Jon Huntsman Sr. helps wage global war on cancer

Published: Thursday, March 4 2010 12:55 p.m. MST

Jon Huntsman Sr. (Jason Olson, Deseret News) Jon Huntsman Sr. (Jason Olson, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — Using diplomacy that focuses on curing cancer, Jon Huntsman Sr. has laid the groundwork to help build a network of cancer hospitals in several countries, including nations in the Middle East.

He told the Deseret News on Wednesday that he's been approached multiple times in recent years by government and medical officials at home and abroad who want to use the genetic research now under way at Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) as the basis for establishing a specialty cancer hospital in their areas. He said he has no estimate for when these hospitals might be built.
Researchers and leaders in Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and China have all expressed interest, as have researchers from several areas in the U.S., he said.

\"They don't have $50 million per year for research ... which is a black pit of (financial losses), but it's absolutely essential in the medical world to make progress. Without it, you can't move forward.\"

In response to the queries, Huntsman officials developed a blueprint for expanding the Huntsman Cancer Hospital at the University of Utah into a network of similar hospitals in various parts of the world where universities, municipalities or governments are willing to build the facilities.

\"We will provide the architectural plans and layouts, train their doctors with personnel from the institute and require them to meet specific standards of care in order to bear our name,\" he said.

Each facility would be owned independently but would utilize HCI's consulting and research for a $5 million annual fee, which would be funneled back into HCI to fund ongoing research, Huntsman said. A handful of sites are now negotiating with HCI to build such a facility, he said. He declined to name them, noting that local officials in those areas would make the announcements when the time is right.

Because the vast majority of cancers can be treated on an outpatient basis through chemotherapy and radiation, the hospitals would be self-sustaining financially and have full access to cutting-edge research in order to continually update treatment protocols, he said.

The concept has already been implemented locally by Intermountain Healthcare, which has established specialty cancer wings at several of its Utah hospitals in cooperation with HCI and the Huntsman Cancer Center at IHC's flagship campus in Murray.

Word that Huntsman is working to establish the network outside Utah came during a conference at HCI on Wednesday, dubbed \"Global Perspectives on Cancer,\" which included several researchers from the Middle East.

\"Cancer is now the fastest growing killer in the region,\" said Bahman Baktiari, director of the Middle East Center at the U. \"Previously, diplomacy had been focused on political, military and commercial affairs, and global health had been more narrowly included in a development perspective.\"

\"Today, the two areas have broadened to recognize the greater expanse of health issues in foreign policy and national security,\" Baktiari said.

Huntsman said he has spent a lot of time with leaders in the Middle East, whose oil-based financial resources could provide the funding for a cancer hospital in cooperation with HCI. \"They're now in the process of building some of the world's most modern and updated medical facilities. They can afford the type of medical care that other countries in Asia and parts of Eastern Europe simply couldn't afford.\"

Huntsman firmly believes the partnerships that result from the network \"to save or extend the quality and length of people's lives is the greatest form of diplomacy that Americans can offer. It's substantially ahead of just providing money for countries to spend, or even worse to have it wasted on corruption. Every dollar here will be accounted for and they'll be able to overcome this disease that's overtaken the earth.\"

The initiative will also help fund research at HCI in perpetuity, he said, noting the continuing need to raise $50 million in research funding each year has become his \"full-time job\" for the past 11 years.

\"It's been very difficult,\" both physically and emotionally, he said. \"Through recessions and difficult times we've had to take out huge long-term loans to help finance what's going on. We knew when we came to Utah that it would be a long, hard struggle as opposed to locating it at Duke or USC,\" which could have provided matching funds, \"but we chose to come to Utah because of the great genetic database,\" and because \"there was no cancer research center in the Intermountain West.\"

Half of men and a third of women worldwide will have one of 200 types of cancer in their lifetime, he said. \"If we ever reach the point where we could eradicate cancer like they eliminated polio, that's our goal.\"

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