A world-class cancer center for Miami

After spending nearly 20 years at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, I was swayed to move to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center by the incredible opportunity to help Miami and South Florida build a world-class cancer center in its midst, one that could serve the 6 million people who live here.

Since I arrived, we have recruited more than 40 physicians and scientists to bolster our clinical care and to conduct potentially lifesaving clinical and laboratory research.

This growth was made possible by the support of University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala, Miller School of Medicine Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., and many others.

I have also been working with the directors of the other two main cancer centers in Florida — the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and University of Florida Health in Gainesville and Jacksonville — to develop a collaborative approach to cancer research and clinical care that will enable Florida to compete with elite cancer centers elsewhere in the U.S.

We are thankful for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for sharing this vision, which has led to an increase in state funding in recent years and allowed our centers to recruit world-class clinicians and scientists from outside Florida.

Florida has the second-highest number of cancer cases in the nation, yet our state has only one cancer center with the distinguished National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. Such a designation would mean greater access to cutting-edge cancer treatments, clinical trials and research to develop more effective therapies in order to reduce the burden of cancer in our community.

Florida is poised to gain two more NCI-designated cancer centers, but dedicated state support is essential to this mission.

Gov. Scott recently proposed raising support for cancer research to $80 million in the Fiscal Year 2014-15 state budget. HB 5203 is a bold move that will improve the quality of life for Florida’s residents and the economic strength of the state overall.

Across the nation, a state with the population size of Florida should have three NCI-designated cancer centers, but our state only has one. This deficiency is a lost opportunity for the state, not only to give Floridians world-class cancer care in their back yard, but also to attract additional federal funding, leverage research partnerships and recruit top researchers.

In South Florida, the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center has achieved cure rates for several common cancers that now far surpass national averages, and we are poised to attain the state’s second NCI designation.

Just in this region alone, it is estimated that an NCI designation for Sylvester would create $1.2 billion in statewide economic impact by 2016 and generate more than 2,000 new high-wage jobs.

Such a scenario attracts the top minds in this field, luring even more investments.

The past few years have seen more breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer than ever before.

This accelerating pace has led to significant improvements in the survival of patients with a variety of cancers. For instance, a decade ago, those with multiple myeloma, a disease I treat as a hematologist, had an average survival of only three to four years; now patients survive seven to 10 years.

These successes are due to efforts of many people, but prime among them are the physicians and scientists who work at academic cancer centers, and push the research agenda forward.

Supporting HB 5203, which funds cancer care and research, has a dollar value, but in so many ways it is immeasurable.

What this bill proposes is an investment well worth making, and we encourage the Florida Legislature’s support.

Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., is director of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

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