crucial.”