400 leaders dedicate Children’s Cancer Research Institute

Second-graders from Raul Fernandez Elementary School participated in the CCRI dedication by shooting confetti into the crowd at the end of the ceremony.

San Antonio (March 2, 2004) – More than 400 community leaders, elected officials, university regents, and faculty and staff ushered in a new era of South Texas cancer research Feb. 24 at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio with the dedication of the Children’s Cancer Research Institute (CCRI), a $50 million research facility anchored by the principle that childhood cancer is an excellent model for studying cancer in general.

Keynote speaker Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute and a cancer survivor, discussed the NCI’s commitment to end suffering and death as a result of cancer by 2015. “That goal is realistic because of the progress of the past and the promise of the future, including the promise of institutions like the one you are dedicating today,” he said.

Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center, recognized the distinguished platform guests and outstanding members of the community. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Dr. Cigarroa said. “None of this could happen without your leadership.”

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The CCRI is supported by a $200 million endowment from the state’s tobacco settlement. It is the nation’s largest single endowment for cancer. Community leader Red McCombs and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini both spoke about the evolution of the state’s settlement with the tobacco companies and the dream that came to be known as the CCRI.

McCombs recalled getting an early morning telephone call from “a very excited attorney general named Dan Morales, who was calling from Texarkana, where a federal judge was finalizing his agreement to accept the so-called tobacco settlement.” The former attorney general outlined his vision for the tobacco settlement, including “$200 million for the children,” McCombs said. In 1999, the Legislature awarded that same amount from the settlement to the Health Science Center to establish the CCRI.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, Sen. Zaffirini played a key role in the distribution of the tobacco settlement. She said the South Texas legislative delegation is delighted to champion the Health Science Center in the Legislature. She presented Dr. Cigarroa with a state flag that flew over the Capitol on Feb. 20, 2004, and will be displayed in the CCRI.

James Richard Huffines, chairman of the Facilities Planning and Construction Committee of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, officially accepted the building on behalf of the Board. In honor of former Higher Education Coordinating Board member Raul Fernandez of San Antonio, Huffines gave the signal to a group of second-graders from Raul Fernandez Elementary School who used confetti launchers to send the colorful paper aloft in the room.

“I predict in years ahead this will be a landmark date,” said Mark Yudof, chancellor of the UT System. “This will be a date that people will think back and say it all began here. It is a commencement of a journey to improve health care for our most precious asset, our children. There is no more important work we can be doing at The University of Texas and no more important institution than this great Health Science Center and its Children’s Cancer Research Institute. We will take every opportunity to brag on you.”

The many other dignitaries in attendance included the Honorable Dolph Briscoe Jr., former governor of Texas; several other members of the Texas Legislature and scores of community leaders; Cyndi Taylor Krier, vice-chair of the UT System Board of Regents; Cathy Obriotti Green, member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. The dedication of the CCRI is “another major step in the biotech industry in San Antonio,” Wolff said.

Recalling the selection of the CCRI’s first director, Dr. Cigarroa said he promised “the Chamber and all our fine community leaders that we would recruit the best.” He honored Sharon Murphy, M.D., hired as director in 2002, as the fulfillment of that goal. Dr. Murphy, a Harvard Medical School graduate, treated children with cancer for 30 years at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. With the help of treatment advances, some of her patients beat cancer. “But I also saw a lot of suffering in those years, and I’ve seen many children for whom the treatments failed and they lost their struggle with cancer,” she said. “And I’m going to tell you, I don’t want to see that anymore.”

“Cancer still remains the leading cause of death from disease among children,” she added. “By assembling a top-notch team of researchers here who will be engaged in research relevant to childhood cancer, I can also tell you that we hope to impact the problem of cancer occurring at all ages among adults, because childhood cancer is really a model for cancer in general.”

Dr. Cigarroa also recognized Tom and Nancy Loeffler and Barbie and Toby O’Connor, community leaders who are helping raise private support for the CCRI. “We could not operate this wonderful CCRI successfully if it were not for private philanthropy and advocacy,” Dr. Cigarroa said.

Tom Loeffler, former chairman of the Board of Regents and former U.S. representative, said: “Nancy and I sincerely believe that no child should be confronted with the dreadful disease cancer, and so we are pleased to be able to give back and be part of an endowment that will grow, I believe, to the highest levels in the years ahead for the CCRI. We both believe in and support research, because research will bring the ultimate goal of the elimination of cancer.”

The 100,000-square-foot CCRI includes laboratory and office space for 18-20 scientific teams. It was designed by architects Garza Bomberger and Associates and the building contractor was Bartlett Cocke General Contractors. Bartlett Cocke has won a major award for the building’s outstanding construction.

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