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Group wants fund saved for cancer


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POSTED: Thursday, February 19, 2009

The former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute warned lawmakers not to tamper with tobacco tax money they allocated for the Cancer Research Center in 2006.

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Legislation proposing to transfer the tobacco tax money to the general fund because of the looming state deficit would "effectively kill the opportunity to have (cutting-edge) cancer research in Hawaii," Mark Clanton said in an interview yesterday. "There will not be an NCI-designated cancer research center in Hawaii if that money goes away and that building does not get built."

The new center planned in Kakaako next to the University of Hawaii school of medicine must be built as soon as possible, said Clanton, chairman of the center's external advisory committee and chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society division including Hawaii.

Clanton delivered that news to legislators at a hearing yesterday and to physicians and hospital leaders meeting at the Queen's Conference Center.

The world's top cancer researchers, including Dr. Harald zur Hausen, 2008 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, attended the two-day Translational Cancer Medicine Symposium.

Sponsors - the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, the Queen's Medical Center, Hawaii Pacific Health and the Kuakini Health System - are trying to overcome obstacles to developing a new cancer center.

The former competitors now appear to have a strong alliance committed to developing a "matrix" cancer center, which is successful at Harvard University and other cancer centers on the mainland, Clanton said.

Research performed at the Hawaii center to find new drugs and therapies would be offered to cancer patients in clinical trials at isle hospitals.

Dr. Carl-Wilhelm Vogel, former Cancer Research Center director, worked hard for nine years to try to get funding, a lease agreement and approvals for a new cancer center, Clanton said. Vogel had envisioned a clinical trial facility at the center.

The many blocks he encountered jeopardized renewal of the center's NCI designation and planning money, Clanton said.

"There didn't appear to be any chance in the absence of beginning to build a building and the absence of being able to recruit more high-talent faculty," he said. "It did not look good at all."

He said Dr. Gary Ostrander, UH vice chancellor for research and graduate education, UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and Dr. Michele Carbone, interim cancer research director, went to the NCI a few weeks ago and made a case for an extension. "They said they were moving forward with the building.

"The cancer center is very fortunate to get an extension with funding," Clanton said. "They have until September 2010 to pull it together."

About $20 million has accumulated in the tobacco tax cancer fund. Its release for a new cancer center will improve capabilities for world-class research and high-level care for cancer patients in Hawaii, Clanton said.

"Hawaii could end up being a medical tourism destination for cancer patients," he said, pointing to the economic potential. If cutting-edge cancer care is going on in the new center, he said, "it is an opportunity to pull in patients with money from Japan and the entire Pacific Rim."

"The need to act now is very important."