bring a global network of top clinicians and scientists together to identify the most promising combinations of new treatments to harness the patient’s immune system,make these combination treatments possible, and bring them into the clinic for patient testing. When we forge partnerships with leading biopharmaceutical companies, they see us, our track record, pedigree, and scientific insight, and allow us access to their drugs. Then we develop a venture philanthropy group, providing capital and clinical resources. By partnering with Ludwig Cancer Research, we launch clinical trials that maybe wouldn’t happen or be as timely, bringing new treatments faster to the patient population. The pharmaceutical company gets another shot, allowing their drug to be used, maybe not along their development path, but in a new way based on this international brain trust of scientists and clinicians. Collaboration, finding ways that the different strengths of a corporation and a nonprofit can be brought together, gives a sum greater than its parts. We’ll see this more as both corporations and nonprofits realize they can’t do everything. Collaboration is very important in our work because we need the pharmaceutical industry to eventually get these drugs approved and into the hands of patients. Tell the Stories Immunotherapies are having successes in treating patients. People glaze over: “What’s a T-cell receptor and what does it have to do with anything?” You have to explain, “Well, this is what we’re funding and why.” Now we can say, “Here’s a cancer patient who had metastatic disease, has been treated and is now alive ten years later after all other previous treatments failed.” That’s much easier to comprehend, but you have to state that it’s happening because we funded this research for many years, and these discoveries have led to these results – not in all patients but, with continued research and investments, we hope to see this happen in more cancer patients and more types of cancer. In a research-focused organization, it’s a harder story to tell than in social service, where you can say, “Give us $10 and we’ll feed this many kids.” Research is not instant gratification. You can’t say, “Give me $100
and you’re going to cure cancer.” You have to tell the story that research is long term, it’s not linear, and surprises happen. You can’t guarantee that, even though you’re selecting the best research right now, you’ll get the answer you want. It’s a hard message to communicate. People must understand that solving the problem of cancer comes from supporting the best scientific research around the world, without guaranteeing when or if we’re going to have that answer. CRI has always been dedicated to cancer immunology with the hope of developing immunotherapy that will treat, prevent, and cure cancer. It’s been a rocky road and it wasn’t always mainstream but, by staying true to our mission, that scientific excellence overshadows everything. Our goal is to get people invested in the change we can bring. We hope to move people from donors to ambassadors by developing a relationship. We get donations from across the country and around the world: they write a check and send it in, we send them a thank you, we send things back and forth. Developing that community and relationship—it’s a real challenge to talk to people. You can end up really connecting with a person, and if they get to meet a scientist or hear it firsthand, they become more engaged and committed, and they’ll want to do more, and then they become an ambassador and tell the story to others. We’ve launched a patient-facing site called The Answer to Cancer with stories of cancer patients who have been treated successfully with immunotherapies. We’re trying to develop an immuno-community around this and develop ambassadors who’ll go out and tell other patients about immunotherapy options. In the same way, these stories and connections come down to donor relationships in fundraising. You need personal relationships to get someone to be an ambassador who’ll go out and tell other people about how great you are and why you should be supported. Connect Giving to Impact We all want our organizations to bring greater impact into the communities that we serve. This doesn’t just happen, though. It’s important to have a vision for your mission, and set goals.Then figure out how to get there,
how to develop programs that allow you to reach those goals, how to communicate your goals, and set up metrics to measure your successes or failures. That data is important, both to communicate to donors how their philanthropic dollars are being used, and to alter and evolve your program to increase your efficiency and productivity. CRI is working to see where the gaps and needs are in the research field, funding,or types of programs,and responding to that. We’re a non-heavily bureaucratic organization, so we can turn on a dime. We have the insight of our scientific advisors to innovate and quickly respond with new programs for greater impact. To further the impact of social benefit, we need to better concentrate our efforts. In the cancer field, many new foundations and nonprofits pop up, wanting to do things, sometimes just duplicating and replicating. We would be better if people wanting to come into the field would see if they can plug in or partner with an existing organization to avoid recreating infrastructure and duplicating efforts, instead increasing efficiency by concentrating those efforts. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., is CEO and director of scientific affairs at the nonprofit Cancer Research Institute, today’s global leader in supporting and coordinating research aimed at harnessing the immune system’s power to conquer cancer. She serves on the boards of CT Atlantic AG, Richmond University Medical Center, and the Staten Island Foundation. Jill can be reached at JTormey@cancerresearch.org.
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