When Kathleen Glass Burk’s father, Charlie Glass, was nearing the end of an uphill battle against sarcoma, she made him a promise.
“I promised to create a foundation and raise funds for research to give other patients with sarcoma hope — and more tomorrows,” says Kathleen.
That moment marked the inception of The Hope Promise: Charlie Glass Sarcoma Research Foundation, dedicated to funding clinical trials of experimental drugs to create more effective treatment options for patients with sarcoma.
Charlie, of Covington, Tennessee, was a marathon runner who loved to hunt and fish and “always saw the glass as half full,” says Kathleen.
He began his cancer journey after an attack of diverticulitis cut a business trip short. Doctors suspected something more and sent him to a local cancer clinic. From there he went to MD Anderson for consultation and found himself under the care of Robert Benjamin, M.D., clinical professor of Sarcoma Medical Oncology. Surgery revealed the source of his pain: an 11-pound sarcoma the size of a football.
Charlie, founder and chief executive officer of EPG Insurance, returned to work. Life went on as normal until the cancer recurred. A second surgery at MD Anderson removed 23 tumors.
“After the cancer returned for the third time, he said, ‘Kathleen, we can’t let this happen to others,’” she says.
Charlie died in 2012, and as time went by Kathleen became increasingly frustrated at the lack of options for patients with this aggressive and underfunded cancer. Enlisting friends, family and colleagues, she established the foundation, based in Covington, and began filling the board with likeminded people who shared her passion.
“I was so sick of seeing families with no options,” says Kathleen.
Ideas for an annual fall fundraiser began to take shape. The inaugural Hope Promise Ball, held last November at the Peabody Hotel, was a huge success thanks to a strong base of supporters in Memphis who raised $125,000 to support the work of Joseph Ludwig, M.D., associate professor of Sarcoma Medical Oncology at MD Anderson.
Ludwig and his team are collaborating with researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital on a clinical trial testing an implantable drug-delivery microdevice that has the potential to revolutionize the drug development paradigm. The tiny cylindrical device, placed into the tumor through a biopsy needle, has 20 reservoirs, each filled with either a single agent or drug combination. The treatments are evaluated within 24 to 48 hours, enabling researchers to precisely measure each drug’s direct effects in real patients’ tumors.
This information is then used to predict how well the drugs might have performed had they been given to patients in larger doses systemically. As opposed to clinical trials that test one or two drugs, a key advantage of the microdevice trial is the ability to test 10 or more drugs simultaneously, dramatically accelerating the pace of drug testing for rare tumors like sarcoma. The goal is to make the technology available to patients this summer, with Ludwig overseeing its use in adult patients at MD Anderson and Najat Daw, M.D., professor, and Branko Cuglievan, M.D., assistant professor, Pediatrics, managing its use in younger patients ages 10 and older.
A second annual Hope Promise gala is set for Nov. 8 at the Peabody. Kathleen plans to honor her father’s life and celebrate her own 32nd birthday this June with an inaugural “Hope Birthday Bash” at the Village Door Music Hall in Miramar Beach, Florida. In addition, the foundation plans a 2020 event in Denver and hopes to expand to Nashville as well.
“Our dream is to find a cure, and I’m not going to stop,” says Kathleen, who has visited Ludwig’s lab at MD Anderson three times with her mother, Judy Glass, to better understand the science behind the microdevice. “Dad was a fighter and a joyful person. We miss him like crazy and we can’t bring him back, but we can help give hope for others. This is what I was meant to do.”