Funding the Future: The ASCO Cancer Foundation Looks Forward after 10 Successful Years

May 18, 2010

January 2010 Issue:  Funding research. Raising awareness. Bringing hope. These activities are the cornerstone of The ASCO Cancer Foundation®.

The Foundation harnesses the knowledge of ASCO’s more than 28,000 oncologists and health care providers to improve the treatment and survival of people living with cancer. The funding of breakthrough research, education, and quality improvement programs in cancer care gives patients and caregivers powerful resources to address the disease.

ASCO’s primary goal is to provide critical programs and resources to its members. But the organization also has a broader, public/societal mission.

“We feel that we, as cancer physicians, carry the public’s trust with us. There are things that we want to do that make the world a better place that are not strictly member benefits,” said Allen S. Lichter, MD, ASCO CEO and the first Chair of the Foundation Board. Crucial programs such as investigator grants and awards cannot be supported by member dues alone; the Society relies on philanthropic gifts to make them possible.

“Supporting public policy that affects patients with cancer and Americans in general, making sure that the public has an adequate supply of well-distributed oncology physicians, ensuring that the uninsured can receive the highest quality cancer care, reducing disparities in cancer outcomes, promoting the diversity of the oncology workforce: these are programs for which we need to raise funds. For ASCO to reach its full potential, to do as much good in the world as it possibly can, we are highly dependent on the success of the Foundation,” Dr. Lichter said.

“Over the past ten years, The ASCO Cancer Foundation has steadily grown through the dedicated support of our donors. We continue to increase our charitable activities in support of ASCO and the Foundation’s shared mission to improve cancer care,” said Nancy R. Daly, MS, MPH, Executive Director of the Foundation.

The success of the Foundation, and the opportunities it yields, keeps hope alive for oncologists and their patients. “Every day when the Society’s members get up, they do so because they are devoting their creativity, understanding, and knowledge to bringing more sunrises to their patients,” said Martin J. Murphy, PhD, DMedSc, Chair of the Foundation Board of Directors. “Charitable contributions to the Foundation are more than just charity—they are investments in the future of care for patients with cancer.”

Supporting Critical Research
The Foundation is perhaps best known for its robust portfolio of grants and awards that support oncologists at all levels of their career. In the past ten years, the Grants Program has grown exponentially. Since its inception, the program has awarded over 750 grants, totaling more than $55 million, which have helped to transform the way cancer is prevented, detected, and treated.

The Foundation “provides a venue and a method for supporting cancer clinical research in an oncologist’s early, mid- and even later career in an era when funding from other sources is decreasing. We fill, and thereby our members can help fill, a crucial need, which is to advance the treatment of cancer and care of our patients,” said Joseph S. Bailes, MD. The Immediate Past Chair of the Foundation Board of Directors, Dr. Bailes oversaw the establishment of the Foundation Mission Endowment and The Susan G. Komen for the Cure®/ASCO Cancer Foundation Collaborative Commitment, both in 2008. The $12.1 million Endowment was created through support of four “Founding Donors” (Genentech BioOncology™, GlaxoSmithKline Oncology, Novartis Oncology, and sanofi-aventis) and supplemented by two Sustaining Donors (Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company and sanofi-aventis). The Mission Endowment’s unrestricted funds support a wide array of initiatives that are guided by “five pillars”: research, professional education, patient education and information, quality of and access to care, and international programs.

The $10 million Komen/Foundation collaboration currently supports the Breast Cancer Symposium, the Diversity in Oncology Initiative, the Study of Collaborative Practice Arrangements, the Study Geographic Access to Oncology Care, the Breast Cancer Registry Pilot Program, Young Investigator Awards (YIAs), and the Improving Cancer Care Grant, with more initiatives planned over the next few years.

2010 will see four new grant opportunities offered by the Foundation that are supported by generous donations from a variety of organizations:

  • Advanced Clinical Research Award (ACRA) in Colorectal Cancer: ACRAs have been awarded in the areas of breast cancer, lung cancer, glioma, sarcoma, and hematologic malignancies. In 2010, for the first time, an ACRA for research on colorectal cancer will be awarded, intended to support proposals with a patient-oriented focus, including a clinical research study and/or translational research involving human subjects. This award is designed to fund investigators committed to clinical cancer research and who wish to conduct original research not currently funded. The ACRA in Colorectal Cancer, a $450,000 award, is supported by Genentech BioOncology™.
  • The ASCO Cancer Foundation Improving Cancer Care Grant, funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure (ICCG): The ICCG is part of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure/ASCO Cancer Foundation Research Initiative and will provide research funding to address important issues regarding access to health care, quality of care, and delivery of care, with general applicability to breast cancer. The goal of this program is to encourage multidisciplinary research that will have a major impact on cancer care, with general applicability in breast cancer. Up to three research grants will be awarded beginning in 2010, each totaling $1.35 million.
  • Comparative Effectiveness Research Professorship (CERP): The CERP in Breast Cancer will provide funding to outstanding researchers whose contributions have changed the direction of breast cancer research and who will provide mentorship to junior researchers. Comparative effectiveness research is defined as the generation and synthesis of evidence that compares the benefits and harms of alternative methods to prevent, diagnose, treat, and monitor a clinical condition or to improve the delivery of care. The CERP in Breast Cancer accepts applications focusing on all aspects of breast cancer, including prevention, diagnosis, treatment, delivery of care, and health economics. The $500,000 award is supported by The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
  • Long-term International Fellowship (LIFe): The LIFe provides young oncologists in developing nations the support and resources needed to advance their training by deepening their relationship with a U.S.- or Canadian-based colleague and his or her institution through a one- or two-year fellowship. Recipients will have the opportunity to gain research experience (laboratory, translational, or epidemiological), observe clinical oncology practice in an academic center, and develop a relationship for future collaboration with their mentor and institution—resources that they can leverage to effect change in cancer care in their home country. Currently, one 2010 LIFe is being supported by Amgen, with the potential for additional donors.

ASCO’s Public/Societal Mission
Providing up-to-date, oncologist-approved, unbiased cancer information to patients is a crucial part of the Foundation’s mission. For this reason, Cancer.Net, the Society’s patient information website, is supported in part by the Foundation, rather than being funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Cancer.Net is the first resource that many patients, friends, and family members turn to at the time of a cancer diagnosis, throughout treatment, and into survivorship.

“Cancer is a catastrophic disease,” Dr. Murphy said. With Cancer.Net, the Foundation and ASCO “have an extraordinary opportunity to express their dedication to the people who need to know there is a Society that has their best interests at heart. And there is a need to express that to all the people who don’t know yet that ASCO is going to be important” when they or the people they love are affected by cancer.

To increase awareness of cancer and of the resources that ASCO offers to patients and the public, the Foundation and Cancer.Net have reached out to serve as knowledge partners for athletic events and television programs.

Public education about cancer is not limited to the Internet. At the 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting, the Foundation will offer a new public forum that will present information on the most significant cancer advances to emerge from the Meeting presentations, in language and context suitable for an audience that does not work in professional medicine. This event will be presented free of charge and will focus on areas of greatest concern to patients, survivors, caregivers, and loved ones. Following the panel presentations will be a question-and-answer session.

“We have to get the public involved to support ASCO, and help the public to understand that ASCO is fighting the battles that have significantly improved the survival and quality of life of our patients,” said Michael B. Troner, MD, Past Chair of the Foundation Board of Directors. “The Foundation is a great way to make non-physicians aware of how we work.”

In August 2009, the Foundation and ASCO stepped into the public spotlight and joined the ranks of many notable businesses and organizations by ringing the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Closing Bell®. The official bell ringing, which is used to signal the start or end of trading for the business day, is a popular marketing platform, offering non-profit organizations like the Foundation and ASCO an opportunity to raise awareness of their mission and work.

“This [event] has allowed ASCO—and especially the Foundation—to realize a new level of national recognition for our work,” said Dr. Lichter following the bell ringing. “We hope to build off this event to carry our oncology messages to a broad audience throughout the country.”

Diversifying Funding
Previously, the Foundation has relied on generous support from industry, other non-profit organizations, and individuals for its important programs. But in the midst of a global recession, when organizations and individuals have fewer dollars to give to philanthropy, it is more important than ever that the Foundation seek out new and creative sources of funding and develop relationships that will lead to fruitful partnerships.

“It’s not wise to be dependent on any single sector of our community and place all of this responsibility in that single area. The Foundation needs to have a broad base of support, and we believe that the quality of the programs and their importance merits it,” Dr. Lichter said.

“The economic climate has sparked an effort in the Foundation to expand in new directions and try new things. It brings home the fact that you can’t always rely on doing things the way they’ve been done before,” Ms. Daly said. “Quite simply, it’s a matter of finding new ways to tell our story to new people.”

The Foundation was approached last summer by the Bike Texas Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization that encourages increased participation in bicycling for health and environmental reasons. Together, the Foundation and Bike Texas presented an online charitable auction featuring a replica of the Trek bicycle that Lance Armstrong rode in his 2003 Tour de France victory. Using the charitable online auction site, the Foundation and Bike Texas successfully auctioned the bike and several other pieces of Lance Armstrong memorabilia in July 2009. An equal split of net revenue after costs yielded approximately $3,000, which the Foundation will give to Cancer.Net. Though small in scale, this initiative allowed the Foundation to explore a new and potentially lucrative revenue stream and laid groundwork for potential future auctions, while promoting the Foundation to reach a new audience in the Bike Texas membership.

“The act of being engaged in the greater community is very important for communication between the health care team involved with the management of cancer and the general public,” said Larry Norton, MD, Past Chair of the Foundation Board. The Foundation is engaged not just in fundraising but in “friendraising,” he notes, building mutually beneficial relationships with likeminded individuals and organizations.

At the 2009 ASCO Annual Meeting, the Foundation piloted a new funding program called Leaders in Cuisine, in which the Peabody Orlando restaurant donated a percentage of its sales from the duration of the Meeting. 

Also in 2009, the Foundation was honored to be the beneficiary of several generous donations originating from weddings. Some couples requested that donations be made to the Foundation in lieu of receiving gifts; others have made donations on behalf of their guests instead of giving traditional favors. To facilitate future personal donations and acknowledge such gifts, the Foundation now offers small, printed gift notification cards for use with event place settings, as well as cards to be inserted into invitations requesting that guests make a donation instead of bringing a gift. “It’s been wonderful how exploring these new programs has helped us to ‘get the word out’ about the Foundation and ASCO to audiences we’ve never had a chance to interact with before, but who share our commitment to cancer research and education,” Ms. Daly said.

And as always, the Foundation is deeply appreciative of the financial gifts made by ASCO members. Dr. Murphy, a long-time donor to the Foundation, feels his donation reflects his full commitment to the objectives and ideals of the ASCO mission, “contributing not just time and talent, but also treasury,” he said. “I believe in ASCO and the Foundation, and my wife, Ann, and I believe that we therefore have a responsibility and the honor to make a contribution to the extent that we can.”

Paul A. Bunn, Jr., MD, Past Chair of the Foundation Board of Directors, noted that every member of the Boards of both ASCO and the Foundation has had a significant effect on cancer research by donating to the Foundation. Their combined contributions funded a YIA that will support a member of the next generation of clinical researchers. “In fundraising, there are gifts of loyalty and gifts of passion,” Dr. Bunn said. In many ways, donations from ASCO members are both.

“Many people feel that only large donors such as wealthy individuals or corporations are important in supporting a foundation” with their gifts, Dr. Norton said. “But that’s not true. Universal commitment is not just about money, but about communication and building relationships. It shows that ASCO is important to the people who serve people with cancer.”

Looking to the Future
The Foundation is not resting on the laurels of a successful decade. Until cancer is eradicated, the Board, member volunteers, and staff continue to find new methods and opportunities to contribute to the fight against the disease. The Foundation’s work is crucial, Dr. Murphy said, because “our job, our great honor, is to carry the message of ASCO’s dedication and to hold that torch aloft, because it is a beacon of hope for a better future for all patients with cancer.

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