Kim's Fund functions something like a venture capital fund for leukemia research. Most of the funding for cancer research comes from governmental sources under the National Cancer Act and from large foundations. However, these funding sources require lengthy grant applications and are typically for large sums for lengthy projects. Yet opportunities exist for making advances in cancer research where rapid funding, strategically placed, can make a real difference. Additionally, opportunities arise where challenge research grants are made and matching funds are required. This is the particular focus of Kim's Fund.
All grants for research funding from Kim's Fund are recommended by the faculty of the Leukemia Department and Stem Cell Transplantation Department at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Deborah Thomas, M.D., has joined Kim’s Fund as its medical advisor. Dr. Thomas is a member of the Leukemia Department at M. D. Anderson, and was one of Kim’s doctors. An exceptional physician and clinical investigator, she will update us on research discoveries and help bring to all of us a greater understanding of the critical needs in basic and translational research and where our “venture capital” approach can help.
The need for this is found in cancer's grim statistics. Almost 566,000 American lives will be lost to the disease this year alone. While progress has clearly been made, the survival rates for many cancers—including most acute leukemias, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer—remain low.
Much of the research into leukemia has focused on understanding the genetic changes that underlie a healthy cell’s conversion to a cancerous one. Since leukemia is a blood cancer, the cancerous cells are throughout the body. Surgery is not an option, radiation cannot be targeted to a specific area, and chemotherapy typically accomplishes only a temporary remission. This research has led to the development of Gleevec® and other genetically targeted drugs that affect only the cancerous cells and has resulted in dramatic increases in survival rates for patients with chronic leukemia. We have steadfastly believed that a focus on this research would lead to breakthroughs for all cancer therapies, and Kim’s Fund has backed this vision through your generous contributions.
They are paying off.
Nature reported in its mid-October 2008 edition that scientists have now identified all of the “pieces of the puzzle” of the DNA of cancerous and healthy cells. The work was based on the case of a patient who died of acute myeloid leukemia, the very disease that took Kim’s life. The authors of the study concluded that it “establishes whole-genome sequencing as an unbiased method for discovering cancer-initiating mutations in previously unidentified genes that may respond to targeted therapies.” (www.nature.com) U.S. News and World Report, in a recent lead article, discussed the radical rethinking of cancer treatment founded on this research. Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and current president of the American Association for Cancer Research, noted that technology may be available in a few years to sequence the genes of an individual patient’s cancer and target the therapy for the particular patient. Dr. DuBois predicted that in 10 to 20 years there will be a “whole different way of detecting and treating cancer.”
Why 10 to 20 years? Why not 5 to 10 years? Why not even sooner? Part of the answer depends on the slowness inherent in unraveling the complexity of the fundamental research and findings and bringing this knowledge from laboratory to bedside. The answer also depends on more institutions following the lead of M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and others in targeting research that is likely to result in effective therapies. But a large part depends on funding. Approximately $4.9 billion per year is provided by the National Cancer Institute, the primary source of federal research funds. Compare this, for example, with the $150 billion being spent for the bailout of AIG. Also consider that the National Institute of Health estimates that the annual cost of cancer in the United States exceeds $219 billion. With the opportunity to save from 2.5 to 5 million lives, untold suffering and billions of dollars in the United States alone if we cut the estimated 10- to 20-year timeline for developing personalized therapies in half, it strikes us that this should be much more of a national priority than it has been.
These are difficult times. But cancer doesn’t wait for an economic recovery. More than 1.4 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in the next 12 months. When we have breakthroughs at hand and a real chance at Making Cancer History®, we should not only sustain our level of giving for cancer research and treatment, but find ways to enhance it.
Since the Fund’s inception in November 1999, thanks to Kim’s vision and your generosity, hundreds of thousands of dollars has been contributed for research and financial assistance for needy patients undergoing treatment. We have additionally funded research fellowships and leveraged our donations for research through matching grants of the National Cancer Center.
Our goal is to continue the growth of Kim’s Fund at an accelerated pace so that by 2014, total contributions will reach $1 million. We hope to be a part of a national commitment to make cancer an often preventable and always curable disease so that some day no one will have to fight as hard as Kim did and lose the battle. If you would like to help with this, don’t hesitate to donate online.