Penn State was founded as the Farmer's High School in 1855. The largest campus is at University Park (State College), Pennsylvania, with 24 other campuses located throughout the Commonwealth, including the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The University includes ten undergraduate colleges, the Graduate School, the College of Medicine and several other components.
As a whole, Penn State offers more than 160 baccalaureate and 25 associate degree majors, 140 graduate fields of study, 5,000 undergraduate courses, and 3,000 graduate courses. General operations of the University are supported by appropriations from the Pennsylvania legislature, grants from the federal government, research grants and contracts, and income from endowment and tuition. PSU is ranked 9th in the nation in total R & D expenditures, and 15th in Federal R & D expenditures. Penn State is also the 3rd ranked institution in the nation in industry-sponsored research.
During the academic year 2000-2001, cancer was designated in the Strategic Plan of the Penn State College of Medicine/Hershey Medical Center as the research area to be aggressively developed with the ultimate goal of being able to become a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. In June 2000, a Cancer Center Advisory Committee was convened to assess the Penn State Cancer Center and provide opinions regarding its current activities and what would be required to make NCI-designation a viable goal. They concluded that while quality scientific research was being performed, the Cancer Center lacked organizational structure, and its central leadership lacked authority within Penn State University and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
The consulting firm of Crossroads Cancer Consulting was hired in May 2001, and its initial assessment report regarding cancer strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities was completed in August 2001. Dean Darrell Kirch formed a Cancer Steering Committee to guide the development of the implementation of the recommendations made by the consultants. In addition, three committees were formed to work with the Steering Committee to implement the plan. The committees were charged with moving the total cancer program forward toward the goal of NCI-designation, as well as optimizing medical oncology operational efficiency and effectiveness, upgrading the infrastructure for clinical care, improving links with member organizations, optimizing clinical trials operations, and advancing outreach and education.
To achieve this goal, a single entity designated as the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute (PSHCI) was established. PSHCI consists of Penn State University; Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, PA; St. Joseph Medical Center in Reading, PA; and Mount Nittany Medical Center (MNMC), in State College, PA. According to registry data, the integrated entity treats about 5,000 new cancer patients per year. This accounts for nearly 25% of the total cancer patients in PA, according to an analysis of six cancer-related DRGs. A Clinical Trials Network has been established for cooperative group trials between the partnering hospitals and affiliate. In addition, a Tumor and Tissue Bank has been developed at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Other PSHCI affiliates include Wyoming Valley Health System, based in northeastern PA, Susquehanna Health System, serving patients in north central PA, and Lewistown Hospital, located in Lewistown, PA.
The PSHCI catchment area includes 27 counties in PA, many of which are considered rural. The ten counties immediately surrounding the Hershey campus account for 70% of the patients seen at PSHCI. PSHCI is a founding member of the Appalachian Cancer Network, a consortium of regional, state, and local partners in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The ACN is funded through the NCI and is designed to link rural health sector partnerships with cancer research centers in addressing critical cancer control issues in medically underserved populations.
In 2006, The Penn State Board of Directors approved a new 165,000 square foot, free-standing facility to house both clinical and research functions of the PSHCI. The building opened in June, 2009, and is truly the new face of cancer care in central Pennsylvania. Exceptional progress has been made over the past 8 years. PSHCI now includes 143 members from 25 academic departments at the Hershey and University Park campuses of Penn State University. Our cancer funding has increased by 63%, including a 44% increase in NIH funding and 16% increase in NCI funding. Our NIH cancer funding actually increased by 14% in the past two years, a period when NIH funding has decreased.
The clinical trials program has also experienced significant growth. The exceptional institutional support for trials has helped us to surpass all the NCI benchmarks for accrual to trials. Dr. Belani joined PSHCI in 2007 and has spearheaded the PSHCI Phase I and Phase II programs from the NCI and has enabled access to novel therapeutic agents through the NCI CTEP U01 and N01 mechanisms. Clinical trials currently open to accrual at the PSHCI include more than 120 pilot and Phase I-III treatment trials as well as trials for cancer detection and prevention, and over 50 laboratory correlative studies. Our portfolio of clinical trials includes studies of all types, i.e., cooperative group, investigator-initiated, NCI peer-reviewed and industry-sponsored. The PSHCI has been in the top five national ranking for accruing patients on Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) phase trials in the area of hematological malignancies. There has been particularly impressive growth in clinical trial accrual over the past 5 years. Total accrual has increased almost seven fold, with 60% of these subjects being enrolled on investigator-initiated trials. The number of patients enrolled on therapeutic clinical trials increased from 5.5% of patients in 2007 to 10% during calendar year 2010. Factoring in all agent/device trials (including cancer prevention), accrual for 2010 was 18%. It is also important to note that ~28% of patients enrolled on clinical trials annually at PSHCI come from "rural" areas, demonstrating how PSHCI is serving our unique rural communities.