A Groundbreaking Collaboration
- Five of the leading cancer centers in the U.S. have joined forces to form a special research team after an astounding $250 million single donation from a Virginia family, one of the biggest donations ever gifted to cancer. The partnership will focus on pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, glioblastoma and acute myelogenous leukemia, benefactor Bill Goodwin tells SurvivorNet.
- “While of course the high profile nature of Break Through Cancer creates pressure for success, this pressure pales in comparison to the pressure we feel from cancer patients to move as rapidly as possible towards treatments every day,” Tyler Jacks, president of Break Through Cancer, tells SurvivorNet.
- A leading expert at MD Anderson, one of the medical teams in the collaboration, has told SurvivorNet about the benefits of a team effort to make advancements: “You break down barriers, you bring people in, you put them in a room, and you say, ‘How can we do this faster, with boldness, with ambition, and with the impatience that we need?’ in order to cure cancer.”
Mr. and Mrs. William H. Goodwin, Jr., their family, and the estate of William Hunter Goodwin III are funding the impressive collaboration. Goodwin III, who went by his middle name Hunter, was a successful businessman and investor who lost his battle with colon cancer at a young 51 years old.Read More
We’re proud to announce the launch of Break Through Cancer, a new foundation dedicated to supporting multi-institutional teams focused on the most difficult to treat cancers. Read the full press release here: https://t.co/BYBj0dW0Wk #BreakThroughCancer pic.twitter.com/Ihq1tOpWdf
— Break Through Cancer (@break_cancer) February 25, 2021
The all-star medical foundation includes: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.
The Goodwin family, who has been making yearly donations to various cancer centers for the last 19 years, made the suggestion for this partnership a few years ago, and Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute, was appointed president of the new foundation.
Bill Goodwin and Jacks shared some details with SurvivorNet on this groundbreaking collaboration.
“What we have had the chance to witness over the past few years of planning has been the institutions coming together, led by the cancer center directors and hospital presidents. These leaders help to set the tone for their institution,” Jacks tell us. “Their commitments of time, enthusiasm, and resources to make these collaborations possible has been extraordinary … When the decision was made to create a free-standing foundation, each of the five institutions unreservedly signed on as a partner institution.”
Goodwin says the idea came to him about eight years ago as he reviewed what different cancer centers were doing with his support. “It kept coming back that they were working on some of the same cancers, and we were sort of hearing some of the same things from the different centers. So I started my spiel about ‘You guys have got to work together because everybody is doing the same thing.'”
Goodwin says he was convinced he was “on to something” when the cancer center directors personally got involved “not just taking our money, but really trying to do collaborative work with it.”
Progress as a Team
The team first physically got together three years ago at a resort on Kiawah Island, and they spent time brainstorming and going through the types of cancer on which to focus by pooling their resources. Jacks hopes to get back to in-person meetings of the minds in the near future.
“Quarantine aside, most collaborations work best when there are many opportunities to be in person—often, researchers are at their most creative when bouncing ideas off one another,” Jacks tells SurvivorNet. “Certainly post-quarantine, we hope to have our teams, board and scientific advisors meeting in person regularly.”
Goodwin says the team will work diligently to foster collaboration among the institutions. “Hopefully we will come up with some new treatments that are leading edge and show some extension of life (for cancer patients),” he said.
The Plan of Attack
“Over the first several months, we will be aiming to learn as much as possible from our partners in these organizations,” Jacks tell us. “While of course the high profile nature of Break Through Cancer creates pressure for success, this pressure pales in comparison to the pressure we feel from cancer patients to move as rapidly as possible towards treatments every day. Patients want us to take risks, to aim higher and to be more ambitious. This will naturally lead to both successes and constructive failures, as teams push the envelope as much as possible. Failing to be too ambitious is the only real failure.”
Goodwin puts his goal succinctly: “I know everybody wants to cure cancer. I’ve been at it for 18 years, and I realize the chances of us curing it might not be very great, but we might come up with some treatments.”
Goodwin says his theory is that “collaboration will give you better results faster than not,” and so he wanted to fund the project appropriately. In fact, just a week before the announcement he says he increased the funding from $100M to $250M. ” I didn’t want it to be one of those things that had to struggle for funding. So I wanted to give it enough funding where it really would have a good chance over a period of two, three, four years of really making a dent in the treatment for these four cancers.”
Who was Hunter Goodwin?
According to Hunter’s obituary, the Vanderbilt grad, who also received an MBA from the University of Virginia, was “a kind and generous man … remembered for his love and dedication to his wife, family and friends, his selflessness and caring heart and his interest in supporting causes relating to cancer research, diabetes research, education and children’s sport.” Golf was his passion, and Hunter proudly made a hole-in-one four times in his lifetime, and his father was present for two of them. A dream come true for a golfer.
Bill Goodwin says that three to four months before Hunter passed away, he became interested in the family’s Break Through Cancer plan. “So he went to see Tyler Jacks at MIT, and basically he came back and said, ‘Dad, I’d like to put up half the money.'”
“Loved and adored by all, Hunter will also be remembered for his indomitable spirit and courage,” the obit continues, “his reliance on faith and hope, his goal setting and his determination to do the right thing for everyone. Over the last 20 years, Hunter became a very successful investor in businesses and real estate. He was Chairman of several companies and always displayed an unusual ability to look to the future and provide insightful comments. While his demeanor was laid back and relaxed, he had a commanding presence in the board room.”
What an awe-inspiring legacy that this man has left behind with the help of his family.
Advancements in Pancreatic Cancer
MD Anderson, one of the teams involved in the Break Through Cancer collaboration, has made advancements in treating cancer, and specifically pancreatic cancer, which is one of the four diseases the initiative is concentrating on.
Dr. Anirban Maitra from MD Anderson, has discussed Moon Shot Program for pancreatic cancer with SurvivorNet. “The goal of the Moon Shot is to make big progress in smaller amounts of time,” he says.
The Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shot is aimed at ending pancreatic cancer using novel approaches on the following fronts, according to the MD Anderson website: Novel therapeutic strategies; therapy prior to surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) and early detection.
Dr. Maitra describes the overall strategy at MD Anderson, which sounds similar to the approach of the Break Through Cancer group. “You break down barriers, you bring people in, you put them in a room, and you say, ‘How can we do this faster, with boldness, with ambition, and with the impatience that we need?’ in order to cure cancer.”