5 Leading Research Institutions to Target Toughest Cancers With New Public Foundation

Break Through Cancer, a collaborative research effort between 5 top US academic cancer centers, aims to pursue solutions to some of the most difficult challenges in cancer research.

Five top US academic oncology centers Thursday launched a new collaborative organization to foster innovative and transformative research for the toughest cancers, aiming at pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, glioblastoma, and acute myelogenous leukemia.

Break Through Cancer, the name of the new public foundation, will bring multidisciplinary research teams together in hopes of accelerating progress in some of the most difficult cancer challenges.

The organization will fund multidisciplinary research teams selected from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

Tyler Jacks, MD, David H. Koch Professor of Biology and Director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, will serve as president of the organization. William G. Nelson, V, MD, PhD, the Marion I. Knott Professor of Oncology and director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, will serve as chairman on a board of directors that includes leaders from each of the institutions.

“This is an exciting new cancer research foundation that brings together scientists, engineers and clinical researchers from 5 of the nation's top cancer centers to tackle several of the most intractable forms of human cancer,” Jacks said during a press conference. “Break Through Cancer’s mission is to bring the best of science and technology to the cancer patient in order to dramatically improve outcomes.”

Break Through Cancer also hopes to develop proof of concept for novel ways to integrate the best of science and cutting-edge technologies into cancer clinical research. Laurie Glimcher, MD, president and chief executive officer of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and director of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, compared the effort to the urgency and rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We need to push as hard as everybody pushed to get that COVID-19 vaccine out there, and we're going to do it,” Glimcher said. “Because we are going to share with each other no competition, all collaboration, and a passionate devotion and commitment to targeting these intractable cancers.” Putting progress ahead of individual accomplishment, Jacks added, is a key aspect of the foundation’s model.

The collaborative research will be overseen by Break Through Cancer’s chief science officer, Jesse Boehm, PhD; and by an independent scientific advisory board made up of experts outside of the 5 institutions who will work in tandem with the institutions to form teams and research plans. Boehm and the scientific advisory board will monitor the teams’ progress and assist with any hurdles, help pivot in research if it proves necessary, and drive efficient, effective clinical studies.

The leadership of the foundation, leadership at the institutions, scientific advisory boards, and experts from the institutions who specialize in the target diseases will all be involved at the start of each project. The degree of planning and leadership engagement sets Break Through Cancer apart, Jacks said.

The foundation launches with a challenge pledge of $250 million from William H. Goodwin, Jr., Alice Goodwin, their family, and the estate of their son William Hunter Goodwin III, who passed away last year following a battle with cancer.

“I just think it's fantastic for all of you to come together with your vision and your ideas,” William H. Goodwin, Jr. said. “We want some treatments, and ultimately, hopefully some cures for cancer. It's a very, very devastating disease. We lost our son last year, so it's an important thing for all of us, personally—but also, I think, for the whole population.”

The Goodwin family has been supporting cancer research for nearly 20 years now, and Break Through Cancer is the product of both those years of involvement and William Hunter Goodwin III's commitment to personally supporting the cause. And this is just the start, Jacks said.

“We expect that our efforts will grow to include others in the future. Even now, experts from other institutions can be added to teams as we form them and fund them, so that mechanism already exists in our planning," Jacks said. "But I do expect this to grow. I do expect what we do to serve as a template for the future, and others will want to be involved. But we're starting with an outstanding group of five, and I'm extremely excited to see how the next period plays out.”

Reference

Break Through Cancer launches collaborative model. News release. Break Through Cancer; February 25, 2020. Accessed February 25, 2020. https://breakthroughcancer.org/2021/02/break-through-collaborative-model/