As the first Executive Director of the Max Cure Foundation, I set several lofty goals that will take significant time and effort to bring to fruition. In viewing the combined three-pronged mission of MCF, one of my biggest desires was to ensure that the funding MCF has provided to the Immune Cell Laboratory at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center was indeed money well spent. In 2007, the Plotkin family established the Max Cure Fund at Sloan Kettering to seed and support the research into the growing field of immune therapies. Max’s story is one of hope as he is now an eight-year survivor of his diagnosis. The laboratory has been the main focus of MCF’s research funding from the early days of the formation of the foundation. To date, the Max Cure Fund supporting the lab has raised and donated approximately $862,000.00 for the research.
In order to ensure that MCF is doing everything it can do in an effort to make the biggest impact against childhood cancer, it is my responsibility to dig deep into the mission and the programs we have to determine whether we are meeting this basic floor. I firmly believe that in order to warrant that we are good stewards of the funding we receive, we must ensure that our investments are well placed, including in the research context. For me, that simply means one thing: clinical translation. Obviously, not all research will end up moving into the clinic and thus into the patient population. With that said, it is critical for me to ensure that the money that is being donated to the immune cell lab is moving the ball ahead and having a direct impact upon the pediatric cancer patient population.
Richard Plotkin and I had the privilege to visit the lab and speak with several members of the team as well as Paul Meyers, MD., who the Plotkin family credits as saving Max following his diagnosis with B Cell Lymphoma of the bone. Prior to the visit I was pleased to see on the MSKCC website that there are a couple of clinical trials listed and available that flow directly from the laboratory. In speaking with Dr. Meyers, I was also very happy to learn of the positive results thus far from the trials. I am pleased that the research is moving from the lab into the clinic and that MCF has played an integral part in the creation of the lab and its continued operation. We learned that approximately 300 patients have been treated with immuno therapies and CAR T Cells from the laboratory. The majority of those patients it turns out are in fact children, thus MCF has had a significant impact in the treatment of these kids.
In addition to my primary interest regarding clinical translation to children of the research at the lab, I was eager to ascertain whether or not research was being conducted utilizing the immune cell products on other forms of childhood cancer outside of leukemias and lymphomas.
Through the course of our discussion with one of the senior researchers in the lab, she talked to us about the preclinical work being done with the immune cell products on such childhood cancer types as, osteosarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, neuroblastoma and some primary brain tumors.
The reality is that the potential application and use of immune cell therapies, including CAR-T Cells, for these other types of childhood cancers from the research at MSKCC is some time away from clinical application.
Since my daughter Alexis was diagnosed with DIPG (an inoperable and terminal brain tumor) one of my main focus areas in the childhood cancer world has been on research. There are so many critical components to the childhood cancer puzzle. It is important to me that when MCF supports and funds research we ensure that our funds are being used wisely.
To me, that means asking tough questions of the researchers, laboratories and institutions who we fund to confirm that everyone knows MCF is committed to our donors and to the families and children desperately seeking better and more effective treatments.
I am fully satisfied that our efforts in supporting the work of the Immune Cell Laboratory at MSKCC are well placed. More importantly, our relationship with the researchers at MSKCC as well as the research community overall will continue to grow and solidify through many of the new efforts that we are creating. We will continue to follow up periodically to discuss the efforts of the Immune Cell laboratory at MSKCC and provide updates when available. Efforts at connecting our supporters as closely to the research that you are helping fund are truly important. We are accountable to our supporters to demonstrate that your confidence and trust is not misplaced.