UAMS announces it has raised $30 million toward goal of becoming National Cancer Institute

Chris Fowler (right) of Jonesboro talks with Dr. James Suen (center) and Suen’s wife, Karen (left), after an announcement that Fowler had donated $5 million to UAMS’s Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Little Rock. Dr. Suen was Fowler’s cancer doctor when he was undergoing treatment at the center. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
Chris Fowler (right) of Jonesboro talks with Dr. James Suen (center) and Suen’s wife, Karen (left), after an announcement that Fowler had donated $5 million to UAMS’s Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Little Rock. Dr. Suen was Fowler’s cancer doctor when he was undergoing treatment at the center. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)


The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences announced Thursday that it has achieved its goal of raising $30 million in private donations to support its effort to become a National Cancer Institute.

The target was met after the the family of Chris Fowler, who was treated for throat cancer at UAMS in 2011, donated $5 million, which came on top of $1 million that he and Kim Fowler donated in 2021.

"The staff and the people at UAMS are just incredible," Fowler of Jonesboro said at a news conference Thursday at UAMS' Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute in Little Rock.

"While I was here I met people from all over the country ... and they were told the same thing, 'If you want to get the best care, you come to UAMS and the Cancer Institute."

In 2019, the state Legislature passed Act 181 to create a trust fund to hold private and public dollars raised for the effort of achieving the National Cancer Institute designation for UAMS.

So far, Arkansas has contributed $170 million in tax dollars. UAMS pledged to raise an additional $30 million in private funds. It has received a total of 8,700 philanthropic gifts.

According to UAMS, about 68% of the funds awarded for research and clinical trials by the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, go to National Cancer Institute-designated centers.

Many community outreach and program grants are only offered to National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers.

UAMS projects that achieving NCI designation will create approximately 1,500 jobs and have an economic impact of $72 million to the state annually.

"Chris, this is an unbelievable contribution, not just to UAMS but frankly to the entire state of Arkansas, and people's lives will be forever changed because of the investment that you and your family have made here today," Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the news conference.

According to UAMS, 72 cancer centers across 36 states and Washington, D.C., have the National Cancer Institute designation.

"Reaching our fundraising goal is exciting news, and I know it will embolden UAMS to work harder in achieving our overall goal of NCI Designation, which will have a profound impact on UAMS and Arkansas," Dr. Cam Patterson, UAMS chancellor, said in a news release.

"Huge credit for this achievement of course goes to the many donors who have championed this campaign. I would especially like to thank the Chris Fowler family, who made significant contributions that realized this goal."

Dr. Michael Birrer, director of the UAMS Cancer Institute and UAMS vice chancellor, said the UAMS institute is aiming to finalize and submit its application for the designation within the next year.

Birrer said the institute is focusing on increasing clinical trials and developing community outreach, which are key factors in NCI consideration. He said it's on schedule to increase its clinical trials from 150 to 250 by 2025.

In 2022, the cancer institute announced it was implementing a statewide patient navigation system to help cancer patients across the state access needed prevention, screening, treatment and support services.

Birrer said the program's nurse "navigators" and community advisors work in rural areas of the state.

"It is a complicated and delicate process. You have to be accepted by the population and earn their trust. The worst thing you can say is, 'I'm from the government. I'm here to help you.'" he said.

UAMS' other efforts toward community engagement includes renovating a facility in Jonesboro so there's "a functional cancer clinic" and UAMS' recently launched MammoVan mobile units that provide mammograms, Birrer said.

"I will ask everybody to focus a little less on the D word, as I call it -- designation -- and more on what we need to do to provide outstanding cancer care throughout the state," Birrer said at the news conference. "If we provide compassionate cancer care, broad cancer services, robust clinical trials and outstanding cancer research, I can promise with near metaphysical certainty that the NCI will receive this well and we will become designated."


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