For almost seven decades, philanthropy has fueled cutting-edge cancer research and nurtured innovative patient care programs at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Researchers and clinicians at MD Anderson continue to redefine the standard of cancer care across the globe. Underscoring the institution’s world-class reputation is its No. 1 ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent “America’s Best Hospitals” survey as the nation’s top hospital for cancer care, for the sixth time in eight years.
Today, the challenge is to seize opportunities and strive toward continued advances in diagnosing, treating and preventing cancer such as personalized therapies and gene-based strategies. Again, philanthropy plays a central role.
With the launch of the $1 billion Making Cancer History®: The Campaign to Transform Cancer Care, MD Anderson embarks on an unprecedented journey of discovery.
“This ambitious campaign will harness MD Anderson’s infrastructure, expertise and resources to address key aspects of every component of a cancer patient’s experience,” says John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “The goal is to ‘transform cancer care.’ With sustained support, it’s within our grasp.”
A Bold Idea and Its Beginnings
Several years ago, MD Anderson began a series of Research Strategy Retreats during which faculty and leadership created a pioneering concept to transform cancer care. Their idea was to create collaborative institutes of excellence where researchers and clinicians would work across disease sites and departments in centers delineated along specific research themes. MD Anderson established the Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer, where the institute model has been hugely successful.
MD Anderson’s executive leadership extended this model to the entire continuum of cancer care, from prevention, to diagnosis and treatment and throughout survivorship. From this idea, the $1 billion Campaign to Transform Cancer Care emerged.
MD Anderson is one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. More than 96,000 patients sought MD Anderson’s expertise in Fiscal Year 2009. Multidisciplinary care centers offer access to the largest cancer clinical trials program in the nation. In FY2009, for example, more than 11,000 MD Anderson patients took part in 1,000-plus clinical trials exploring novel therapies and diagnostic tests.
MD Anderson is first in the number and dollars of research grants awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). MD Anderson holds 12 NCI Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) awards, more than a third of those granted nationally. SPOREs contribute more than $100 million to translational research in leukemia, melanoma, lymphoma, and breast, prostate, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, bladder, head and neck, uterine and brain cancers.
MD Anderson also distinguishes itself through an outstanding track record in drug development. During the past two years, clinical trials at the institution tested 17 new drugs originally developed at MD Anderson. The institution also tested dozens of new drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Over the past decade, MD Anderson has obtained 366 patents and entered into 233 license agreements, and its discoveries were the basis of 12 new companies. Garth Powis, D. Phil., director of the Center for Targeted Therapy at the McCombs Institute, says it’s “the most promising and exciting time for cancer research I’ve seen in many years.”
“MD Anderson has a long history of being able to put drugs into the clinic, and it’s one of the very few academic institutions in the country that can do this,” says Powis. “We encourage our investigators to find cancer-causing proteins so we can develop drugs targeted to them. There’s less chance of toxicity with a much greater therapeutic benefit. We have the tools to bring this promise to patients rapidly and effectively.”
The Time Is Now
The need for philanthropic support is urgent as researchers race to apply new genetic and molecular knowledge and the latest technologies to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Through the Campaign to Transform Cancer Care, MD Anderson will continue to lead the way.
Private support provides the leverage MD Anderson needs to obtain the highest levels of NCI and pharmaceutical industry support. The current economic climate, however, has made such funds less and less available. Philanthropy will reinforce efforts to recruit top faculty, win additional peer-reviewed grants and state funds, secure research contracts with leading biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and construct state-of-the-art facilities.
The time to help researchers and clinicians translate findings into tangible treatments is now, says Edward S. Kim, M.D., principal investigator for the first round of BATTLE (Biomarker-based Approaches of Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer Elimination) clinical trials.
“I feel we’re on the cusp of some very important discoveries,” says Kim, of the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Oncology. “We rely on philanthropic support to sustain the teams we have in place to keep research like this going. And now is probably the most critical time to be involved.”