cancer-centerThe National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center its highest designation, making it one of only 45 cancer centers nationally to receive this distinction over the past 44 years.

Simmons Cancer Center is the first and only facility in North Texas to receive the NCI’s comprehensive designation, and the second in the University of Texas System, joining MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The designation includes an $8.1 million grant for cancer center support.

“NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers are among the most advanced in the world,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “These centers conduct research that leads to new drugs and treatments aimed at improving patient care and, ultimately, saving lives. We are pleased to be among this distinguished group of cancer centers, and to have at UT Southwestern remarkable physicians and scientists who, each day, are working to conquer cancer.”

The success of the Simmons Cancer Center – initially established through the extraordinary contributions of Dallas philanthropists Harold C. and Annette Simmons and the Simmons family – has been achieved in large part because of strong and ongoing support from the community, added Dr. Podolsky, who holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science. Mr. Simmons and his family have given and pledged more than $100 million to enhance cancer programs at UT Southwestern.

“The initial vision and continuing generosity of the Simmons family have been transformative in ensuring that cancer patients in North Texas and surrounding regions have access to the highest quality of care available anywhere in the country,” Dr. Podolsky said. “We also are extremely grateful to those in our community who have supported the research, technology, and infrastructure that serve as the backbone for this achievement.”

Commenting on the NCI recognition, Mrs. Simmons said, “There is no better reinforcement of an investment in the cure for cancer than this very exclusive designation from the NCI. Our hope has always been that we could make a sustainable difference in the fight against this cruel disease, and the comprehensive designation paves the way for even greater advances in the treatment and cure of cancer. We are very proud of the dedicated members of the UT Southwestern team who have made this honor possible." 

Simmons Cancer Center was designated an NCI cancer center in 2010, which recognizes cancer centers that meet rigorous criteria for state-of-the-art programs in cancer research. In less than five years, the Simmons Cancer Center has risen to the top tier among these centers, as evidenced by the comprehensive designation.

To achieve NCI comprehensive status, a cancer center must:

  • Demonstrate depth and breadth in laboratory research, clinical research, and population-based research,
  • Demonstrate strength in transdisciplinary research that bridges scientific fields,
  • Serve not only their regional area, but the broader population through cancer research, and
  • Integrate training and education of biomedical researchers and health care professionals.

“The differentiating benefit of comprehensive cancer centers is that they combine quality care with research and technology that advance the treatment and prevention of cancer,” said Dr. James K.V. Willson, Professor and Director of the Simmons Cancer Center, and Associate Dean of Oncology Programs at UT Southwestern. “The NCI designation underscores our dedication to not only improving results in how we manage disease, but also to making an impact on the community in terms of early detection and management of cancer at its most curable stages.”

Partnerships with Parkland Health & Hospital System, Children’s Medical Center Dallas, the UT School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus, and UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth played an important role in achieving the comprehensive designation, said Dr. Willson, holder of The Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.

“Partnerships that we have established with affiliated health care providers are an exciting aspect of our cancer center. Parkland is part of our commitment to bring cutting-edge advances in care and prevention to the most vulnerable and underserved in our population. This effort reduces not only cancer mortality, but also the cost of cancer care to the community,” he said. “Children’s Medical Center Dallas is crucial to our commitment to pediatric patients. We are all integrated as part of our comprehensive cancer center.”

In addition, all the elements of NCI comprehensive cancer centers − the utilization of treatment teams, the commitment of institutional facilities, and access to the most advanced research and technology – are used cohesively so that the sum is greater than the individual parts.

“Integration is what a comprehensive cancer center achieves,” said Dr. Willson, who has led the center since 2004. He noted that the number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis has increased over the past decade to approximately 70 percent, and the quality of life after treatment is important in determining where a patient should seek care.

“An NCI-designated cancer center is where you want your cancer care to begin and end,” Dr. Willson said. “One of the differentiating features is having cancer care providers in the same environment as researchers who are developing advanced treatments and technologies.”

UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center includes more than 200 members from over 30 departments and centers campuswide, and offers more than a dozen major cancer care programs focused on treating the whole patient with innovative treatments. In addition to serving Texas, UT Southwestern provides care to patients living across the central U.S.

Along with the most recent NCI recognition, the Simmons Cancer Center also is among only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be named a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Site. It is the only cancer center in North Texas to be so designated. The designation and associated funding bolster clinical cancer research, providing patients with access to cancer research trials sponsored by the NCI, where promising new drugs often are tested.

UT Southwestern currently receives more than $100 million annually for cancer research from the NCI and other NIH and peer-reviewed funding agencies, including the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The NCI is the world’s largest organization solely dedicated to cancer research, and is part of the National Institutes of Health, the primary federal agency responsible for conducting and supporting medical research.

“Our efforts to eradicate cancer are at a pivotal point,” Dr. Podolsky said. “We are making important strides in understanding the underlying biology of how cancer evolves and spreads, so we can develop new ways to prevent or halt this devastating disease. We also have made solid inroads in identifying the most effective therapies and treatments. NCI support is crucial to these efforts, as well as supporting the next generation of investigators, who will sustain the momentum of progress and American pre-eminence in cancer research.”