PRINCETON, W.Va. — West Virginia University’s efforts to reimagine and expand cancer care received a $50 million boost as Gov. Jim Justice joined WVU academic and Health System leaders to announce state surplus funding that will support investment to attain National Cancer Institute Designation — a first for West Virginia.
“Our goal is to place the WVU Cancer Institute in the top 2% of cancer centers nationwide, which will improve the health and wellness of the people in our state, particularly in southern West Virginia, by reducing cancer occurrence rates and increasing cancer survival,” WVU President Gordon Gee said.
Justice made the announcement at WVU Medicine Princeton Community Hospital flanked by Gee, WVU Health System President and Chief Executive Officer Albert L. Wright, Jr., WVU Health Sciences Chancellor and Executive Dean Dr. Clay Marsh, and WVU Cancer Institute Director Dr. Hannah Hazard-Jenkins.
The funding was included in House Bill 2024 as part of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget passed by the West Virginia Legislature. These dollars will be used for comprehensive research programs, faculty, and facilities that will directly lead to innovative approaches in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment for all West Virginians.
Cancer is a devastating disease that affects one-in-ten adults in the state. West Virginia has the highest cancer death rate in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in part due to high tobacco use, lack of access to nutritious foods, limited physical activity, and environmental influences such as poverty. Cancer occurrence and death rates in the state are well above the national average for nearly all types of cancer.
“There is a cancer epidemic in West Virginia,” Marsh said. “As West Virginia’s land-grant institution, it’s our duty and honor to make sure our state’s citizens have access to the most advanced clinical trials, treatments, and care for cancer, and we are working closely with our WVU Medicine and state partners to bring this level of care to West Virginians. We are grateful to our state legislature and governor for recognizing the need that exists and for supporting a solution.”
The National Cancer Institute leads cancer research across the country and recognizes cancer centers with an official NCI designation, the highest federal rating a cancer center can achieve. This designation is awarded to cancer centers that are leading in innovative research and treatments and is the gold standard for cancer programs.
According to Wright, NCI designation will allow the WVU Cancer Institute to expand beyond the traditional model of diagnosis and treatment to a more integrated and comprehensive approach with a stronger emphasis on cancer prevention, especially in underserved populations.
“Our long-term vision includes building the infrastructure necessary for a new NCI-designated Cancer Institute in Morgantown and for our existing network of Cancer Institute sites across the state to become NCI designated to bring patients increased access to better treatments, public education, pioneering research, and national clinical trials,” Wright said.
Currently, there are 71 NCI-designated cancer centers in 36 U.S. states, and centers with this designation represent the country's top two percent of cancer centers. The WVU Cancer Institute would be the first NCI-designated cancer center in West Virginia.
“I am thrilled to deliver this $50 million check to the West Virginia University Cancer Institute in their pursuit of an official cancer center designation by the National Cancer Institute,” Gov. Justice said.
“I want to express my deep gratitude to the West Virginia Legislature for allocating these crucial funds and to WVU Medicine for pursuing this incredible goal because we all recognize the importance and significance of obtaining this recognition from the NCI, as it is only bestowed upon the nation’s top cancer centers. This funding will serve as a catalyst to jumpstart our progress towards that goal, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
The economic impact for West Virginia
According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is one of the critical issues causing economic and financial burdens. Globally, the total annual economic cost of cancer is estimated at approximately $1.16 trillion, according to the Union for International Cancer Control. West Virginia cancer-related medical costs are more than 2.4 times the national average.
Investment in cancer prevention and early detection, diagnosis, and control is critical to helping save lives, but it can also potentially provide significant savings in treatment costs — both for patients and healthcare organizations.
By working toward enhanced access to cancer care and programs in West Virginia, additional research staff and personnel infrastructure, and a future statewide, comprehensive NCI-designated Cancer Institute, the health and well-being of the people in the state affected by cancer will continue to improve by reducing cancer occurrence rates and improving long-term cancer survival rates.
“Our long-standing mission is to provide excellent care to patients with cancer, and their families while strengthening our research, education, and service programs to address the cancer health inequalities unique to the state of West Virginia and Appalachia,” Hazard-Jenkins said. “Together, we will work to build science that saves lives.”
For more information on the WVU Cancer Institute, visit WVUMedicine.org/Cancer.