The Importance of Philanthropy in Our Fight Against Cancer

  • | Apr 23 2014 |

Progress in the war against cancer involves so many dimensions – the ingenuity and dedication of physicians and oncologists, new and improved technologies for battling the disease, and proper funding to accelerate our research and make for more functional laboratories.

Fortunately, we have no shortage of brilliant minds intent on uncovering pain-free treatments and unlocking the key to remission. There is, however, a dearth of funds. While cell and gene therapy has established itself as a beacon of hope for those affected by cancer, public funding remains low. With sequesters and slashed budgets, the support that cell and gene therapies for cancer so sorely needs, often received through National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, is at an all-time low.

Still, top scientists and researchers are able to uncover breakthrough discoveries and create life-saving clinical trials through the power of philanthropy. Private individuals and foundations have stepped in to fill public funding gaps and finance unprecedented medical developments on a regular basis. Large gifts to cancer institutions and research centers are becoming more frequent, and more and more supporters are rallying to conquer cancer through personal donations.

Late last year at an Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT) event at the Harvard Club in New York City, Dr. Laurence Cooper – M.D. and Ph.D. at The MD Anderson Cancer Center and a recipient of ACGT’s 2003 Young Investigator Award – put it eloquently: “There’s never been a better time to be an oncologist,” he said. “Philanthropy has truly stepped in and recognized the power of cell and gene therapy.”

Dr. Cooper was speaking directly to individuals who had made a difference: donors and board members at our foundation. Dr. Cooper was joined by Doctors Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania, Michel Sadelain of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Savio Woo of The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who all spoke about the power and potential of cell and gene therapies for cancer. In 2012, a trial at the University of Pennsylvania by Dr. June saved the life of Emma Whitehead, an eight-year-old who was battling leukemia. Now in remission, Emma is sharing her journey online. In addition to Emma, Dr. June has placed dozens of other patients in remission.

Cell and gene therapies have the potential to combat a variety of cancers – your support, and our scientists’ research, can allow physicians to successfully treat blood cancers, brain cancers, and pediatric cancers. Indeed, it already has.

Today, philanthropy is going to extraordinary lengths in the fight against cancer. Our donors are funding scientists and doctors like Carl June, Michel Sadelain, Laurence Cooper and Savio Woo, who are fast becoming household names in the realm of oncology – and, most important of all, saving lives and providing hope. This is a new and inspiring age in cancer treatment, and donors are making it possible.

I’m continually amazed at the generosity and foresight of our supporters. Last month, ACGT was the beneficiary of a gift from sixth-grade students at Greenwich’s Stanwich School. Those five young women, who raised funds through a bake sale and donated all proceeds to Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, are contributing to something great: a future of pain-free cancer treatment and remission.

This summer, donors from around Connecticut and beyond will gather for the annual Greenwich-Stamford Swim Across America event. Held Saturday, June 21 at Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy’s headquarters in Stamford, families and friends affected by cancer will play a personal role in uncovering a treatment method that eschews the suffering associated with radiation and chemotherapy.

In the non-profit world, the generosity of many individuals makes the difference.  In advancing cell and gene therapies for cancer, this is certainly the case.


—Barbara Netter, President and Co-Founder of Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT)