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Constructing a Cure for Cancer
The Health Science Center has the funding, the faculty, and now, the leading physician to fight cancer.

December 2002

by Amanda Gallagher and Will Sansom

When the 76th Texas Legislature awarded the Health Science Center a $200 million endowment to build the state’s most comprehensive children’s cancer research institute, it knew the project was in good hands.

When the Health Science Center handed the project to Sharon B. Murphy, M.D., the institution knew it secured success.

Dr. Murphy is the newly appointed director of the Children’s Cancer Research Institute, a $49.5 million facility with the potential to become one of the foremost research institutes in the world. The $200 million endowment that funds the institute is part of the state’s tobacco settlement and is the largest single cancer endowment in the United States. Dr. Murphy’s experience, vision and leadership ability complete the package.

"We have recruited the top physician/scientist in the field to lead the Children’s Cancer Research Institute," said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center. "Dr. Murphy not only is an internationally recognized researcher in the field of pediatric oncology, but she has a sterling reputation as a program builder and a compassionate physician. She was the top choice of everyone involved in this extensive national search."

Dr. Murphy came to the Health Science Center from Illinois, where she was chief of the division of hematology/oncology at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern. From 1993 to 2001, she served as chair of the Pediatric Oncology Group (POG), a National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials cooperative group serving roughly half of all the children with cancer in North America. She was instrumental in forming the successor to POG, the Children’s Oncology Group, which unites 238 institutions participating in pediatric oncology research. Her decision to build the Children’s Cancer Research Institute from the ground up seemed a natural progression.
Sharon B. Murphy, M.D.

"I wanted the opportunity to start something from scratch and the Health Science Center had the space and the resources to do it. That is almost unheard of today," Dr. Murphy said. "Dr. Cigarroa’s energy and vision for the Health Science Center also was a big attraction for me."

The Children’s Cancer Research Institute building, located at 8403 Floyd Curl Drive, is about 50 percent complete. Contractors said it will be ready for move-in by August 2003.

In the meantime, Dr. Murphy faces her first major challenge: filling the center with the right equipment and researchers.

She’s in the process of recruiting 15 to 20 of the country’s greatest cancer researchers - a difficult task considering her standards. "I’m not going to hire good people - I’m going to hire outstanding people," she said.

Her selection is critical. She must find scientists willing to pioneer a new institute and she must choose the rare few who have the knowledge and capability to transform ideas into treatments. "We are poised on the next brink of fundamental discoveries and now we have an investment to bring those discoveries to fruition - to translate those findings into new treatments and to reap the benefits for children," Dr. Murphy said. "The biggest problems we face are in optimizing current treatments and having them be more rationally based, more biologically based, as opposed to cytotoxic chemotherapy and radiation affecting growing children."

Dr. Murphy said the institute will focus on developing different tools for different cancers. "More specific tools should enhance the quality of life for those undergoing treatment," she said. To find those tools, researchers will target the molecular mechanisms of cancer, experimental therapeutics, cancer control and epidemiology, and tumor virology. While they will work to optimize childhood cancer treatment, the outcomes could have even greater implications.

"The discoveries and the translation that emanate from this center will be relevant to cancer occurring at all ages. I say this because childhood cancer is really a magnificent model for the problem of cancer in general," Dr. Murphy said.

She is determined to create what she calls a center of "national and international preeminence" that will serve as a magnet for biomedical research. She believes the success of the Children’s Cancer Research Institute will stem from its unique emphasis on childhood cancer. "Most centers are more broadly defined and target adult forms of cancer," Dr. Murphy said. "Until now, we lacked dedicated centers focusing on research of childhood cancer, and research is where the cures are found."

Children’s Cancer Research Institute Facts
Location: 8403 Floyd Curl Drive
Size: 100,000 square feet, 4 stories
Materials: Limestone and Glass
Cost: $49.5 million
Contractor: Bartlett Cocke General Contractors
Architect: Garza Bomberger & Associates of San Antonio
Completion date: August 2003

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Updated 12/11/14