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Roswell Park stands to gain as Cuomo gets a firsthand look at center’s work

If it took a trip to Cuba with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in order to spare Roswell Park Cancer Institute the prospect of a budget cut, then it was time well spent.

Back in April, Roswell Park Cancer Institute CEO Candace S. Johnson found herself part of a group that included the leaders of such big businesses as JetBlue, Pfizer, MasterCard and Chobani. They all were exploring new business affiliations.

What Johnson appears to have come away with from the trip is the type of working relationship with the state that the institute has long needed, resulting in the governor sparing Roswell Park the budget knife for the first time in years. Cuomo’s proposed executive budget honored the full $102.6 million requested for 2016-17.

That was a seismic shift from the previous few years in which the governor proposed cutting funding for the cancer center. Each year the State Legislature had to work to restore the money.

Over the years the governor has said he wanted the institute to become “operationally independent.” He once set a cutoff date for all funding of March 2014.

This page has maintained that independence from state subsidies should be the institute’s goal. The institute shares that desire and is working to reduce its dependence on state funding. But Roswell Park is not there yet, and setting an arbitrary cutoff date cast unnecessary doubt on the center’s future. Currently 14 percent of the institute’s $722 million operating budget is from New York State, down from 50 percent in 1999.

Roswell Park, one of 45 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, is integral to the growth of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The institute is in the process of completing a new $50.5 million Clinical Sciences Center at Michigan Avenue and Carlton Street, slated to open in late spring.

While on the trip, Cuomo was able to observe the working relationship Roswell Park has with its Cuban vaccine research partners, visiting Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology. Johnson noted the governor’s enthusiasm at the potential results of the collaboration between the institute and the Cuban facility.

Roswell Park and Cuban researchers are studying a vaccine that could be used in the prevention and treatment of lung and other cancers, just one example of the important work being done at the institute.

Johnson’s presence on that trip to Cuba allowed the governor to see firsthand her leadership and the dedication she and her staff have in reaching the institute’s goals to the benefit of the region, nation and world.

This was a trip worth taking.