Multiple factors critical to the effectiveness of academic phase I cancer programs were assessed among 16 academic centers in the U.S. Successful cancer centers were defined as having broad phase I and I/II clinical trial portfolios, multiple investigator-initiated studies, and correlative science. The most significant elements were institutional philanthropic support, experienced clinical research managers, robust institutional basic research, institutional administrative efforts to reduce bureaucratic regulatory delays, phase I navigators to inform patients and physicians of new studies, and a large cancer center patient base. New programs may benefit from a separate stand-alone operation, but mature phase I programs work well when many of the activities are transferred to disease-oriented teams. The metrics may be useful as a rubric for new and established academic phase I programs.