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Stand Up To Cancer—Beyond the Numbers

Rosenthal, Eric T.

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000422171.44532.f4
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ERIC T. ROSENTHAL, shown here on the SU2C red carpet, is OT's Special Correspondent.

After four-and-a-half years, Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) continues to raise public awareness about cancer as well as private non-governmental funds to fuel innovative research initiatives.

Following the organization's third one-hour, commercial-free, primetime, multi-network telecast on Sept. 7 (bit. ly/ OT-Rosenthal-Sept92012), the organizers said it had received pledges of approximately $81 million, up $1 million from the 2010 program, and about $19 million shy of the debut telecast in 2008.

But as I reported two years ago (OT, 10/10/10), the numbers themselves don't tell the entire story.

The $81 million is based on pledges, not final donations, and according to Lisa Paulsen, President of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), the nonprofit charitable arm of the television and film industry that oversees SU2C, there has historically been a general division of 80 percent raised from major donors and 20 percent from viewers, with some larger pledges paid out over multiple years.

Members of the Stand Up To Cancer Executive Leadership Council (from the entertainment industry), Scientific Advisory Committee, and Dream Team leaders shown in Los Angeles before the Sept. 7 telecast: (Left to right): Pamela Oas Williams, Raymond DuBois, Mehmet Toner, Rusty Robertson, Daniel Haber, Ellen Ziffren, Lewis Cantley, Sherry Lansing, Phillip Sharp, Lisa Paulsen, William Nelson, and Kathleen Lobb.

The relationships with major donors extend throughout the two years between telecasts, she said. Grassroots efforts fostered through projects developed with Safeway and MasterCard have furthered both fundraising and awareness, and Major League Baseball's outreach continues to reach fans throughout the nation.

For example, the Safeway Foundation has actor and Stand Up “Ambassador” Marg Helgenberger appearing in public service announcements during October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to coincide with the food retailer's 1,666 stores' fundraising efforts benefiting cancer research, and a similar campaign for prostate cancer awareness was held in the spring. In addition, MasterCard recently announced it had raised $4 million for Stand Up through its “Dine and Be Generous” campaign.

Also, Taylor Swift will be donating all her proceeds to cancer charities including Stand Up from the song “Ronan,” which she debuted on the telecast, in honor of the memory of a three-year-old boy, Ronan Thompson, who died from neuroblastoma.

4 New Dream Teams

Funding for research has also increased through the development of partnerships with like-minded scientific or advocacy organizations that have or will sponsor an additional four Dream Teams. These include the already formed Prostate Cancer Dream Team with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Melanoma Dream Team with the Melanoma Research Alliance, as well as an Immunology Dream Team with the Cancer Research Institute and a Pediatric Cancer Dream Team with St. Baldrick's Foundation.

Solid stewardship, effective synergistic relationships, and passion fused with energy have all been hallmarks of SU2C's success from the initial pairing of its Hollywood-based cofounders with the oncologic scientific community through Stand Up's scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research.

Following the death of cofounder and SU2C executive producer Laura Ziskin last year, Gwyneth Paltrow was asked to serve as co-executive producer of the telecast, with Joel Gallen working with Stand Up's in-house production team.

“We [EIF] had helped Gwyneth set up the Bruce Paltrow Oral Cancer Fund in memory of her father, and she responded, ‘I'll do whatever you need me to do and I'll be honored,’” Paulsen said.

Judging from the many comments and reactions on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media during and after the telecast, many found the telecast very moving. Daniel Von Hoff, MD, co-principal investigator of the Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team, in a note to the SU2C Executive Leadership Council, said that many patients he saw in clinic a few days later said they considered the show to be very realistic about the ups and down they face every day, and that seeing others in the telecast gave them hope.

Sherry Lansing, Chairperson of EIF's Board of Directors, said that when she helped start Stand Up she had dreamed it would grow fast and that one of the Dream Teams would find a way to make cancer a chronic disease.

“People ask me what am I proudest of, Titanic or Stand Up To Cancer? And the answer isn't even close—Stand Up is part of a legacy.” (When Lansing was CEO of Paramount Pictures the studio produced the blockbuster 1997 Academy Award-winning film.) “Yes, I am grateful for all that has been accomplished, but we really can't be happy or complacent as long as people are still suffering and dying from cancer.”

‘Balance of Hope and Reality’

She said that this year's telecast was produced with a “balance of hope and reality,” and that although she had previously read the script and saw the tapes of the patients featured on the program, she and her husband, director William Friedkin, both cried during the telecast: “We always wanted to tell the story through the patients, and we could this time because of where we are in the cycle of the research. It was extraordinarily moving to meet the patients as a reminder of what this whole effort is about.”

Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, President and CEO of Stand Up since 2011 and former Director of AACR's Clinical and Translational Programs, has been a bridge between SU2C's scientific and entertainment communities. At AACR she managed the associations's Stand Up administrative and grant responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, and served as contact with the Dream Teams.

Partner Organizations

The newer teams formed with support from partner organizations have joint scientific advisory committees, with equal representation from SU2C and the other organizations. “These joint committees also have members who are cancer advocates, and their size will be determined by the scope of science that is needed for each Dream Team,” Poblete noted.

AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, said that the additional funds raised for cancer research at this juncture are very important, but that the public awareness factor is also key—for example, AACR President Frank McCormick, PhD, told her he was wearing his SU2C T-shirt on his return flight from the event and people came up to him and (not knowing who he was) asked if he had been at the television show they had watched the evening before.

Stand Up has also gotten the attention of the National Cancer Institute, she said: “NCI is looking at our scientific model, and representatives from our Dream Teams have been in to discuss their models, although NCI may not be able to implement them.”

Foti said requests for proposals for the next round of Dream Teams would probably go out early next year but that it is as yet too early to determine how many Dream Teams could be funded until all the financial data are finalized.

Earlier this month AACR issued a call for proposals for the Pediatric Dream Team that will be funded by Stand Up and the St. Baldrick's Foundation, and later this fall they are expected to announce a new Immunology Dream Team that will be sponsored with the help of the Cancer Research Institute.

The current Dream Teams' three-year grants are nearing completion and several of the teams have asked for “no-cost extensions” that would stretch their funds over a four-year period, she said. “We are also considering supplemental funding for certain projects that need the extra funds to complete something important, but no decisions have been made yet.”

William Nelson, MD, PhD, is now Scientific Advisory Committee Co-chair (with Arnold Levine, PhD), replacing Brian Druker, MD; and Raymond DuBois, MD, PhD, left the committee to join the Executive Management Committee (EMC), which serves as an ongoing advisory group to SU2C's Executive Leadership Council.

In an interview, Nelson, Director of the Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, said the scientific advisory committee is actively working with the Dream Teams and is constantly asking what's been done that can be applied elsewhere to benefit patients.

He also said that Stand Up's scientific model could move much more rapidly than other, more bureaucratic, entities: “Some of the most innovative parts have involved the energy of researchers who are given significant resources to take on major challenges. Those in Hollywood are experts in engaging the public on a scale that is stunning. The public is now more aware of the benefits of participating in cancer clinical trials, and to have something like this on television will have far-reaching and long-term benefits,” he said.

He also mentioned that another side effect of the venture has been portraying researchers as “folks with energy and patience. Not only do they look at you and think you're capable of working on this [cancer] problem, but they also think you're cool,” he said with obvious delight.

‘Immunotherapy, Epigenetics, and Nano-Medicine’

Although it is premature to discuss the makeup of future Dream Teams, Nelson said that the fields that “are getting ripe and exploding” include immunotherapy, epigenetics, and nano-medicine.

He said the “intense monitoring and oversight” has been very productive and that the initial skepticism about the process is now embraced by the researchers, who view the monitors' scientific suggestions as not meddlesome but as helping with the outcomes.

And, of course, the high expectations of the Stand Up cofounders and the fact that the Dream Teams are under greater public view than less publicized scientific pursuits are can only add to the pressure to meet the goal of producing benefits to patients within a three-year period.

Nelson also said that a number of basic scientists on Dream Teams have now learned more about clinical trials than ever before in their careers, citing Lewis C. Cantley, PhD (“Targeting the PI3K Pathway in Women's Cancers”), and Stephen Baylin, MD (“Bringing Epigenetic Therapy to the Forefront of Cancer Management”) as examples.

Another Telecast in 2 Years

Overall, the Stand Up effort is continuing, with the hope of producing another telecast in 2014 and pursuing a televised documentary series based on the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by medical oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, DPhil (PhD), which was optioned by SU2C (OT, 2/10/11).

And, parallel international efforts ( in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are also under way, with the promise of increased cancer awareness and additional research funding overseas as well.

SU2C Executive Management Committee

  • Chairperson: John Glaspy, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, UCLA
  • Andrew Conrad, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, National Genetics Institute
  • Susan Desmond-Hellman, MD, MPH, Chancellor, UCSF
  • Raymond N. DuBois, MD, PhD, Executive Director, Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University and Dalton Chair, ASU School of Health Solutions
  • Kathy Giusti, Founder and CEO, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation
  • Lee Nadler, MD, Director, Harvard Catalyst and Senior Vice President for Experimental Medicine, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee

  • Chair: Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Institute Professor, David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, MIT
  • Vice Chair: Arnold J. Levine, PhD, Professor, Institute for Advanced Study and Cancer, Princeton, NJ
  • Vice Chair: William G. Nelson, MD, PhD, Director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University
  • Julian Adams, PhD, President, Research and Development, Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Cambridge, MA
  • Angelika Amon, PhD, Professor of Biology, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, MIT
  • Kenneth C. Anderson, MD, Director, Lebow Institute for Myeloma Therapeutics and Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Frederick R. Appelbaum, MD, Director, Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, Morris Herzstein Professor, UCSF
  • Richard B. Gaynor, MD, Vice President, Clinical Development and Medical Affairs, Eli Lilly
  • William N. Hait, MD, PhD, Global Head, Research and Development, Janssen
  • Lee J. Helman, MD, Scientific Director for Clinical Research, Center for Cancer Research, NCI
  • Waun Ki Hong, MD, Head, Division of Cancer Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Carl H. June, MD, Director, Translational Research Program, Abramson Cancer Center
  • William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, Professor, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Michael B. Kastan, MD, PhD, Executive Director, Duke
  • Richard D. Kolodner, PhD, Professor of Medicine, UC San Diego, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
  • Guillermina (Gigi) Lozano, PhD, Chairman and Professor, Department of Genetics, MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Thomas J. Lynch Jr., MD, Director, Yale Cancer Center; Physician-in-Chief, Smilow Cancer Hospital
  • Tak W. Mak, PhD, Director, Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research, Princess Margaret Hospital
  • Cecil B. Pickett, PhD, President, Research and Development, Biogen Idec
  • Nancy A. Roach, Advocate Member, Fight Colorectal Cancer
  • Laura K. Shawver, PhD, ECO, Cleave Biosciences
  • Ellen V. Sigal, PhD, Advocate Member, Friends of Cancer Research
  • David A. Tuveson MD, PhD, Professor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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