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Strong scores put VICC among top NCI centers

September 17, 2015 | Dagny Stuart

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has received renewal of its Cancer Center Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has received renewal of its Cancer Center Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) has been recognized for the impact of its research programs and excellence in patient care by a panel of National Cancer Institute (NCI) reviewers, receiving an overall “exceptional” score as part of the renewal of the Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG). High programmatic scores and the overall merit rating led to another successful renewal of the NCI-CCSG grant for the Cancer Center.

The CCSG grant provides almost $30 million over five years to support scientific leadership and administration of the Cancer Center, as well as infrastructure that includes shared resources for cancer investigators. Despite tight federal budgets, VICC will receive an increase over the previous five-year grant award.

This is the third renewal of VICC as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. It is one of only 45 such centers in the United States and the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in Tennessee providing treatment for both adult and pediatric patients.

The CCSG renewal effort is a rigorous process that includes a year of grant writing and preparation for a site visit carried out by a group of nationally recognized peer reviewers who delve into the Cancer Center’s programs for basic and translational science, clinical and population-based research, cancer education, community outreach and the center’s clinical growth and translation of research to patient care.

“Scores in the ‘exceptional’ category from the NCI’s peer review team affirm VICC’s role as an elite cancer center in this nation, providing extraordinary care that is based on the molecular architecture of cancer cells,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“VICC’s investigators are world leaders in unlocking the clues that underpin advancements in early diagnosis and treatment. Their work has propelled Vanderbilt to the vanguard of the nationwide effort to tailor the treatment of cancer to each and every person — truly personalized care,” Balser said.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, said the high marks are a reflection of the superior teamwork among VICC’s researchers, physicians and staff members.

“For more than 20 years, VICC’s leaders have demonstrated a passion for excellence in research, education and patient care that is remarkable. The renewal of this important grant is a reflection of the steadfast resolution of our faculty and staff to win the war against cancer,” said Pinson.

Preparation for the CCSG review requires tremendous work to document the scope of the cancer center’s programs and to demonstrate the value of those programs for patients and the wider community.

“I am so proud of the incredible work by hundreds of people during our grant renewal effort,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., B. F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and director of VICC.

“We have a number of new program leaders and associate directors who, along with our seasoned scientific and clinical team, brought vibrant leadership to this process. This is a cancer center that is leading nationally with our pioneering and high-impact discoveries and making a difference for patients every day.

“The renewal of the CCSG grant provides additional validation of the merit of our research and patient care activities,” Pietenpol said.

VICC is a matrix cancer center, sharing faculty and facilities with other Vanderbilt University departments, as well as with Meharry Medical College. Those collaborative efforts lead to the scientific excellence that is a hallmark of VICC’s research program.

“We have an exceptional group of investigators in specialties from basic science to engineering and drug development who are willing to cross departmental boundaries and work collaboratively on the big scientific questions in cancer,” said Lawrence Marnett, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences. “The ongoing recognition and support from the NCI is a testament to the value of this team science approach to cancer research.”

For patients, an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center provides some of the most promising new therapies available and a clinical program that is focused on excellence.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers are also leaders in cancer prevention and community outreach and are committed to population-based research that sheds light on potential disparities in diagnosis and care.

VICC is among the few centers in the United States with multiple NCI-designated Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant programs, including breast and gastrointestinal cancer.

VICC has nearly 300 faculty members and generates more than $140 million in annual federal research funding, ranking it among the top 10 centers in the country in competitive grant support. The clinical program sees more than 6,000 new cancer patients each year.