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Huntsman institute seeks state money

Published January 25, 2007 1:06 am

Cancer center is largely privately funded; federal cuts hurt budget
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Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) - the privately funded research center founded by the governor's father - is seeking direct funding from the state.

Huntsman Cancer Foundation President Janet Bingham and the institute's namesake, Jon Huntsman Sr., want lawmakers to set aside $10 million in cash and $5 million in annual funding every year from now on. This is the first time the institute is seeking direct funding from the state.



The request for research money puts other institutions on edge and poses a potential conflict of interest for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who says he supports the funding request but is not lobbying for it.

The governor's father founded the institute in 1995 - a crusade he adopted after being diagnosed with cancer himself. The institute has been funded largely from federal grants and private donations.

Huntsman, who created a petrochemical empire, himself donated $225 million to build the institute. A few years ago, lawmakers started funneling $3.5 million a year in tobacco tax and settlement funds to the institute.

But Bingham says cuts in federal grants have tightened finances for cancer research centers nationwide.

"We cannot wait for the federal government to restore funding," Bingham said in an e-mail interview. "If we are to rapidly translate the HCI discoveries and research of the past decade to fully benefit the patient, we must fill this void."

HCI executives are making the rounds of newspaper editorial boards and lawmakers' offices. Bingham, whose husband died of pancreatic cancer, is a registered lobbyist.

The institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the Intermountain West. Last year, HCI had more than 38,000 patient visits. Each day, 29 newly-diagnosed cancer patients are seen at the institute. And, Bingham says, the institute's researchers have discovered gene mutations that cause colon, breast and ovarian cancers and melanoma.

Still, HCI is trying to dip into a pot shared by several research institutions. Privately, executives worry that HCI's request will cut into their own. Lawmakers plan to set spending caps this year that limit general fund dollars.

"If you're not public education, transportation or the Rainy Day Fund, then you are competing for the same dollars," acknowledged Rep. Greg Hughes, a Draper Republican. "All those decisions have to be weighed with [the spending caps] in mind."

The high-powered name behind the institute can't hurt. But the governor says he won't throw it around.

"If they are talking to members of the Legislature, I would [do] . . . anything I could to support a center of excellence - that [Huntsman Cancer Institute], or the Moran Eye Center or the Diabetes Center," he said. "I have nothing but high regard for the work that takes place there."

But, "I'm sensitive to the connection that people might draw," he added. "I have no conflict of interest - only a good name that is associated with the institute."

walsh@sltrib.com

 

 

 

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