Hollings Cancer Center lands its highest score, receives NCI-designation renewal

May 09, 2019
Besim Ogretmen and Shanmugan Panneer Selvam in the lab
Dr. Besim Ogretmen, Hollings Cancer Center researcher, left, and Dr. Shanmugam Selvam discuss their work. Hollings Cancer Center has over 70 research labs and employs more than 400 researchers. Photo by Sarah Pack

Hollings Cancer Center of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) joins local and state leaders to celebrate the renewal of its designation as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Center.

MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., hailed the renewal as affirmation of the strength of the work being done at Hollings. "MUSC is proud to have the only NCI-designated cancer center in South Carolina. This renewal validates the significant, ongoing and dedicated effort by Hollings Cancer Center scientists toward advances in cancer prevention, diagnoses and treatment, with the ultimate goal of finding cancer cures."

NCI-Designated Cancer Centers represent the top 4% of cancer centers in the United States. With this five-year renewal, Hollings is one of only 70 cancer centers in the U.S. with this prestigious status and the only such institution in South Carolina.

Gov. Henry McMaster underscored the importance for the state. “This is just one more example of the excellence that South Carolina produces. Congratulations are in order for MUSC and the Hollings Cancer Center for this impressive designation and for the important work that we know its scientists, doctors and researchers will continue to do there.”

The renewal is accompanied by $10,781,505 in funding to sustain and grow research efforts at Hollings Cancer Center. The NCI awards designation and renewal are based on leadership, vision, outstanding facilities, commitment to research and community outreach. NCI designation is awarded for a five-year period, after which centers undergo an extensive renewal application submission and examination. Hollings, which has held this designation since 2009, submitted its Cancer Center Support Grant renewal to NCI in 2018 and underwent a site visit in October.

Hollings Cancer Center Director Gustavo Leone, Ph.D., said he’s grateful for the teamwork it took to land the highest score the center has ever received in a rigorous, competitive process. “This took an enormous effort from a large group of team members to be able to present and highlight the excellence at Hollings to the NCI leadership."

NCI-designated cancer centers are characterized by scientific excellence and the capability to integrate diverse research approaches. They play a vital role in advancing the goal of reducing morbidity and mortality from cancer through innovative clinical trials that offer patients new drugs and treatment protocols that would be unavailable to them otherwise.

The goal is to reduce the burden of cancer in the state. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that 29,830 South Carolina residents will be diagnosed with cancer and 10,720 will die from their disease.

Leone said the renewal affirms the cancer center’s strong research base and supports its mission to deliver cutting-edge treatments based on that research to patients in South Carolina and beyond. Cancer centers serve in areas with special demographics and needs as far as the incidence and mortality rates of cancer in their regions. As such, the centers serve as an important pipeline both to educate their communities about evidence-based findings, as well as to shape the development of national research and treatment priorities based on those needs.

“This is an important goal for Hollings. We want to reach the medically underserved all through the state,” Leone said. “While there is much work still to be done, this has been a major accomplishment over the past several years that has led to the appreciation of the NCI of what we are doing in our communities, and the value we bring.”

Key accomplishments since Hollings’ last renewal include:

  • Opening 392 cancer-related research studies and enrolled 3,522 adults and children in clinical trials (2014-2017)
  • Expanding mobile health van cancer screening and education to 27 counties throughout the state, serving more than 7,000 women in the past five years
  • Launching 42 clinical trials emanating from Hollings Cancer Center science (2013-2017)
  • Securing 138 peer-reviewed, extramural research project awards totaling over $40M (excluding training and career development grants), with more than $20M from the NCI in 2018.
  • Publishing 572 studies (2013-2017), including 93 in high impact journals.

Leone said it’s been exciting to see the overall progress of the center over the past five years and the exponential growth in its scientific discoveries. Of note, as well, is that Hollings Cancer Center celebrated being named among the nation’s top cancer centers for its clinical care last year, with U.S. News & World Report ranking MUSC Health 24th for cancer care.

“For all these reasons, I am proud to lead Hollings Cancer Center and plan to sustain our positive trajectory,” he said. “Work at Hollings will lead to important advances in cancer research and clinical care. This designation will accelerate the speed by which we bring scientific and clinical discoveries to prevent and eradicate cancer in the state.”