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Stand Up to Cancer 2010: Qualitative Success Transcends Quantitative Numbers

Rosenthal, Eric T.

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000390345.50457.61

LOS ANGELES—A look at some of the statistics culled from the Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) Sept. 10 broadcast may seem to indicate that the fundraising and cancer awareness effort fell somewhat short of its original milestones two years before: The 2010 show announced that $80 million had been pledged, whereas in 2008 the number was approximately $100 million.

This year's Nielsen rating reported an estimated 18.3 million viewers in the United States for the telecast, claiming a 15.1% increase from the inaugural broadcast. But SU2C reported 10.3 million viewers in 2008, meaning that the increase would be significantly higher than 15.1%. And this year's program was seen in nearly 200 countries, although that included worldwide cable numbers, which were not available.

OT requested clarification, and SU2C officials provided figures from Nielsen that explained that the 15.1% increase is comparing the 15.9 million “reach” in 2008 with the 18.3 million reach in 2010 (with reach defined as “unduplicated viewing to any portion of the telecast for six minutes or more”). The only explanation about the basis of the 10.3 million figure released in 2008, a SU2C spokesperson said, was that “Nielsen released numbers in 2008 and other media outlets interpreted them....and that SU2C never issued a release on the ratings because they came in after the fundraising total was announced.”

The first show was seen on only ABC, CBS, and NBC, which for this year's show were joined by many more collaborative network and cable partners including Fox, Bio, Current TV, Discovery Health, E!, G4, HBO, HBO Latino, MLB Network, mun2, Showtime, Smithsonian Channel, the Style Network, TV One, and VH1.

However, if the SU2C effort is anything, it is not something that can or should be measured quantitatively because to date it has made some substantive qualitative changes in how cancer research can be performed, how the public perceives what had once been a most stigmatized disease, and how they view the image of scientists.

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Do You Really Mean ‘Revolution’?

In separate conversations here during a few hours' span with three eminent cancer researchers—two Nobel laureates and the current director of the National Institutes of Health—each used the word “revolution” in describing where we are now poised in understanding and treating cancer.

This was in reference to the new research paradigm developed through the innovative and symbiotic collaborative process undertaken by scientists and Hollywood movers and shakers comprising the SU2C founders and scientific advisory committee.

“Do you really mean ‘revolution’?,” I asked NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, as he stood tall and thin in jeans and a dark long-sleeve SU2C T-shirt emblazoned with “Collaborate Accelerate” on the sun-soaked red carpet outside the Sony studio prior to the live worldwide broadcast, where he proudly said he'd been invited to play guitar with Stevie Wonder, Dave Stewart, and others in the finale.

“Yes, I think it's a revolution to be able to say that we are able in the near future to actually comprehensively and systematically identify all the ways that a cell becomes malignant. We couldn't do that before since we were like looking under the lamp post, but now we've lit up the whole street.”

He likened the collaborative effort fostered by SU2C as similar to the Human Genome Project he had headed for 16 years before being appointed NIH Director by President Barack Obama in summer 2009.

“I think that's the way biomedical research is going in general, but this [SU2C] is a really nice example of applying those kinds of paradigm-changing mechanisms....and because I came out of the Human Genome Project this sounds very familiar, because that's exactly how we ran that, and that was [also] a shotgun marriage of some very large egos who had to work together, and it ultimately succeeded beyond anybody's expectations.”

Dr. Collins said that it was a nice “carrot” to play with the band—using his special guitar with a double helix and mother of pearl on the front—but the main reason he was at the SU2C show, he said, was to support what was being done—raising public attention to the problem of cancer, especially now when the research approach was poised for a revolution.

“And to have this kind of groundswell of enthusiasm and energy from advocates and all these people willing to spend their time raising this kind of attention, ‘What's not to like?,’” he said.

He also acknowledged that the eight “very determined” founding members of SU2C (all of whom except for CBS anchor Katie Couric are Hollywood based) added accountability to the process by asking “what have you done?”

The “R” word was also uttered by American Association for Cancer Research President and Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, and fellow laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Chair of SU2C's Scientific Advisory Committee, and Institute Professor of MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, during an event following the telecast.

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Poll: 50% of Americans Aware of SU2C

“We've just learned from an awareness tracking study that 50 percent of the [American] public knows about Stand Up to Cancer—and that recognition factor comes after only two-and-a-half year's existence,” said SU2C cofounders Lisa Paulsen and Kathleen Lobb, the president and CEO, and senior vice president, respectively, of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit philanthropic arm of the TV and film industries that is overseeing the collective SU2C initiative.

This included a massive public awareness campaign leading up to the broadcast that was totally pro bono from various media partners, according to SU2C.

This year, nearly 20% of the money raised—about $15 million—came from the public, with the balance donated by major sponsors including Major League Baseball (the founding donor in 2008 with $10 million, which donated an additional $20 million this year), and other philanthropies and corporations (Sidney Kimmel, Amgen, Bloomberg Philanthropies, GlaxoSmithKline, Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Gateway for Cancer Research Foundation, Comcast).

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Public Proceeds Pledged This Year Declined, but...

OT reported in its 9/25/08 issue that probably less than 25% of the $100 million donated during the first show came from the public, meaning that the public proceeds pledged this year declined by about one-third from that of two years ago, which was just prior to the height of the recession.

But the qualitative equivalent of this equation can also be viewed as did SU2C make less money than before or did it add another $80 million to the coffers to bring more scientists together to help generate sums larger than their parts?

And the lackluster public financial support did not seem to overly hamper the foundation, organizational, and corporate support that was still channeled to a promise that 100% of the proceeds would go directly to cancer research.

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9/10 Timing

The timing of the Sept. 10 broadcast was also problematic, following in a similar time slot as the original Sept. 5, 2008 show.

The 1600 invited guests and their friends (about 100 advocates representing more than 40 organizations, news media, donors, representatives from Major League Baseball, and film and television personnel who had helped with the effort, ranging from CEOs to gaffers and grips) had to be seated in the Sony theater no later than 4:30 pm PT, during the waning hours of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, on what was also the day before the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.

But SU2C had to get commitments from some 18 network and cable outlets to provide the “roadblock” Friday-night one-hour commercial-free time needed for the massive simulcast that was viewed in nearly 200 countries.

The week before was the Labor Day holiday, the next week's show would eclipse into the even more devout Yom Kippur observance, and lead into the week many of the new fall shows premiered on television.

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1+1 = 5

Sherry Lansing, another SU2C cofounder, who is chair of EIF's Board of Directors and founder of the Sherry Lansing Foundation, said both in Los Angeles and during a follow-up telephone interview that “in the beginning it was an aspiration and an experiment, and this year's show showed that the experiment is working.

“The scientists are collaborating and liking it and becoming friends, and there's no doubt in my mind that if you say the scientists are geniuses, and if you have one genius alone, that's great, but if you put one plus one geniuses in a room, that changes things and one and one equals five.”

She said there is a great deal of respect for the National Cancer Institute and SU2C's hope is that NCI will take its billions of dollars and apply some of it to the collaborative dream team approach.

Another welcome byproduct of the enterprise was the feedback received from the public regarding enjoying understanding more about science and their changed perceptions about scientists, she said.

“This was an unexpected benefit of the show. People who didn't know scientists saw [during the taped dream team interviews during the broadcast] that they are very articulate, very attractive, and they're cool. Then you see Francis Collins jamming up there on the stage, and it changes the image of the scientist, and the public sees the work they are doing, and hopefully more people will go into scientific research when they see something like that.”

She also noted that not only did the experiment work but that the broadcast showed the audience that SU2C holds itself accountable as well as the scientists—i.e., showing where the money went, with the segments focusing on the specific work the teams were doing.

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Hope to Have Show Every Other Year

She added the hope is that the roadblock broadcast will continue every other year and that it be embedded into the culture and that the networks will continue to support it.

EIF executives Paulsen and Lobb said that from the very start the eight SU2C founders (the others include: Laura Ziskin, executive producer of both the 2008 and 2010 broadcasts, Rusty Robertson and Sue Schwartz of the Robertson Schwartz Agency, nonprofit executive Ellen Ziffren, and Noreen Fraser, founder of her namesake foundation) knew when they got together that they wanted to facilitate things differently in cancer research.

“We created a funding model with AACR [as scientific partner], and Phil Sharp and his advisory committee, which turned out to be a kitchen cabinet group of very engaged scientists,” said Ms. Lobb.

“We very explicitly wanted to address issues that tend to be impediments for progress in cancer research and we spoke with all these guys, including Denny Slamon and Ray DuBois who had worked with Katie Couric on the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, about the silo approach versus facilitated and ultimately mandated collaboration, and we set milestones [that were met] and had transparency and accountability, and this turned out to be a really interactive process that allowed explanation and was designed to hit stumbling blocks head on.”

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‘We Believe in Tipping Points’

Added Ms. Paulsen: “We believe in tipping points, and we watched what Al Gore was successfully able to do through [his Oscar-winning film] An Inconvenient Truth.

“We [EIF] had been behind other important [multi-network] roadblocks, and when Katie and Kathleen and I had dinner back in 2005 with [then NBC Television executive] Jeff Zucker, who was a colon cancer survivor, Katie was still at the Today Show [before moving to CBS as nighttime anchor] and we talked about producing a proactive roadblock to fund these kinds of critically important clinical trials and research and to do something different,” said Ms. Paulsen.

“Jeff was the first to say yes at NBC, and then it took off, because just about everyone is touched by cancer in some way, and everyone said yes to support us.”

They said that the existing Dream Teams have submitted progress reports, had been visited onsite by members of the scientific advisory committee to talk through their progress, and all exceeded their six months milestones.

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Calls for New Funding Coming Soon

AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, said that calls for additional innovative research grants would be made this month, and could include more senior investigators as well as younger ones.

“Seven of our current 13 innovative grants are in pediatric oncology,” she explained, “and that helped address concerns that the public previously had about not having pediatric oncology dream teams.”

Other funding opportunities will emerge following a series of SU2C and scientific advisory committee meetings, determinations on revenue raised, and outcome and assessment of the findings produced by this ongoing scientifically cultural experiment with the interactive Dream Teams.

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On the Red Carpet

Stand Up To Cancer was originally a promise predicated on the ability to raise additional and sufficient funds to be dispersed to so-called Dream Teams and innovative researchers selected by a blue-ribbon panel of scientists led by Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, who would determine what cancer research was most needed and what individuals and teams would be awarded grants to accomplish something medically tangible to patients within three years through the mechanism of team-science translational research.

But the scientific and medical aspects were only part of the entire equation, with increased public awareness and understanding about cancer and research also needed to sustain the momentum.

The simulcast of the SU2C show was preceded by several hours of scientific and entertainment industry stars parading down an L-shaped red carpet, stopping intermittently for interviews with a cavalcade of entertainment reporters and a small contingent of medical press.

It was interesting watching the flow of folks, from actors, musicians, newscasters, scientists, and major donors, as well as the occasional cancer advocate sans the obligatory-SU2C T-shirt caught masquerading in more formal attire as one of the Hollywood set.

And the event was not without a few publicists flacking certain corporate sponsors to try to ensure that their clients received adequate press for their largesse.

Among those interviewed by OT:

Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009, and is the current president of AACR, SU2C's scientific partner. “We have to think bigger,” she said. “It's a terrible statistic that one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, and now with our knowledge of cancer we can start thinking about something that was just a dream before—preventing and intercepting it earlier.”

The SU2C initiative, she added, has taught both the scientists and Hollywood board to speak each other's languages and has been tremendously energizing because of the great mutual respect each has for the abilities of the other group.

Sofia Vassilieva is perhaps best known as teen psychic Ariel Dubois, the oldest daughter on CBS's Medium, but her role as a SU2C ambassador was earned after portraying a leukemia patient in the 2009 movie My Sister's Keaeper, with Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin.

She said she's had family members diagnosed with cancer, with some losing their battles and some winning. “But the more prominent effect was when I did My Sister's Keeper, where I shaved my head and eyebrows and during the process spent six months in a hospital ward talking to kids, spending time with them, and seeing them go through chemo, radiation, relapses, and remissions. I got to walk in their footsteps—without actually getting sick, luckily for me.”

Anne Feeley was diagnosed with brain cancer four and a half years ago and considers herself lucky to be a survivor at this point: “I wanted to use my good luck to raise funds and awareness about brain cancer and so I cycled across the United States over a period of three and a half months. One thing cancer gives you is a reminder that you're going to die, and it's not a bad reminder sometimes. I was living a normal life and was busy with all the things one's busy with. America is beautiful, and it was great to cross it and meet a lot of other people with brain cancer.”

Edward S. Kim, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center was strolling down the red carpet with his nine-year-old daughter Elyssa when he stopped to speak about his experience on the Dream Team dealing with Bioengineering and Clinical Applications of Circulating Tumor Cells Chip, led by Mass General's Daniel A. Haber, MD, PhD, and including other team members from MIT and Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in this joint collaboration that makes use of each researcher's particular expertise.

“We run very novel clinical trials and we've been able to support studies such as the BATTLE study,” said Dr. Kim, principal investigator of the Biomarker-Integrated Approaches of Targeted Therapy for Lung cancer Elimination trial.

“The trials are innovative because we're able to give tissue real time in folkds, and our goal was to try to use that information on the tissue to direct the therapy. But wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get that out of the block—so it became a natural fit to pair up with the technology being developed by Dr. Haber's group and integrate it into our forthcoming studies including a couple of the BATTLE studies.”

He said the next step would be to integrate this into therapy for lung cancer patients and to test to see if it is validated against the actual biopsies.

He added that Dream Teams put people together with very different scientific interests and talents who normally would have to think of very large programmatic grants involving institutional and governmental agreements.”What's so beautiful about this is it's no nonsense. We're told here's the money, find out who you want on your team, put it together, and work together in that direction. There is no other funding mechanism like this, and from a personal researcher's viewpoint I don't have to think of what the limitations or capabilities are of a single institution, so we can dream a little bit more.”

Dr. Kim said that if the dream team hadn't been assembled, there would have been pockets of research but not the collaborative research that can put the puzzle together a lot quicker: “You wouldn't have seen the whole picture, and that's really the mechanism that Stand Up To Cancer has created to put these people together, put them on the same field, and make them an all-star team as opposed to just a couple of good teams here and there.”

• Jazz great Herbie Hancock announced during his conversation with OT on the red carpet that he had had a biopsy just the week before: “I went to my dentist and he noticed an unusual coloration under my tongue and knew it could be a sign of cancer. So he sent me down the hall to a surgeon for a biopsy, and I just found out now, on my way over here to the studio that it's only fatty deposits. But it could have been cancerous, and so the point is I listened to my dentist and got the biopsy I needed,” he said.

He added that he had had another cancer scare in the 1980s when he had a tumor on a finger on his left hand that turned out to be benign, but that his life has definitely been touched by cancer, having lost a grandmother and his wife's aunt to the disease and his sister is currently under treatment.

So why did he originally sign up to play piano on SU2C? “Neil Diamond called and asked if I'd do a song with him, and I said great because I like the idea of collaborating with someone outside my normal basic genre, and for me collaboration is the spirit of the 21st century. My newest record is called the “Imagination Project,” about peace through global collaboration—it's in several different languages and I went to seven different countries to record with other artists. So when Neil asked me to perform with him, it was right in keeping with that overall spirit and with the idea of Stand Up to Cancer and I knew I wanted to be part of that.”


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Previous SU2C OT Articles

Previous articles about Stand Up to Cancer by Eric Rosenthal were published in OT's 9/25/08 (“After Hollywood ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ TV Event, It's Now Up to AACR to Field Science ‘Dream Teams’ and Move Beyond Hope & Awareness” and 6/10/10 (“How Stand Up To Cancer's Merging & Morphing of Research Teams Created Science Plans Greater than the Sum of the Original Ideas”) issues, both available in the Archives at, or directly at and

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