The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded UVA Cancer Center a comprehensive cancer center designation, the highest recognition available. Part of UVA Health, our cancer center is the first in Virginia to achieve this status — placing us in an elite group of 52 centers in the United States.
To achieve the designation, NCI required UVA Health to demonstrate:
- Enhanced depth and breadth of basic, clinical, and population research
- Enhanced outreach and education to our cancer center’s catchment area and community
- Transdisciplinary research that bridges multiple scientific areas, evidenced by the ability to take maximum advantage of research and innovation across UVA
- Excellence in training in cancer research
“As the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in Virginia, this recognition signifies our ability to deliver cancer prevention, new discoveries and innovative treatments to our patients, leading to improved quality of life, care, and survival,” said Thomas P. Loughran Jr., MD, director of UVA Cancer Center. “For all of our patients, this means they benefit from the most exceptional, leading-edge cancer care available.”
Significant Investments Made to Achieve Comprehensive Status
The designation is the culmination of an 8-year effort that included:
- Investing $90 million by UVA Health
- Recruiting nearly 100 new faculty
- Increasing clinical trial enrollment by 500%
- Boosting research funding by 45%, totaling more than $30 million in 2020
- Growing patient-care volumes by 50%
- Building 2 major research programs focused on population health and therapeutics
Building a Population Health Program From the Ground Up
When Loughran arrived in 2014, UVA Cancer Center had no formal population health program, a key component of a comprehensive cancer center.
“We had to create a vigorous population research program that would withstand the scientific peer review process,” Loughran says.
UVA Cancer Center serves 3.2 million residents from a large catchment area that includes 87 counties throughout northern, central, southside, and southwestern Virginia, as well as eastern West Virginia.
About one-third of the catchment area is defined as “rural” by NCI. Compared to the rest of the United States, the catchment area includes higher rates of significant risk factors, including smoking and obesity, particularly in southwest Virginia and West Virginia.
“We’ve developed a number of interventions in the community,” Loughran says.
One example is the SIPsmartER program, which educates middle and high school students, parents, and teachers about the dangers of sugary drinks.
Additionally, after finding a high incidence of colorectal cancer in the rural part of the catchment area, we are expanding access to screenings there. UVA and three partnering institutions also received a $14 million NCI grant to study why rates of cervical cancer are higher in Appalachia.
Translating Basic Science into Clinical Care
A second key component in achieving comprehensive cancer center status included enhancing the depth and breadth of clinical care offered by UVA Cancer Center.
“One of the main reasons I came to UVA was the exceptionally great science, but we were relatively weak on the clinical side,” Loughran says.
Under his leadership, patient care volumes increased by 50%. UVA now sees approximately 4,000 new cancer cases per year. In 2020, UVA Cancer Center logged 87,582 clinic visits, 84,966 infusions, and 2,351 inpatient stays.
UVA Health has also seen a 500% increase in clinical trial enrollment.
Our cancer therapeutics program saw success in beginning a phase 1 clinical trial of nanotechnology in patients with advanced solid tumors, capitalizing on the expertise of UVA researchers in computational biology, engineering, nanotechnology and more. UVA also participated in the first National Institutes of Health-sponsored study for CAR T-cell therapy to treat pediatric leukemia.
UVA is leading clinical investigations into the management of leukemia and lymphoma, quickly improving outcomes for patients who previously did not have effective options for care. Many patients, even those resistant to traditional treatments, are now experiencing remissions.