Audit: New Orleans Cancer Center Falls Short On Reaching Federal Designation

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Fifteen years after its creation, a cancer center in New Orleans has received $237 million in state financing but still hasn't achieved a critical federal designation for research and training, according to an audit released Monday.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office looked at the Louisiana Cancer Research Center's performance since lawmakers established it in 2002. The center is a nonprofit consortium of the LSU Health Sciences Center, Tulane University Health Sciences Center, Xavier University and Ochsner Health System to conduct cancer research and education.

Auditors say the center is supposed to pursue designation as a National Cancer Institute, which would allow it and consortium members to compete for broader federal funding opportunities. The law creating the center spells out that it should be seeking the designation, which the report says has been given to cancer centers in 35 states.

In addition to more federal financing, reaching the designation would help the consortium partners to "expand their programs, grow their reputations and improve their abilities to recruit and retain faculty and researchers," the audit says. "Having an NCI-designated cancer center in the state could also provide promising new cancer treatments that are more easily accessible."

While the Louisiana Cancer Research Center has increased enrollment of patients into cancer trials, the report says the center hasn't hired a director, doesn't have a strategic plan and seems to have competing interests among consortium members.

Auditors say even as it received $144.2 million in state tobacco taxes for research and $92.4 million in state construction financing to build and equip its facility, the cancer center hasn't devised a written agreement outlining how institutions will work toward the federal designation.

The research center's board also hasn't actively sought to fundraise or identify other revenue sources to pay for operations, despite declining state financing and shifting money from its cancer research to cover operating expenses at its new building, the audit says.

Purpera's office suggested a list of administrative changes, most of which were supported by the Louisiana Cancer Research Center board.

In a written response for the board, Sven Davisson, the center's chief administrative officer, defended the organization's work.

He said pursuit of the federal designation "has already brought benefit to cancer patients in Louisiana, through basic research, bringing new cancer treatments to the state and increasing access to clinical trials, especially for minority patients and underserved populations."

Davisson said cuts to state financing for higher education have made it difficult to keep prominent faculty, but work is ongoing to recruit new leadership, complete strategic planning and create new financing opportunities.

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