UCSF Helen Diller Cancer Center Awarded $36 Million Grant

By Elizabeth Fernandez on January 07, 2013

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center a $36 million grant to support cutting-edge research programs and clinical trials over five years.

Frank McCormick, PhD, FRSFrank McCormick, PhD, FRS

The highly competitive funding, awarded in recognition of UCSF's excellence in laboratory, clinical and population-based research, will fund administrative management and infrastructure to support efforts across the spectrum of cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer and pediatric cancer.

The grant is the latest funding to the center, which is one of the country’s leading cancer research and clinical care centers. It is the only comprehensive cancer center in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

The first year's award amounts to $7.2 million. The balance of the award was recommended by the National Institutes of Health, which is subject to the availability of funds and satisfactory progress toward the goals of the center.

“We are pleased that the National Cancer Institute has recognized the work of our cancer center and has continued to make financing cancer research a high priority,’’ said Frank McCormick, PhD, who has served as director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center since 1997.

Federal Support of Cancer Research Crucial

UCSF's Accomplishments in Cancer

Here are a few of the accomplishments of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center:

  • Discovered the existence of proto-oncogenes, normal genes that have the potential to become cancerous, which led to a 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for J. Michael Bishop, MD, and Harold Varmus, MD, and opened new doors for exploring genetic mistakes that cause cancer. The landmark work formed the basis for some of the most important cancer research today.
  • Discovered the molecular nature of telomeres – parts of chromosomes that critically affect the life span of cells – and the enzyme telomerase that regulates them. Telomeres and telomerase play key roles in cell aging and cancer. Telomerase is now a therapeutic target for cancer and other diseases. Groundbreaking work on telomeres and telomerase; that led to a 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for UCSF investigator Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD.
  • Selected to lead a multi-center Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) Prostate Cancer Dream Team to identify causes of therapeutic resistance and deliver personalized treatment for patients with advanced prostate cancer.
  • Pioneered an adaptive clinical trial design to accelerate the translation of research into breast cancer care which involves repeated MR imaging and tissue analyses to direct changes during the course of the trial and aims to quickly gauge the effectiveness for each patient of experimental therapies as additions to standard chemotherapy.
  • Discovered that certain chromosome translocations that cause childhood leukemias can be detected prenatally, a dramatic result that might offer the possibility of early detection and screening.
  • Pioneered and proved the effectiveness of a mapping technique that allows for the safe removal of tumors near language pathways in the brain.
  • Played a leadership role in developing better treatment guidelines for early-stage prostate cancer, which will help reduce inappropriate treatment for men whose cancers may never progress. Developed CAPRA score to predict prostate cancer recurrence based on pretreatment clinical data.

“Cancer is a devastating disease that takes the life of an American every minute of every day,’’ said McCormick, who is president of the American Association for Cancer Research, a member of the Institute of Medicine, and a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as a scientist actively engaged in cancer research. “Federal support for cancer research is imperative as we move forward with research to save lives in our generation and for future generations.” 

The Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center received the fifth largest amount of funding for its cancer support grant last year among the 67 NCI-designated cancer centers in the United States, according to NCI statistics.

UCSF received the comprehensive cancer center designation in 1999. The NCI awards the comprehensive designation after a rigorous evaluation process demonstrating breadth of research in laboratory, clinical and population-based research, as well as substantial interdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas.

“The NCI-designated cancer centers program recognizes centers around the country that meet rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research,” said Linda K. Weiss, PhD, director of the Office of Cancer Centers of the National Cancer Institute. “These centers – including the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center – have dedicated significant resources into developing research programs, faculty and facilities that will lead to better approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The NCI designation not only recognizes excellence but opens doors to greater federal funding, information sharing and resources.’’

UCSF's Solid Record of Important Cancer Discoveries

In the NCI’s award notification that touted the center’s “complete spectrum of cancer research,’’ the overall quality of research programs was described as “outstanding to excellent.’’

“The center has developed a solid record of important discoveries in basic, translational, population-based and clinical research,” said the NCI. “The strong cancer focus, substantial institutional commitment, and sustained high level of research funding base with a significant number of multi-investigator, team-based programmatic grants have positively influenced the research programs at the center. Clinical translational research has expanded with an increased number of patients enrolled on therapeutic and non-therapeutic clinical trials along with an increased number of investigator-initiated, institutional clinical trials.’’ 

Current grant funding to UCSF investigators for cancer research projects from all sources totals more than $246 million annually. This total includes funding from the NCI as well as from other areas of the NIH, the American Cancer Society and other agencies and industry partners. Since 2007, the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center has had a 22 percent increase in NCI funding.

The center provides patient care at four San Francisco medical centers: UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion; UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus; San Francisco General Hospital; and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

In 2015, a 289-bed children’s, women’s and cancer hospital complex will open in San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood.

The cancer center secured a gift of $150 million from an anonymous donor in 2007 – at the time, it was the largest gift in UCSF’s history. The center has nearly $176 million in cancer-related endowments, and $82 million for department chairs and professorships. Since 2007, 10 new endowed cancer-related chairs have been established.

In 2009, UCSF opened the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building, a state-of-the-art research facility housing scientists investigating cancer’s basic biological mechanisms, including brain tumors, urologic oncology, pediatric oncology, cancer population sciences and computational biology at Mission Bay.