Advancing Pediatric Immuno-Oncology Research

Three years ago, the V Foundation set the goal to raise $200 million by then end of 2020.  The reason is simple – we want to end cancer, and we believe that research holds the key.  We also believe that being strategic in our choices of what to fund is essential.  So our Board of Directors asked our scientific advisors to create a blueprint for the areas of research that we would target both to fill gaps and to accelerate progress.

The results are reported in the case statement for our ongoing fundraising campaign, “Not a Moment to Lose.”  Our scientific advisors, a respected group of leaders in multiple fields of cancer research and treatment, chose eight new areas of research to fund in addition to those we currently support:  prevention, clinical trials, pediatrics, immunotherapy and pathways, big data, convergence, translational plus and V scholar plus.

Thus far, we have raised $125 million toward our goal.  We have spent multiple millions of those dollars continuing to support our brilliant young investigators, called V Scholars, and translational grants that help teams of scientists take promising findings of early science and “translate” it into advances that will help patients, such as medicines and devices.  Under the leadership of Dick Vitale, we have boosted our spending on pediatric cancer research considerably and ESPN has led the way in raising funds for research into cancer disparities in memory of our dear friend Stuart Scott, just to name a few of the ways we are implementing that strategy.

One of the most exciting research areas of our time, and one that early on found its way into our strategy, is immunotherapy.  Scientists and medical doctors have known for years that our bodies have sophisticated mechanisms in our immune system that can ward off illness.  Immunology is the basis for vaccines, for example — the flu vaccine teaches our body’s immune system how to fight specific strains of the flu that are most common.  More recently, research has shown that our remarkable immune system also fights cancer.  We are learning very rapidly how this works and how to harness that capability to treat some cancers.  And more and more cancers are being studied every day.  The work to fight cancer using the immune system is called immuno-oncology.  Dramatic results have been seen for patients with a variety of cancers that plague humans.

A new frontier of interest to the V Foundation combines two of our strategic interests — pediatric immuno-oncology.  Great strides have been made in treating children with cancer in the last two decades.  Yet some cancers remain almost inevitably fatal. We know from research and treatment for adults with cancer that many immunotherapies are effective, and often they are also very effective when used with chemotherapy drugs.  But we need to know how these treatments affect our youngest people and how we can target childhood cancers, from the common to the rare, by using a child’s innate defenses.

Imagine our excitement at finding a partner to help us fund research in pediatric immuno-oncology!  Bristol-Myers Squibb has been a leader in cancer research and development for more than 50 years.  I know that first hand, because I worked in the Oncology/Immunology group there right after the merger of Bristol-Myers with Squibb.  I also know first-hand that helping patients is central to BMS’s work in oncology and immunology. Bristol-Myers Squibb has provided $2.5 million in charitable contributions to the V Foundation for cancer immunology research that we intend to use for pediatric programs.   In addition, as a sponsor of the Sports Humanitarian Awards, Bristol-Myers Squibb is contributing $500,000 to the V Foundation’s Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund which supports disparities among minority populations in the U.S. 

That outstanding group of scientists who advises us that I mentioned earlier — our Scientific Advisory Committee — is overseeing a special group of field-leading researchers to pick the best grants and put the money to work right away.  We have invited the top cancer centers from the US and Canada to submit a proposal.  Each will be carefully reviewed and rated, and then the group will be ranked.  Only the top ranking proposals will be funded.

We hope the result will be remarkable findings that help us move the field forward much more rapidly.  We are investing in the potential of the human immune system and the need to help the children who get cancer.  We are doing that because one company had the vision and generosity to help us:  Bristol-Myers Squibb.  Our gratitude is enormous.  And we know that the countless children helped by this extraordinary investment will have gratitude beyond what we can even imagine.