Rutgers receives $10 million anonymous donation for advanced cancer treatment
The Rutgers University Foundation recently received a $10 million donation from an anonymous couple. The money will go toward treatment of patients with rare and fatal cancers that are not responsive to standard therapies, according to a press release by the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
Robert DiPaola, director of the CINJ, said the organization is the only designated comprehensive cancer research institution in the state. Outside New Jersey, there are 40 designated comprehensive cancer institutions in the United States.
The National Cancer Institute designates these institutions based on their clinical, laboratory and population-based research, as well as how well they serve their community, according to their website.
This money will be used over the next few years, DiPaola said. The CINJ will expand its programs and facilities to better serve patients in that time.
“It’s great for Rutgers. It’s great for the patients,” he said. “This [donation] will fuel a program that will lead to a direct benefit for patients.”
The donation will also allow for University researchers to expand their work into cancer research and patient treatment. They will be able to perform higher-level research that can directly impact patients
Shridar Ganesan, a medical oncologist with the CINJ, said cancer is not a single disease. Underlying differences exist with tumors that make even seemingly identical cancers unique.
“It’s clear one of the big advances in cancer is a redefinition of how cancer is classified,” he said.
In the past, cancer was classified by its location in the body. Doctors also looked at the tumors under a microscope, using visual and molecular features to confirm this classification.
In the future, cancer will be defined by genetic sequencing, Ganesan said. Each form of cancer is a distinct disease, and must be treated as such before cures can be found.
Jay Tischfield, founder, CEO and scientific director of the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository, said in order to determine what causes cancer, the genome of a tumor cell must be compared with the genome of a normal cell from the same patient. Usually, blood cells are used to provide the patient’s genome.
At the CINJ, there are more than 250 clinical trials going on at any time, DiPaola said. Each trial may have 30 or more patients enrolled.
“Patients who come in are able to have an opportunity in many cases to have their tumors analyzed and sequenced,” he said. “A large team of experts can determine the best course of therapy.”
These are known as targeted therapies, where new drugs that affect specific genomes are used to treat patients, he said.
By continuing and expanding this personalized care through the Precision Medicine Initiative, patients will receive the best possible care, he said.
“Precision medicine is where you determine the specific nature of the disease in the patient,” Tischfield said. “[We] provide therapy based on that nature.”
This technique was used by the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey, an organization Tischfield is on the board of. The same technology used by the HGI is now also used by the CINJ, he said.
While clinical trials are typically only used when standard therapies are not effective, the CINJ plans to run more targeted therapy trials, DiPaola said. Rather than using a therapy that kills cancer cells in a specific way, they plan to use the new technology to attack cancer cells more effectively.
At present, roughly 30 percent of cancers cannot be cured with standard therapy, he said. The other 70 percent of treatments can be improved as well. Because of this, they want to pay more attention to precision medicine.
The chief issue with using this technology is its cost, Tischfield said. The RUCDR and CINJ hope to bring the cost down to a level where this treatment could be covered by insurance. The donation will help with the development costs, create new facilities as well as create a foundation to run more clinical trials.
The new facilities in New Brunswick include both research laboratories and clinical areas, he said. Different forms of cancer are studied in different sections.
Part of the money will also go toward developing a new undergraduate curriculum in cancer biology, Tischfield said. Two new faculty members will be hired to supplement the current staff.
“We have a responsibility to the entire state,” DiPaolo said. “We have a responsibility to bring the best possible care.”