Officials at the Wichita Community Clinical Oncology Program breathed a sigh of relief Thursday evening when they received word from the National Cancer Institute that they will continue to receive federal funding throughout the summer.
“It really helps relieve the fears of the patients and staff because there was always that thought, ‘What if we were going to have to furlough staff?’ and ‘What we are going to do to make this work?’” said Keisha Humphries, oncology service line administrator for Via Christi who oversees operations for Wichita’s CCOP.
The program is one of about 60 community clinical oncology programs nationwide competing for grants in a new system that the federal government is implementing this year. Those grants, to be awarded in September, would allow the program to continue to enroll clinical cancer patients as the current clinical trial system is overhauled.
Earlier this week, program officials cited concerns about a potential funding gap between May 31 and the beginning of the new program in the fall.
In an letter Thursday to cancer program officials nationwide, Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute said that grantees can be assured that they will receive their current level of funding until the new program begins.
“While this was always our intention, this has not been clearly communicated,” the letter says.
He also stated that the new program will start Aug. 1, a month earlier than the National Cancer Institute had previously reported.
Since it started in 1983, the Wichita CCOP has had more than 15,000 patients in clinical trials. Currently, the local program has about 1,500 patients in 120 clinical trials that focus on several types of cancers at various stages.
Wichita CCOP has an annual budget of about $2.3 million, mostly from federal grants from the National Cancer Institute. That source of funding has been a mainstay of the CCOP for 30 years, Humphries said.
Wichita officials will have to wait until early summer to find out if the program will receive funding through the new system.
If they do not receive the funding, Humphries said they will continue to provide clinical trials but on a much smaller scale.
She says she’s optimistic the Wichita program will be selected.