It took more than 15 years to advance the breakthrough discoveries of Nobel laureate Jim Allison, Ph.D., to immunotherapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration for patients with cancer. During that time, Allison, chair of Immunology at MD Anderson, labored not only to develop what he calls “ippy” — the drug ipilimumab, which unleashes the immune system — but also to acquire the funding needed to translate his remarkable findings to the clinic.
Early significant support of Allison’s research might have sped the bench-to-bedside timeline by more than half, believes Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., senior vice president for Research Administration and Industry Relations and one of the institutional leaders of the Accelerator Fund, an exciting new MD Anderson initiative. “The Accelerator Fund would have enabled everything to be done in a tighter time frame. I believe that wholeheartedly,” Prat says.
The Accelerator Fund is an innovative philanthropic model that will build a self-sustaining pool of capital to support drug development at MD Anderson in perpetuity. The primary goal is to get the most promising therapies to patients as quickly as possible — with an eye on their commercial value. Generated revenue from down-the-road commercialization will pour back into the fund, enabling our doctors and researchers to develop more therapies.
Luann and Bill Hoffman of Hollywood, Florida, are among the first donors to help MD Anderson launch this creative approach to accelerating the translation of discoveries to therapies. Bill believes that Allison’s research journey is “a powerful example of why the Accelerator Fund will be impactful. This type of fund serves a real purpose and helps bring basic research findings to patients.”
The high cost of drug development slows progress. Partnering with industry can bring financial support but may result in business, not science, driving decisions. This can lead to protracted timelines and failed clinical trials. As Bill points out, “Fantastic, novel therapies that never reach patients don’t do a lot of good. You need to get therapies to patients.”
The Accelerator Fund gives MD Anderson control over the drug pipeline for select projects, enabling researchers to make decisions based on science — speeding up the process. It also allows MD Anderson to retain ownership of assets longer as they advance to the clinical phase, thereby increasing their market value.
Bill said that once he and Luann heard about the Accelerator Fund, “The concept immediately resonated. We decided it was important to show leadership and make an early contribution to the initiative.” They hope other donors will follow their lead. “The Accelerator Fund will be impactful, and we are proud to support the effort,” Bill says.
Donors to the Accelerator Fund are true investors in MD Anderson’s success. Most importantly, year after year, they will watch their generosity translate into improved cancer therapies pioneered by our researchers and know they’re making a difference in the lives of patients worldwide.