Philanthropy to Boost Cancer Research and Clinical Trials at Major Medical Centers

David Gerber, MD, Associate Director of Clinical Research, UT Southwestern Medical Center

As another Giving Tuesday has rolled around, bringing with it many pleas for average citizens to aim philanthropic support at nonprofit organizations struggling to make ends meet, several medical centers are celebrating recent major gifts toward cancer research efforts involving clinical trials.

In one such announcement, the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) Medical Center has been awarded grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to increase minority participation in clinical trials, expand lung cancer screening, develop brain tumor drugs, and advance innovations in drug discovery and technology.

As part of the overall support, David Gerber, MD, professor of internal medicine and population and data sciences and associate director of clinical research, was awarded a $1.5 million grant to include more minorities in clinical trials. The project will reimburse 350 patients from underserved groups for participating in trials. Demographic data will be tracked to determine the characteristics of who enrolls and find possible solutions for more inclusive clinical trials.

Also at UTSW, Kalil Abdullah, MD, assistant professor of neurological surgery, was awarded $1.5 million to continue his work on the most common type of malignant brain tumors, known as gliomas. His research showed that a drug that targets tumor metabolism can slow the growth of these tumors in human cells and in mice. With this award, he plans to continue studying this drug’s potential and design a clinical trial that treats patients with malignant gliomas.

Meanwhile, Houston Methodist has received a $25 million philanthropic gift from Dr. Mary and Ron Neal to expand the hospital system’s cancer center. This transformational commitment will support critical areas including translational research, attracting and retaining physician scientists focused on pioneering new cancer treatments and expanding the cancer center’s impact within the Greater Houston community and beyond.

In recognition of their gift, the Houston Methodist Cancer Center will be renamed the Houston Methodist Dr. Mary and Ron Neal Cancer Center. The hospital system will raise an additional $12 million in matching funds, bringing the total philanthropic impact of this gift to $37 million.

The gift bolsters the ongoing research led by Jenny C. Chang, MD, director of the Cancer Center, whose groundbreaking research has significantly advanced cancer therapy with breakthroughs such as new targeted drugs that alter tumor immune landscape of triple negative breast cancer. The gift also will fund and retain three endowed chairs and corresponding research funds for early-stage investigative research and therapies, support recruitment and fellowship training, and expand the depth of clinical trials across all community hospitals within Houston Methodist. Another component of the gift is dedicated to ongoing cancer innovation efforts within the Center for Drug Repositioning and Development.

Edited by Gary Cramer