In the Name of Cancer Research
This month, Randi and Brian Schwartz made a transformational $1.5 million gift to advance the pioneering work of David Avigan, M.D., in the field of patient-specific immunotherapies and vaccine development, as well as in support of a new translational research facility that will bear their name. The generous commitment will establish the Randi and Brian Schwartz Family Cancer Immunotherapy and Cell Manipulation Facility at BIDMC and further Dr. Avigan’s innovative multiple myeloma research program.
After receiving a preliminary diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that forms in plasma cells (white blood cells) and causes cancer in the bone marrow, Randi Schwartz quickly began to research the disease and various academic medical centers that specialize in its treatment. After reading about many leading cancer centers nationally and being introduced to Dr. Avigan by a family friend, she selected BIDMC for her care. She was immediately impressed with Dr. Avigan’s thorough, compassionate approach to patient care. “I felt a strong connection with Dr. Avigan and was incredibly impressed with his patience, presence, thoughtfulness, and accessibility,” says Schwartz. “It gave me a sense of control at a very vulnerable time, which was incredibly therapeutic and empowering.” When she learned of Dr. Avigan’s efforts to lead the development of a Cancer Immunotherapy and Cell Manipulation Facility at BIDMC, she was determined to provide critical philanthropic resources toward its fruition. “We are so excited to support David Avigan’s visionary work,” says Schwartz. “He and his talented team are transforming the landscape of cancer treatments across a spectrum of diagnoses while specifically focusing on novel treatments and cures for myeloma.”
A team of physician–researchers will work in the new facility, utilizing the novel technique Dr. Avigan developed to manufacture individualized vaccines, and working on other immunotherapies, and combinatorial treatments to treat patients with cancer. Individuals with multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a lethal blood cancer, are already benefitting from cancer immunotherapies created at BIDMC for clinical trials. BIDMC has had remarkable results leading clinical trials of the fusion vaccine for patients with multiple myeloma and AML. This year, following promising results in a Phase 2 study, BIDMC was chosen by the National Institutes of Health to lead a first-of-its-kind study of Dr. Avigan’s cancer vaccine in patients with multiple myeloma. The collaborative Phase 3 trial—which involves 17 leading cancer centers from across the country, each of which sent a team to Boston for training on how to generate the vaccine—is currently enrolling participants. Additionally, in a study recently published in Science Translational Medicine, Dr. Avigan’s immunotherapy resulted in the dramatic and lasting expansion of leukemia-targeting immune cells: more than 70 percent of patients remain in remission five years after receiving the therapy. Initially, the facility’s team will focus on manufacturing personalized therapies for blood cancers; however, our scientists are already looking to translate their findings beyond that. Their intent is to eventually use this facility and our novel technology to develop treatments for solid tumors in a variety of cancers, as well as other diseases.
“We truly feel blessed to support BIDMC’s incredible efforts to extend, improve, and ultimately save the lives of patients with myeloma and other cancers,” Schwartz says.