the University of Florida Health Cancer Center made numerous advancements. We further developed our research programs and broadened our basic and translational research efforts like never before. Our clinical trial enrollment increased dramatically and our offices overseeing education and training and community outreach made strides that have a far-reaching impact.
Over the past five years, our peer-reviewed cancer-relevant funding has more than doubled and a third of our total cancer-related funding has been NCI funding. We have also recruited nearly 40 faculty members in seven colleges and 24 departments. Over half of those recruits have been early stage investigators.
We currently have 284 members representing 11 colleges and 63 departments. Every member is aligned to one of our three research programs — Mechanisms of Oncogenesis, Cancer Population Sciences and Cancer Therapeutics and Host Response. In 2019, all three research programs held regular program meetings to stimulate collaborative research. Notable research achievements this year include the discoveries of a new anti-cancer drug that destroys cancer-causing proteins, a link between a common food poison toxin and colorectal cancer, and an effective, less expensive hepatitis C therapy.
This past year, our Clinical Research Office enrolled 5,725 individuals to clinical trials. Enrollments to treatment trials went from 365 in 2018 to 449 in 2019. This represents an enrollment increase of over 20% for 2019, further building on the momentum of our center members to bring new and innovative cancer treatments to more patients.
We also made significant strides in cancer clinical care in 2019. Our colleagues in the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at UF Health established UF Health’s first CAR T-cell therapy program and treated the first patient in October. Also notable, the UF Division of Hematology & Oncology established an adult sarcoma program and welcomed three new solid tumor faculty members.
In support of basic and translational research, this year we collaborated with the UF Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research with the acquisition of the “Beast” — the NovaSeq6000 DNA sequencing instrument — capable of fully sequencing 48 human genomes in two days and purchase of two instruments that utilize leading-edge optical technology to analyze and sort cells.
The Biostatistics and Quantitative Sciences Shared Resource helped 62 Cancer Center members with requests in 2019 — 68% of those requests supported grant submissions. The Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Walk-In Clinic performed consults for 40 researchers and students with biostatistics or bioinformatics questions. Ji-Hyun Lee, DrPH, director of this shared resource, initiated the Biostatistics 101 course, an eight-lecture series that introduced the basic principles of biostatistics that graduated 35 students last year.
Our Research Career Enhancement core had a highly successful year. This past year, we initiated the Cancer Policy Internship, introduced the University Scholars Program, graduated the first cohort of students in the Cancer Biology Concentration and hosted the second annual Cancer Research Conference for Science Teachers.
In 2019, our Community Outreach and Engagement office launched initiatives to ultimately lead to better cancer prevention practices in our catchment area. The team played an integral part in raising the tobacco purchase age limit to 21 in Alachua County, the first county in the state to do so, and facilitated the Area Health Education Centers Rural Tobacco Summit in Starke, FL. The team also partnered closely with our Community Advisory Board to develop pilot projects related to cancer screening and linkage to care.
Also notable in 2019, the UF Health Cancer Network, comprising UF Health and the UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health, received a full reaccreditation by the Commission on Cancer, a quality program of the American College of Surgeons. The UF Health Cancer Network is one of seven facilities in the state of Florida to have achieved accreditation in the Integrated Network Cancer Program category from the Commission on Cancer, which is bestowed on cancer programs that meet or exceed the organization’s 34 quality care standards. These standards are evaluated every three years through a survey process and accredited facilities must maintain levels of excellence in the delivery of comprehensive patient-centered care.
In summary, there has been great progress in the development of cancer research programs at the University of Florida Health Cancer Center. These accomplishments and more are all made possible by our Cancer Center members and family – the UF and UF Health faculty, staff, students, health professionals and administrators – dedicated to preventing, detecting, treating and ultimately curing cancer.