As reported by The Hartford Courant, June 15, 2004.

Cancer Center Widens Goals

By William Hathaway

FARMINGTON -- Amid continued signs of financial stability at the University of Connecticut Health Center, the school's board of directors Monday applauded a business plan to make the school's cancer center one of the nation's elite.

With an emphasis on prevention and a collaborative effort with other hospitals in the state to conduct trials of new cancer treatments, the school's cancer center could win federal designation as a comprehensive cancer center within a decade, said Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, cancer center director.

Runowicz outlined the ambitious plan to the board, which also approved a $595 million budget for 2005. The Health Center's finances have remained stable for the past three years, after a severe crisis in 1999 and 2000. The budget, which includes $96 million in state aid, still must be approved by UConn trustees.

While state and federal reimbursements for operations, research and patient care over the long term remain uncertain, the Health Center is in sound financial shape and will meet its obligations in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, without additional aid, financial officers said.

UConn's cancer center has been identified as one of the Health Center's signature programs, or areas of academic emphasis. Runowicz, who was hired in October to oversee the expansion of the cancer program, has announced a goal of earning designation as a comprehensive cancer center from the National Cancer Institute.

That designation is reserved for centers that offer a full range of cancer services, including cancer prevention, community outreach, basic research and using research efforts to help patients.

Monday's report was the first detailed outline of those plans - a $20 million investment over the next five years, which would include hiring new staff and marketing the center more aggressively. Runowicz said upgrading the cancer program would attract thousands of new patients, and she estimated the Health Center could realize at least $18 million in profit through fiscal year 2009. Without the improvements, she said, the cancer center would operate at a $10 million loss.

"We have been called the best-kept secret, and I would like to change that," Runowicz said.

The cancer center has strong basic research and has launched plans to help prevent cancer in the community, she said. However, the business plan unveiled Monday showed that the Health Center has a long way to go to get more patients to come to it.

Runowicz said that the Health Center now accounts for just 10.9 percent of the local market for cancer treatments. By contrast, her report said, Hartford Hospital has a 39.1 percent share, and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center has 28.5 percent.

One way to attract more people to the center, she said, is by offering patients innovative treatments, such as the cancer vaccines developed by UConn scientist Pramod Srivastava that are now in clinical trials.

Runowicz said she hoped that UConn would collaborate with Yale and three or four other hospitals in the state to offer patients the opportunity to participate in clinical trials.

"I think you guys have really hit a home run here," said David Friend, a Health Center trustee, after hearing the plan.