Michael Birrer: State must be at forefront of advancements in treatment
A cure for cancer remains elusive, but Michael Birrer says recent developments in medical oncology have “revolutionized drug development.”
“It is now common for new drugs to be tested and approved on an accelerated basis,” he says.
Birrer, director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, UAMS Cancer Service Line director and UAMS vice chancellor, intends for Arkansas to play a role in that development.
“The Cancer Institute will have a prominent leadership position in developing these agents in its laboratories and testing them in pivotal clinical trials,” he says. “This effort will bring pharmaceutical and biotech industrial partners into Arkansas along with their resources and job opportunities. The research of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute will be the engine driving this entire effort.”
Cancer treatment has evolved in recent years, and diseases long thought to be incurable now can be treated effectively, and in some cases even prevented or cured, Birrer notes. The mission of UAMS includes making sure Arkansans have access to these advancements, many of which are becoming standard oncology practice.
UAMS is seeking National Cancer Institute designation for WRCI. Such designation is prestigious and has been awarded to just 70 cancer centers in the country, none in Arkansas. UAMS treats roughly 15,000 cancer patients from across Arkansas each year, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 44 Arkansans are diagnosed with cancer every day.
State lawmakers with the backing of Gov. Asa Hutchinson have committed to contributing $10 million annually to efforts supporting NCI designation, which state officials believe would contribute an economic impact of $70 million. Birrer says WRCI needs to remain at the forefront of cancer treatment to achieve NCI designation and expand its reach.
“The therapies offered at the Cancer Institute need to be easy for patients to access but more importantly they need to be exported to all four corners of the state,” he says. “These treatments need to be made available to all citizens of the state regardless of economic status or educational background. In particular, helping the underserved is an important mission of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.”