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Amid cancer research push, Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center earns top national designation

The National Cancer Institute has once again awarded Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center its top designation for cancer research and scientific leadership. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] 

The National Cancer Institute has once again awarded Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center its top designation for cancer research and scientific leadership. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] 

TAMPA — Moffitt Cancer Center has once again been awarded the National Cancer Institute's top title, Moffitt officials announced Thursday.

The NCI's prestigious "Comprehensive Cancer Center" designation honors cancer research institutions for their scientific leadership and the depth and breadth of their work. Currently, only 47 cancer centers in the United States hold the title.

Moffitt is the only one based Florida. The Mayo Clinic, which is based in Minnesota but has a location in Jacksonville, is also a Comprehensive Cancer Center.

For Moffitt, the designation comes with $17 million over the next five years — money that will give researchers "access to cutting-edge technologies and expertise that would be too expensive to bring into their individual labs," center director Dr. Thomas Sellers said.

It will also help Moffitt attract some of the brightest minds in cancer research and care, he added.

"It is so exciting to see the caliber of people who want to be on the Moffitt team," he said. "We are competing with the best places in the country and we are winning."

Thursday's announcement comes amid a push by Republican Gov. Rick Scott to create a premier cancer research network in Florida. Scott attended the announcement, saying: "You know you don't have to travel out of the state to get the best cancer treatment in the world. … Everybody that I know that has come to Moffitt has been treated with respect and feels like Moffitt gave them outstanding care."

In 2014, the governor worked to ensure the state budget included $60 million for cancer research. Since then, Florida has invested an additional $120 million in its top cancer research centers. Moffitt's share of the money will help support 75 more researchers over the next 10 years, Sellers said.

This year marks the fourth time Moffitt has had its NCI designation renewed.

The institution's most recent application topped 21,000 pages and took more than eight months to prepare, Sellers said. It outlined Moffitt's five research programs: cancer epidemiology; health outcomes and behavior; immunology; cancer biology and evaluation; and chemical biology and molecular medicines.

Moffitt also had to host a site visit from other top researchers.

"The process is very rigorous," Sellers said. "It is based on our research in the laboratory, in the community and at the bedside."

The designation does not specifically address quality of care, he added.

"But it is well known at the NCI that if you are doing cutting-edge research, you are bringing tomorrow's standard of care to patients today through clinical trials," he said.

Over the past five years, Moffitt has enrolled more than 5,400 patients in clinical trials.

Times staff writer Philip Morgan contributed to this report. Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

Amid cancer research push, Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center earns top national designation 09/22/16 [Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2016 4:34pm]
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