The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on Wednesday announced that it was halfway toward its goal of raising $30 million in private funds for a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation.
UAMS said it hit that milestone after a $1 million donation from Kim and Chris Fowler, the president of Fowler Foods Inc. of Jonesboro. The Fowlers own and operate more than 91 KFC and Taco Bell restaurants in eight states.
“Raising $15 million for a single cause in such a short time is remarkable, and I want to thank every single donor who has helped make this possible,” UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said in a news conference Wednesday. “We are humbled and extremely grateful to the Fowlers for their generosity and love for their fellow Arkansans. The Fowler family is beloved and well-known for being successful in business, but they are also known for their giving spirit. This gift is representative of that.”
UAMS has been working for a few years toward NCI designation, which would help make important cancer treatments available locally so patients won’t have to leave Arkansas. It might bring other patients to the state for care, along with physicians, scientists and researchers seeking to participate in research and trials. It also provides access to significant federal research funds.
There are 71 NCI-designated cancer centers in 36 states across the country. The closest to Arkansas are in Memphis, Dallas and Oklahoma City.
The designation is obtained through a highly competitive assessment process, during which cancer centers must "demonstrate outstanding depth and breadth of high-quality cancer research and treatment," UAMS said in a news release.
UAMS estimates that NCI designation would create an about 1,500 jobs over five years and have an economic impact of about $72 million.
The UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute has hired multiple researchers over the past year as it expands research and prepares to apply for NCI designation, according to the release. Another 10 researchers are coming in March.
Cancer Institute Director Dr. Michael Birrer said that NCI designation is "an ambitious challenge that demands the hearts and minds of everyone you see here and hundreds more across UAMS and the state of Arkansas.”
The Fowlers made their donation in appreciation of Dr. James Y. Suen, who treated Chris Fowler when he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2011. The donation continues the legacy of his parents, Wallace and Jama Fowler, who have given millions in support of health care and education in northeast Arkansas.
“A lot of people say, 'I owe my life' to someone, but I can truly say it, not only to Dr. Suen but the entire team at UAMS," Chris Fowler said. "The people of Arkansas don’t know what they truly have at UAMS until they need it. It is a diamond in the rough. We know that UAMS will continue to provide world-class treatment through not only the citizens of Arkansas, but across the world.”