Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), the Sept. 5 three-network collaborative effort that broadcast an hour's worth of entertainment, fundraising, and awareness about cancer cumulatively netted a little more than $100 million in contributions.
The funds—considered a relatively modest figure given some of the expectations—are now set to be distributed by the American Association for Cancer Research among still-to-be-designated translational “Dream Teams” and innovative individual investigators.
The event had been touted by Hollywood publicists as a TV first, as a commercial-free proactive simulcast of a primetime program by ABC, CBS, and NBC (whereas in the past such so-called broadcast roadblocks took place only reactively in response to crisis situations such as the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or Hurricane Katrina in 2005).
But more importantly, explained Sherry Lansing, one of SU2C's founders and Chair of the Board of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), the hour was supposed to lead to a “tipping point” that would foster a movement focusing public attention on making cancer research a national priority by enlisting new funding sources that could spur translational teams and innovative ideas leading to faster, safer, and more effective clinical treatments for patients during a time of decreased federal funding. The hope was also that the National Cancer Institute might take note and modify its funding model.
The bonding together of the three broadcast networks was also supposed to illustrate collaboration among otherwise competitive entities, something the founders hoped would be emulated by the cancer community. That bond, however, was tested right away when the American Cancer Society presented its own competing fundraising commercial immediately before the show.
During the SU2C show some 10.3 million viewers watched more than 60 entertainment and sports celebrities and the three network anchors, Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, and Brian Williams, make the case to the public about the importance of caring about and contributing to the cancer cause.
OT requested a breakdown of total contributions from the public, foundations, and corporations since the initiative was announced at the end of May, but EIF—the charitable organization for the entertainment industry that houses SU2C under its 501(c)3 status—would not comment beyond saying that contributions are still coming in and that the “more than $100 million” reported encompasses donations from the public, corporations, philanthropists and other organizations.
Major donations highlighted in the broadcast came from Sidney Kimmel ($25 million), Major League Baseball ($10 million), the Wallis Annenberg & the Annenberg Foundation, AARP, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Revlon, Amgen, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and the Inter-American Development Bank.
Probably Less than 25% Came from the General Public
However, through various sources requesting anonymity, OT learned that both GSK and Amgen had each contributed $10 million and that the amount raised from the public was probably less than 25% of the total.
Broadcast live from Los Angeles's Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards, with remotes from Chicago and New York, the special constituted the fundraising-and-awareness phase, now to be followed by what is hoped will be a streamlined and bureaucratic-free vetting of scientific proposals to be funded by the enterprise as either multi-institutional translational research Dream Teams or high-risk Innovative Research Grants.
This phase will be managed by the AACR, the initiative's designated scientific partner. It was Ms. Lansing's long-time relationship with Friends of Cancer Research, and more recently, as a member of the AACR Foundation's Board, that helped bridge Hollywood's connection with the cancer research world.
Ms. Lansing is former Chair of the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures, and is Founder and Chair of her namesake foundation that focuses on cancer research, health, and education. She sits on the boards of numerous other research and education foundations, and is a Regent of the University of California, where as Health Sciences Chair she has oversight for the state's $3 billion stem cell funding initiative.
She said that as with a motion picture, success can't be attributed solely to the number of viewers or box office proceeds, but instead has to be determined by the quality of the product. There is still much more to be done in terms of future planning for the awareness and fundraising campaigns, she said, noting that it has not yet been determined if there will be additional network television broadcasts.
SU2C's tagline is “this is where the end of cancer begins,” and its mission statement begins with “Here we stand, on the verge of unlocking the answers that will finally conquer the devastation that is cancer.”
Both Presidential Candidates
SU2C is perhaps the boldest effort since The March rally on Washington DC's National Mall 10 years ago this month (OT, 9/10/08), to make the case to the public for cancer's being a national priority. The TV special also managed—with video clips of presidential candidates Senators John McCain and Barack Obama—to get them both to state on the record that they would be in favor of increased funding for cancer research.
In explaining the background for the event, Ms. Lansing related how a group of advocates were sitting around and wondered what they could do “that would be a really big idea for science.” At first the thought was for just one network, but they then decided to approach all three, and after 13 months and the involvement of others the effort came to fruition.
She said through her work in advocacy she had become aware that the funding shortage and intellectual property issues had stifled scientific collaboration. “I thought this is sad and that so much could be happening if these scientists could collaborate. We thought: What if we could treat cancer like the Manhattan Project [the World War II scientific collaborative effort to develop a nuclear weapon to defeat Germany and Japan]?
“We want Stand Up To Cancer not only to raise money for these Dream Teams of collaboration but also to be the tipping point to change the dialogue to make cancer research as important as the war in Iraq or the economy. We not only want the public to contribute but to say ‘we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.’”
Money for ‘Proximal Cancer Research’
The event's Executive Producer, Laura Ziskin, explained that both she and Ms. Lansing—who serve as members of the SU2C executive committee with Katie Couric and others—talked about the scientific effort being accountable to the committee's adopted principles that evolved from a day-long planning meeting that included AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, and the late M. Judah Folkman, MD.
Both she and Ms. Lansing said how they'd been influenced by the greening effect on the public of Al Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and hoped the TV special would do the same for cancer.
“We knew we couldn't solve the entire [cancer] problem but we did want to focus on raising a substantial amount of money that could be used for proximal cancer research,” said Ms. Ziskin, a breast cancer survivor, and producer of two Academy Awards shows, as well as several motion pictures including No Way Out, Pretty Woman, and the Spider-Man trilogy.
Ms. Ziskin had also been the guest speaker at AACR's President's Circle Dinner at the Annual Meeting this spring, where she told a select crowd of donors about her cancer experience and thoughts about cancer research.
“Basic science is really important, and there's a need for it, and people have to do it and get funded by the government and other ways, but it's not what we want to do,” she said. “We want to fund translational research and fund it by mandating that scientists work together across institutions and disciplines. We're not funding institutions, we are funding researchers. We're capping institutional overhead at a very low 10%, and if they don't want to participate they won't.”
Multi-institutional & Interdisciplinary
Dr. Foti said that of the money raised, 70% will be slated for the Dream Teams that must be multi-institutional and interdisciplinary, with no more than one principal coming from a single institution, and that that individual will be expected to communicate regularly with the other team members and dedicate at least 50% of his or her time and effort to the project.
She also said the Innovative Research Grants program—which will receive 20% of the funds, with the last 10% to be used for “unexpected opportunities”—would be named in honor of Dr. Folkman.
In addition to Ms. Lansing and her colleagues brainstorming about creating a national platform to raise money and awareness for cancer research and approaching the networks, other independent efforts were also under way. When Katie Couric was still at NBC she met with EIF's Lisa Paulsen and Kathleen Lobb about getting the networks together for a special to raise money for cancer research. On yet another front, Noreen Fraser, a television producer and cancer survivor who had seen Laura Ziskin receiving chemotherapy at the same time she was, had asked their mutual doctor to introduce her to Ms. Ziskin.
All these points eventually connected and Stand Up To Cancer became a reality. On the telecast Ms. Couric and Charles Gibson and Brian Williams produced individual reports on progress in cancer research.
‘Want to Make Cancer Awareness Entertaining’
Ms. Ziskin said that she was concerned about balance on the show, and when asked about her final quote in an article in the New York Times (5/28/08) when SU2C was first announced, that said, “It's my job to make cancer entertaining,” she admitted that she wished she had amended it to say “to make cancer awareness entertaining.”
Ms. Ziskin also said that it doesn't matter to her and the executive committee if researchers funded by SU2C publish their results or win scientific awards for their work. “We are about how to get more effective, less toxic treatments to patients quickly, and how it's going to impact patient survival. That's the critical question.”
‘Not Overstating Promise’
Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee convened by AACR, said that SU2C was not overstating the promise of being on the brink of significant scientific discovery.
“I'm a pretty hardnosed scientist, but when I look at what's going on right now in the cancer research community, I've never seen a moment in time in which there are so many agents being developed in so many different organizations, companies, academic research centers, and elsewhere in the world, and all have substantive reasons why they should impact on this disease,” said Dr. Sharp, Institute Professor at MIT and its David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
The other members of the Scientific Advisory Committee are Vice Chairs Arnold J. Levine, PhD, and Brian J. Druker, MD; scientist and physician members Julian Adams, PhD, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, Raymond N. DuBois, MD, PhD, Richard B. Gaynor, MD, Waun Ki Hong, MD, William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, Richard D. Kolodner, PhD, Ronald Levy, MD, Tak W. Mak, PhD, William G. Nelson V, MD, PhD, Cecil B. Pickett, PhD, Vicki L. Sato, PhD, Laura K. Shawver, PhD, Joseph V. Simone, MD, and Samuel A. Wells Jr., MD; and patient advocates Ellen V. Sigal, PhD, and James E. Williams Jr.
The Committee was selected by AACR, with its patient advocate members elected by SU2C's Advocacy Advisory Council. Under the direction of the Committee, AACR is responsible for scientific oversight, conducting expert scientific review of the SU2C research proposals, and administering funds.
‘Fast, Flexible, Rigorous, & Transparent’
AACR—which describes its peer-review process as fast, flexible, rigorous, and transparent—is charged with helping SU2C achieve its mission of translating the most promising cancer research as quickly as possible into real advances in cancer treatment and prevention.
Dr. Foti said that AACR plans to create an advisory committee of professional societies, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Association of Cancer Institutes, sometime after the event.
Dr. Sharp said he was excited by the prospect of what could be accomplished with additional money funding the right teams (up to $20 million per team) and innovative ideas (up to $250,000 per year for three years), but expressed concern that some people might not appreciate that “NCI has done a tremendous and excellent job in moving forward the treatment of cancer, and although everyone would like more progress, turning negative about what NCI is not doing is not right.
“Do I think we'll eliminate cancer? No, but I think we will push the death due to cancer later in life, and the quality of that treatment and the quality of the experience of the people in that treatment will be much better.”
Dr. Sharp said the original “Call for Ideas” to the cancer community for Dream Team translational cancer research projects was issued with too short a deadline to allow potential candidates to reach out to colleagues at other institutions in search of meaningful concepts, so it was extended a few more weeks until Sept. 10.
He said the Scientific Advisory Committee should be fairly active following the broadcast, and that he hoped that projects will be starting up by this spring. He said that the committee itself could also give suggestions about both proposals and team members, and there is also a possibility that the Committee could put together a team de novo without anyone else suggesting it.
As to what areas of research might be focused on, he said the objective was to try to find opportunities where team members with different expertise could collaborate, and citied as examples ovarian and pancreatic cancers and gliomas. He also noted that this is an opportunity to focus on cancers where less progress has been made.
Regarding the Stand Up To Cancer enterprise itself, Dr. Sharp said, “I think it's a large social experiment, and it's an interesting time to have it happen.”
High-Risk, High-Return Innovation
AACR President Raymond N. DuBois, MD, PhD, said he was especially excited about high-risk, high-return innovative research projects that are under-funded at most institutions and where the potential for impact is huge given the amount of investment. “They're targeted to the younger spectrum of investigators who have some really good ideas that may not be fully developed yet, but clearly have enough of a basis to generate interest and support if funds can be pumped in to them.”
He said he remembered speaking with Dr. Folkman about the concept, and that “Judah was the one who really wanted to focus on the young investigators getting funded for risky research because he himself had gone through all that and people were pooh-poohing what he was doing [in anti-angiogenesis research], and he wanted to make sure that wouldn't happen to others.”
Dr. DuBois, who is also on the Advisory Board of Katie Couric's National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, said the cancer genome sequencing project was analogous to the Dream Team concept, having brought together different groups that provided tissue or expertise or technology, and netting some interesting results in brain cancer. He added, though, that he was not particularly comfortable with the Manhattan Project comparison made by some advocates, because that was more of a hard math physics effort.
Dr. Foti acknowledged that there are still many challenges in deciding how to implement the Dream Teams, including the execution of the various institutional agreements. In addition, the intellectual property rights will not go back to SU2C but rather will have to be worked out among institutions.
The teams will have to reach specific agreed-upon milestones that will have to be met or some very serious conversations will take place, including possible termination of a project if it doesn't meet the standards of the scientific committee, and in addition to selecting the teams, the committee will be providing oversight and will be receiving periodic reports from the teams.
“The SU2C founders want the money to be used judiciously and wisely, and to get where it needs to go, and they'll be keeping their eyes on the ball,” she said.
Dr. Foti also mentioned one positive result that the SU2C effort has already generated: “There's been an enormous buzz among scientists calling each other and developing their ideas for Dream Teams, and I've been hearing that although many of them know that the money will be limited, they've been saying that even if they don't receive a grant that the process has been very valuable to them because it has inspired them to talk about what they could do together, and many will be submitting their ideas to other funding vehicles if we don't fund them.”