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  • Walther Cancer Foundation $11 million investment to expand IU-Purdue bioinformatics collaboration

    Walther Cancer Foundation $11 million investment to expand IU-Purdue bioinformatics collaboration

    The Walther Cancer Foundation will invest $11 million to advance collaborative cancer research at Indiana University and Purdue University by supporting scientists through bioinformatics—an increasingly critical aspect of their work. 

    Bioinformatics involves managing and analyzing the massive amounts of data generated by scientific research—turning data into knowledge that could lead to new cancer treatments.

    “We hope this gift enables scientists at IU and Purdue to dig more deeply and refine their studies so they can point out new pathways to good patient outcomes in cancer,” said Tom Grein, president and CEO of the Walther Cancer Foundation. “Sometimes, you have so much data, it’s hard to comprehend where it’s leading you. I hope the data-driven analysis will uncover nuggets of opportunity that would otherwise never be seen.” 

    Income from the new Walther Cancer Foundation Bioinformatics Fund will continuously support bioinformatics personnel, technology, and other tools shared by the cancer research programs at both universities. In addition, IU and Purdue will make their own investments into the fund. 

    “The Walther Cancer Foundation leadership understands the central importance of data and analytics in developing better treatments and, ultimately, cures for cancer,” said IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA. “We are tremendously grateful for their support and the confidence they have in our work.”

    Timothy Ratliff, the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research, said the latest gift from the Walther Foundation is a continuation of a longstanding collaboration, commitment and investment that will build on the center’s success in cancer drug discovery and development—and will help sustain the center’s Computational Genomics and Bioinformatics Core for years to come. "Once again, we are grateful to the Walther Cancer Foundation’s vision and generosity, which is so important to our research and success. This continuing partnership—plus our own investments and fundraising—will secure what we’ve already established, and enable us to grow into the future."

    Kelvin Lee, MD, named this week as the new director of the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, said having strong capabilities in bioinformatics is essential to cancer research.  

    “The genetic, biochemical, cellular and immune pathways that can lead to cancer are extraordinarily complex and intertwined. Recent cutting-edge advances in technology means that researchers now have unprecedented amounts of data on these pathways, but this seriously challenges our ability to analyze these huge mounds of information to make sense of what is actually going on,” Lee said. “We are fortunate that the Walther Cancer Foundation understands that breakthroughs require the expertise and the tools, like artificial intelligence (AI), to help us analyze all this data so we can understand what’s really important.” 
      
    This level of collaboration—and sharing of a key resource like a bioinformatics core—is unusual among a pair of National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers. But it also reflects the complementary nature of the two institutions.

    Purdue’s Center for Cancer Research is a basic science cancer research center with more than 110 researchers that is a leader in biomedical engineering and cancer drug development.

    The IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center is a comprehensive cancer center with nearly 250 cancer researchers who conduct basic lab work and drug development but who are also engaged in clinical care and population health research.

    “Each of them has different capabilities, different levels of expertise, different interests,” Grein said. “But when you get scientists to collaborate, the outcomes are better.”

    Since its founding in 1985, the Walther Cancer Foundation has invested more than $165 million in cancer-focused medical research, and in research and education aimed at supporting cancer patients and their families.

    Walther has previously supported cancer bioinformatics at IU and Purdue on a year-to-year basis. This new gift establishes a fund that will ensure the bioinformatics work continues in perpetuity.

    The Walther Foundation endowment provides the opportunity to develop the expertise and the tools that are needed to face current and future challenges in biology and the cancer field, said Majid Kazemian, an assistant professor in Purdue’s departments of biochemistry and computer science. His research focuses on integrating computational and experimental approaches to study pathogen interaction with host cells and immune system in infectious diseases and cancers caused by pathogens. 

     "The Purdue University Center for Cancer Research has nearly 100 investigators who are actively engaged in understanding molecular mechanisms of various diseases including lung, liver and prostate cancers, many of which have begun to utilize genomics data in their studies,” Kazemian said. "Large genomic public data on many diseases generated over the last decade are a treasure trove of unexplored information. Walther Foundation's funds endowment will enable analysis of big data generated by our center’s members and collaborators as well as an exploration of growing public genomics data to contextualize and translate our findings."  

    Less-costly access to bioinformatics expertise and resources enabled by Walther Foundation will open up new avenues for many of the Purdue center's scientists to broaden the impact and clinical translation of their discoveries, Kazemian said. "It will also encourage our scientists to perform large-scale genomics assays and will foster new collaborations.” 

    IU School of Medicine breast cancer researcher Harikrishna Nakshatri, PhD, said he relies on bioinformaticians to design experiments, analyze data and assist him in publishing research results more quickly. The Walther Foundation gift supports that very expensive process, and the collaboration means researchers have more bioinformaticians available when they are needed. All of it combines, Nakshatri said, to enable scientists to reach conclusions that have real benefits for patients.

    “If you really believe in your hypothesis,” Nakshatri said, “now you have a chance to test it because you are not burdened by the financial aspects.” 

    According to Hess, the new resources will allow IU’s partnership with Purdue to continue to improve the health of Hoosiers. “We have worked closely for decades,” Hess said. “This new collaboration in data sciences will accelerate our ability to benefit cancer patients across the state—and far beyond.”

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    About the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center
    The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center is home to the cure of testicular cancer, the world’s only healthy breast tissue bank and is just one of 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation. The prestigious comprehensive designation recognizes the center’s excellence in basic, clinical, and population research, outstanding educational activities, and effective community outreach program across the state. Its physician-scientists have made protocol-defining discoveries that have changed the way doctors treat numerous forms of cancer. 

    About the Walther Cancer Foundation
    The Indianapolis-based Walther Cancer Foundation is a private grant-making foundation that supports and promotes interdisciplinary and inter-institutional cancer research, both bench and clinical. The clinical research it supports encompasses clinical trials as well as behavioral studies, the latter as part of the foundation’s commitment to Supportive Oncology. The Walther Foundation has two primary goals: to support cancer research with the aim of discovering better treatments, if not cures, and to develop a comprehensive approach for supporting patients with cancer and their families. Since its founding, the foundation has invested over $165 million cancer-focused research.

    About the Purdue Cancer Center
    Since 1978, the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research has been a National Cancer Institute-designated basic-research cancer center. Only seven institutions in the United States have earned this title. Being a basic-research center means it does not treat cancer patients directly. Its work focuses on investigating cancers where they begin—at the cellular level—to investigate the cause of, and cure for, one of the most devastating killers of our time. Doctors and scientists throughout the world use the center’s discoveries to develop methods, medicines and medical devices to save and enhance patient lives. 


  • IU School of Medicine names new cancer center director, announces $15 million supporting gift from Walther Cancer Foundation

    IU School of Medicine names new cancer center director, announces $15 million supporting gift from Walther Cancer Foundation

    INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana University School of Medicine has announced the hiring of a world-recognized medical oncologist and multiple myeloma researcher to lead the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, bolstered by a $15 million fund established by the Walther Cancer Foundation to support him in this role.   

    Kelvin Lee, MD, has been named the new IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center director. In addition, Lee will hold the titles of senior associate dean of cancer research at IU School of Medicine and the H.H. Gregg Professor of Oncology. He will also direct the Cancer Institute, an umbrella entity designed to facilitate collaboration among cancer disciplines at IU School of Medicine and Indiana University Health, enhancing clinical research opportunities for patients here in Indiana and beyond. He will have appointments with both the Department of Medicine and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.  

    Since 2006, Lee has served as the Jacobs Family Chair of Immunology at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. The co-leader of the Cancer Center Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program from 2006 to 2018, Lee led the group through three successful National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant renewals before stepping down to take on the position of Senior Vice President for the Basic Sciences.

    The IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center has long been a leader in the field. It was recognized in 2019 as one of the top cancer research institutions in the nation when it was designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. Home to the cure of testicular cancer, the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center is a critical piece to IU School of Medicine’s world-class research enterprise. The central hub for cancer research across Indiana University, the center’s nearly 250 researchers conduct all phases of cancer research, from laboratory studies to clinical trials to population-based studies that address environmental and behavioral factors that contribute to cancer.

    “Dr. Lee is the ideal leader to build on the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center’s tremendous momentum. The center’s researchers are making great strides in improving health in current and future patients alike through their world-class care and groundbreaking research,” said Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA, dean of IU School of Medicine and IU’s executive vice president for clinical affairs. “As an institutional leader, Dr. Lee will play a pivotal role in advancing these goals, and I’m excited for him to join our team at IU School of Medicine.” 

    As cancer center director, Lee will also play a key role in setting the future course for two significant centers at IU School of Medicine—the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research and the Brown Center for Immunotherapy. The recruitment of a top-notch physician-scientist like Lee broadens the range of possibilities for the groundbreaking and potentially synergistic research taking place at both centers. 

    “We are very pleased to welcome one of the country’s top cancer physician-researchers to IU Health,” said Dennis M. Murphy, president and chief executive officer, Indiana University Health. “He joins an already respected program and will play a critical role in advancing our efforts, through the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center and our new Cancer Institute, to expand access to cutting-edge cancer care to patients across and beyond Indiana.”

    Lee assumes leadership at a time when the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center will play a large role in a continued push by IU School of Medicine and IU Health leadership to improve alignment across education, research and clinical care. Earlier this year, the establishment of three institutes was announced, covering the key research areas of cardiovascular, neuroscience and cancer. Transcending multiple departments and centers, the goal of these institutes is to fully realize the promise of academic medicine and better address the most pressing challenges facing patients.

    “I am very excited to join IU School of Medicine to continue to build the world-class effort in cancer research, education and care for the people of Indiana, nationally and globally. The renewal of the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center core grant and achievement of comprehensive designation speaks to the outstanding faculty and staff that are leading this charge,” said Lee. “I have also been incredibly impressed by the deep commitment of IU School of Medicine and IU Health in these efforts, and this was a major reason in my decision to join IU.

    “I believe that research cures cancer. For this to be successful, we need to get our science into our patients. The Cancer Institute and IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center are well-poised to grow this effort exponentially and will light the way to ending cancer’s darkness.”

    As a physician-scientist, Lee’s research interests are both laboratory and clinical based. In the lab, his research efforts are RO1-funded and primarily focus on multiple myeloma, as well as myeloid dendritic cell differentiation in cancer. Lee currently sees patients with multiple myeloma once a week in clinic and is the principal investigator on active clinical trials of immunotherapy in myeloma at Roswell Park. 

    Lee officially assumes his new role in January 2021. He succeeds Patrick J. Loehrer, MD, who served as cancer center director since 2009. Loehrer led the center through two National Cancer Institute competing renewals, which culminated with the center earning the prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation. He will continue to see patients with gastrointestinal and thymic malignancies and carry on his work focused on global oncology and health equities.

    Walther Cancer Foundation announces major gift
    To help support the Cancer Institute, the Walther Cancer Foundation will contribute $15 million to establish a fund for investments in areas of cancer research and laboratory improvements that the director deems most promising.

    The Walther Cancer Foundation IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center Director’s Fund is intended to provide the resources and flexibility needed to advance the work of a world-class cancer center, said Tom Grein, President and CEO of the Walther Cancer Foundation.

    “It is not Walther’s position to decide, ‘This is where we want you to invest or that you need to use these funds in this explicit manner,’” Grein said. “It’s really more to give the director, who is recognized as a leader in cancer research, the ability to make those choices.”

    The Walther Cancer Foundation will continue to fulfill previous commitments to IU cancer research through 2025, at which point its gifts to the Director’s Fund are scheduled to begin and continue for three years. 

    “This incredible gift from the Walther Cancer Foundation will be a tremendous asset in the years to come, offering the flexibility to add resources and attract talent to areas where there is a need,” Lee said.

    Grein said the Walther Cancer Foundation was delighted by the cancer center’s comprehensive designation last year. And leaders at IU said it’s clear that the foundation’s support was a key ingredient in that success. 

    “The Walther Cancer Foundation’s generous support has been an essential element in the progress we’ve made in cancer research and in efforts to support the families of cancer patients,” Hess said. “We’re grateful for the confidence Walther has shown in us as we confront cancer in the lab, in the clinic and in our communities.”

    Media contact: Katie Duffey, kaduffey@iu.edu, 765-427-3553 (cellphone)

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    About IU School of Medicine
    IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.

    About the Walther Cancer Foundation
    Since its founding in 1985, the Walther Cancer Foundation has invested more than $165 million in cancer-focused medical research, and in research and education aimed at supporting cancer patients and their families. More than $100 million of that support has benefitted programs at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. Those have included investments in the research of early career scientists, the field of bioinformatics and in supporting research and medical education aimed at helping cancer patients.

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