Local News

Duke, UNC cancer centers to cooperate, not compete

Posted November 6, 2009 6:01 p.m. EST
Updated November 6, 2009 6:30 p.m. EST

— Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill both want to be leaders in the fight against one of the country's deadliest diseases. Within three years, they will each have comprehensive cancer centers, and the facilities will be located about a dozen miles apart.

UNC opened its 315,000-square-foot North Carolina Cancer Hospital in September, and Duke broke ground Friday on its 267,000-square-foot cancer center. The latter facility is expected to open by April 2012.

"As a survivor, it gives me so much hope for the future," Jaime Valvano Howard said.

Howard watched her father, former North Carolina State University basketball coach and athletic director Jim Valvano, lose his battle with cancer in 1993. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years later at the age of 33 and was treated at Duke.

Officials from UNC and Duke said that, while the two schools are fierce rivals in athletics and academics, they expect the two cancer centers will work together and help each other.

"I'm very confident that the state will benefit from both of us growing our clinical program and having more space," said Dr. Shelley Earp, director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at UNC.

Within five years, the number of new cancer cases in the Triangle alone is expected to jump by 21 percent, said Kevin Sowers, chief executive of Duke University Hospital. In addition, physicians will have to treat people who are living longer with cancer, he said.

"It will take each and every one of us to care for patients diagnosed with cancer," Sowers said. "Cancer cases are increasing because the baby boomers are coming of age in this country, and so this is a national issue."

Duke and UNC already collaborate on research and clinical trials, and officials said having two cancer centers so close together will make the region a powerhouse in attracting research money and biotech companies.

"Our objective is not to have anybody go to M.D. Anderson (Cancer Center in Houston) or Sloan-Kettering (Cancer Center in New York)," Earp said. "Our real objective is to have people come from New York and Texas to North Carolina."

Gov. Beverly Perdue, who attended Duke's ground-breaking ceremony, agreed that the amount of cancer research going on in the Triangle will boost the region's economy.

"I believe North Carolina will become the epicenter for cancer research and treatment, not just in this state or country, but globally,” Perdue said.