Anonymous Gift Will Help UVA Researchers in Battle Against Blood Cancers

Exterior of the UVA Cancer Center building at night

A gift of more than $5.75 million from anonymous donors will allow the UVA Cancer Center to speed the development of new treatments for rare blood cancers and provide more patients with access to cutting-edge clinical trials.

The gift will fund an initiative, with several projects already in the pipeline, that will help doctors better understand and treat rare blood cancers. Because these cancers are uncommon, doctors and scientists often struggle to obtain funding for potentially life-saving research.

“Individually, these cancers affect relatively small numbers of people when compared with other cancers, but collectively, they touch the lives of countless patients and families,” said Dr. K. Craig Kent, chief executive officer of UVA Health and executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Virginia. “We are deeply grateful for this generous gift that will allow us to conduct important, groundbreaking cancer research and develop new treatments that will benefit patients around the world.”

The new fund will be overseen by Dr. Thomas P. Loughran Jr., director of UVA Cancer Center, and Dr. Owen A. O’Connor, an international authority on lymphoma. The fund will support far-reaching efforts in the battle against rare blood cancers, including research, drug development and a special training fellowship. In addition, the fund will allow UVA to help subsidize patients’ travel costs to participate in clinical trials, allowing more people to do so.

“This extraordinarily generous gift will accelerate innovative research in such rare blood diseases,” said Loughran, who discovered a rare form of blood cancer called large-granular lymphocytic leukemia and is a leading expert in its treatment.

The donation will help support Loughran’s research into lymphocytic leukemia with collaborator David J. Feith. They aim to identify new treatment targets and develop new approaches to improve outcomes for patients with the cancer and other malignancies in immune cells called T-cells.

O’Connor, meanwhile, will work with Dr. Enrica Marchi to develop innovative therapeutics for peripheral T-cell lymphoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Other projects planned include:

  • Developing a clinical study to enhance a treatment approach for mantle cell lymphoma that was developed by Loughran’s team. In addition, they plan to identify combinations of non-chemotherapy drugs that work better together than individually.
  • Launching a new effort to increase collaborations with top researchers outside UVA. This will include awarding three $250,000 grants to foster these collaborations.
  • Providing patients with financial assistance to help cover the cost of traveling to participate in clinical trials. For many patients, the lack of access to an academic medical center such as UVA is a major barrier to accessing clinical trials that are the testing ground for the latest treatments.
  • Launching a monthly lecture series for faculty and staff to keep them abreast of state-of-the-art treatments and the latest developments in the battle against rare blood cancers.

“These initiatives sponsored by this generous gift will further establish UVA Cancer Center as a world leader in rare blood cancers,” Loughran said.

Finding new ways to treat cancer in all its forms is a primary mission of UVA Cancer Center, which on Feb. 1 became one of only 52 cancer centers in the country to be designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. The designation recognizes elite cancer centers with the most outstanding cancer programs in the nation. Comprehensive Cancer Centers must meet rigorous standards for innovative research and leading-edge clinical trials.

UVA Cancer Center is the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in Virginia.

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