Anonymous Gift Will Help UVA Researchers in the Battle Against Blood Cancers

August 4, 2022
Exterior of the UVA Cancer Center building at night

UVA Health cancer researchers will have more resources to battle rare blood cancers after an anonymous $5.75 million gift. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

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

UVA’s National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center will use the donation to establish a new Translational Orphan Blood Cancer Research Initiative Fund. The initiative already has several projects in development that will help physicians and scientists better understand and treat rare blood cancers.

These cancers are considered “orphans” because they are very rare. As such, they often become “neglected” because there are limited funds available to support meaningful research on them. In addition, there are a limited number of physicians who can both manage these complex diseases and who have done impactful research on how best to manage them. 

“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.”

Ambitious Goals for Treating Blood Cancers

The new fund will be overseen by Dr. Thomas P. Loughran Jr., director of UVA Cancer Center, and Dr. Owen A. O’Connor, an American Cancer Society Research Professor in UVA Cancer Center and a widely recognized 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 orphan blood cancers. 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.

“We are on the brink of making major scientific advances against a host of rare blood cancers, and this support is going to go a long way in turning that science into reality for many patients around the world,” O’Connor noted.

The donation will help support Loughran’s research into large-granular 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:

  • Dr. Michael E. Williams and Dr. Craig A. Portell will develop 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.
  • The Cancer Center will provide 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.
  • UVA will launch 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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Media Contact

Josh Barney

UVA Health