Small gifts lead to big impact
The power of philanthropy helps dollars multiply to advance research breakthroughs
A strong return on investment starts with each donor. The impact of each gift to MD Anderson, whether $20 or $20 million, is multiplied many times over. Philanthropic dollars give researchers the leverage they need to secure multiyear, peer-reviewed grant funding. Philanthropy and grants work in synergy to form a solid foundation for the institution’s mission to end cancer.
In Fiscal Year 2020, from Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020, donors gave more than $131 million to MD Anderson. The median gift was $25, and the most frequently given amount was $20. The institution allocated approximately 84%, or $108 million, of these philanthropic dollars to research, providing critical seed money for scientific investigation. MD Anderson researchers, especially early in their careers, rely on the generosity of donors to help them pursue new ideas, conduct high-risk/high-reward studies and gather preliminary data to compete successfully for grants.
By the numbers
MD Anderson distributes a portion of its unrestricted gifts through the Institutional Research Grants (IRG) program, which enables faculty to apply for funds to launch new scientific endeavors. Nearly 80% of IRG recipients go on to secure external funding for their work. In fact, for every dollar in IRG funds, recipients bring in an additional $9 in extramural grants.
The Physician-Scientist Program, another donor-supported initiative, rewards up-and-coming faculty members with funding and designated time to advance their research. Among the program’s graduates, more than 80% are now principal investigators or project leaders on major peer-reviewed grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and Stand Up To Cancer. Approximately 85% of the graduates have obtained peer-reviewed funding.
A Strong Return on Investment
“By providing seed funding, philanthropy plays an essential role in the research support ecosystem,” says Jeffrey Myers, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Head and Neck Surgery. “Philanthropy allows scientists to pursue high-risk/high-reward concepts, supports critical research needs and ensures the success of the next generation of biomedical researchers.”
Myers used a $1 million gift from an individual donor in 2005 to establish PANTHEON (Preclinical Assessment of Novel Therapeutics in Head and Neck and Endocrine Oncology). This funding, along with additional smaller awards, has helped generate preliminary data that enabled him to obtain state and federal grants totaling more than $8.3 million. Myers has published 38 scientific papers on high-impact PANTHEON findings. Because of generous donor support, PANTHEON remains focused on advancing basic, translational and clinical research of innovative treatments to alleviate the suffering of patients with cancers of the head and neck.
Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology and an expert in immunotherapy, joined MD Anderson’s faculty in 2004 and a year later received a $232,728 award from the Physician-Scientist Program. This allowed Sharma to focus on her research at a time when most rising faculty are scrambling for peer-reviewed grants. Empowered by philanthropy, she has since garnered a DOD Idea Development Award, a CPRIT Investigator Award and a major NIH/National Cancer Institute R01 grant for a total of nearly $4.3 million, nearly 19 times her original support.
In 1986, a gift of $210,000 from a donor established the Transgenic Mouse Research Laboratory at MD Anderson. Guillermina Lozano, Ph.D., chair of Genetics, joined MD Anderson as an instructor to set up the facility. Technology for producing mouse models was new then, but as it advanced, so did Lozano’s work. One of her pioneering studies showed that deleting a specific DNA sequence led to cell death due to high levels of the p53 tumor suppressor. This discovery paved the way for a generation of inhibitors that could release p53 activity and stop tumor formation. More than 30 years later, the renamed Genetically Engineered Mouse Facility remains a core resource for developing models to analyze human cancer genes. Today, Lozano is a member of the National Academy of Sciences — one of only six from MD Anderson. She has earned more than $1.5 million in CPRIT Investigator Awards.