Tribune editorial: Hatch’s effort for cancer patients will go on

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman and Chair of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, left, joins Vice President Joe Biden, Mary Beckerle, PhD, Huntsman Cancer Institute, and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch in a roundtable discussion after touring the Huntsman Cancer Center in Salt Lake City in February 2016.

In the fight to cure cancer, the heavyweight is the United States government. No entity has invested more in research to identify, treat and avoid it.

And so it is for the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute. Donations from the Huntsman family and others were combined with the university’s braintrust of medical researchers to establish an institute that would be a premier facility in the nation for both research and clinical care.

That, in turn, brought in more top scientists. Those scientists then applied for grants to carry out their research, and most of those grants came from the National Cancer Institute and other federal research funders.

So with federal support so crucial to a research center’s success and to a better understanding of this insidious disease, Huntsman Cancer Institute has always needed a good friend in Washington.

For the 25 years of the institute’s existence, that good friend has been Sen. Orrin Hatch. There may be no single person outside of Jon and Karen Huntsman who did more to make the institute a national leader.

The university’s Board of Trustees announced last week that the institute’s newest facility will be named for the seven-term senator. With a $10 million donation from the Huntsman Foundation, the new proton therapy center will provide a new treatment option for patients needing radiation therapy. The therapy uses a focused beam of protons to attack cancer cells with less damage to surrounding tissue, but until now there has been no Utah provider.

Hatch has been focused on HCI since its beginning. He and his staff have visited the institute dozens of times to meet with faculty and students. He has regularly consulted with HCI scientists about how their research might be affected by federal legislation, and he authored letters to support the institute’s designation as a national cancer center. He helped secure $100 million in federal funding for the first phase of the Huntsman Cancer Hospital, which opened in 2004.

He also has backed major bills for biomedical research, notably the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides funding for the “Cancer Moonshot” effort to double cancer research in America. When then-Vice President Joe Biden visited Utah and Huntsman in 2016 as leader of the Moonshot effort, he was joined by a familiar face and longtime colleague in the U.S. Senate

As Utah’s senior senator nears the end of his career, he has received countless accolades and awards for his service to Americans over the past 42 years. This honor is recognition that his contributions will continue to save lives. Orrin Hatch is leaving the national stage, but his proton beam is just getting started.

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