Rutgers Receives $10 Million Pledge to Advance Treatment of Cancer Patients

A $10 million anonymous pledge to the Rutgers University Foundation will help advance the treatment of patients with rare and virulent cancers that don’t respond to standard therapies.

The gift will strengthen the university’s research and clinical practice of identifying genetic abnormalities that make tumors cancerous and using those details to fine-tune treatment. This rapidly growing approach to research and care is known as precision medicine.

The gift, to be given over two years, will increase the number of patients that New Brunswick-based Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey can serve in clinical trials of targeted therapies. It will enhance their care by quickly and more precisely identifying the genetic mutations that cause or accelerate the growth of their cancers.

“We will be able to analyze patients’ tumors – their individual tumors – in a way we never could before,” said Robert DiPaola, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. “We will do that by bringing together expertise across many disciplines at Rutgers, from physicians who take care of patients to laboratories that do research on genetic abnormalities.”

The gift includes support for advanced genomic analyses of cancers within the Clinical Genomics Laboratories of RUCDR Infinite Biologics, a unit of the Rutgers Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey.

“Cancer is a disease where you can’t wait a long time between diagnosis and treatment,” said Jay Tischfield, chief executive officer and scientific director of RUCDR Infinite Biologics and the Duncan and Nancy MacMillan Distinguished Professor of Genetics in the School of Arts and Sciences. “We will provide very rapid turnaround – typically 72 to 96 hours – to our Cancer Institute colleagues, who will examine the data to determine their clinical response. Our capability is unique, and there is nothing comparable to it at any university.”

The gift also supports teaching within the university’s Department of Genetics. It includes a $1 million endowment for cancer biology curriculum development to support undergraduate education in cancer genetics, preparing students to pursue research and clinical careers in precision medicine. It also will fund two new faculty positions, one of which will be an endowed chair in genetics. The gift provides $1.5 million in funding for the chair, with a matching $1.5 million coming from an earlier $27 million challenge grant to establish 18 new endowed chairs at the university.

“On a personal level, I think everyone has been touched by cancer – if not themselves, then a close family member or friend,” said Linda Brzustowicz, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics. “The educational component of this gift is going to be a tremendous asset, to bring people together to work on these projects and develop a new breed of cancer researchers and oncologists.”

The opportunity to combine clinical research and treatment with academic research and education has been strengthened by the integration of Rutgers with schools, centers and institutes that were part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. RUCDR Infinite Biologics – the world’s largest university-based biorepository – is providing services that extend beyond third-party laboratories or the limited internal facilities that many university medical centers use for similar clinical trials. Those often provide a fixed panel of tests with little flexibility to incorporate new genetic discoveries.

“As new genetic markers evolve, we can put them in our panels very quickly,” Tischfield said. “We can tailor our panels to the kinds of cancers seen by the physicians at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.”

Shridar Ganesan, medical oncologist and associate director of translational science at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, says the gift will allow him and his colleagues to put theoretical principles into practice.

“I’m personally excited to see what this will do for patients,” he said. “This should allow not only more clinical trials, but better, more effective and more efficient trials. The capabilities we develop will eventually be integrated into the routine care of our patients.”

This gift is part of the largest fundraising year in Rutgers’ history and supports Our Rutgers, Our Future, a $1 billion campaign publicly launched in 2010 to broaden and enhance the myriad ways the university serves students, the state, and the world.

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