San Francisco Business Times: Palo Alto’s Ivy Foundation funds $9.8M to fight brain cancer that killed Ted Kennedy

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The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation said Wednesday that it’s funding $9.8 million for four new patient-focused research projects at the University of California, San Francisco; Stanford University; Duke University and Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The focus is on the type of brain cancer that killed Sen. Ted Kennedy earlier this year.

In addition, UCSF’s Michael Prados, M.D., will serve as primary investigator in a related research consortium linking scientists at UC Los Angeles, the University of Texas, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

As with all Ivy Foundation awards, the projects focus on improving the survival and quality of life for people with brain tumors, but also specifically address new strategies to improve treatment development, officials said Dec. 16.

In its first two years of funding, the Ivy Foundation has committed $22 million to support clinical research, reportedly making it the largest private funder of brain cancer research.

“We are funding four projects that focus on optimizing the efficiency of therapeutics development for adults with glioblastoma multiforme,” said Catherine Ivy, the Palo Alto foundation’s founder and board president. “GBM is one of the most aggressive cancers and is the type of brain cancer my husband Ben, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and too many other people have suffered from.”

Benjamin Franklin Ivy III, who headed Ivy Financial Enterprises Inc., a Palo Alto investment advisory firm, died in November 2005, after a brief battle with this rare form of brain cancer. Catherine Ivy was president of Ivy Financial Planning & Associates LLC, also of Palo Alto, before starting the foundation two years ago.

The foundation issued a request for proposals in June, which generated more than 100 proposals from researchers in the United States and other nations. Submissions were evaluated by an independent group of researchers and clinicians from academia, government and industry who volunteer their time to provide scientific critiques of research proposals. The foundation’s board then selected projects “of the highest scientific merit” that best fit the RFP’s objectives, as part of a fast-track effort to speed money to relevant researchers.

“We fund research that has the potential for ‘high reward,’ as defined by impact on clinical care for patients with brain tumors,” said Rob Tufel, the foundation’s executive director. “This year’s research awards represent a new strategy in the fight against brain tumors.”

The 2009 awards focus on imaging, gene expression, signaling pathways and pathway activation including the creation of a new clinical trials consortium involving five major brain tumor centers.

Researchers include Dana-Farber’s Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., and Lynda Chin, M.D.; Duke’s John H. Sampson, M.D. and Joseph R. Nevins; Stanford’s Sanjiv Gambhir, M.D., and Andrei Iagaru, M.D.; and UCSF’s Prados.

The Ivy Foundation Early Phase Clinical Trials Consortium also includes UCLA researcher Timothy Cloughesy, M.D.; the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Mark Gilbert, M.D. and WKA Yung, M.D.; Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Ingo Mellinghoff, M.D., and Dana-Farber/Harvard’s Patrick Wen, M.D., and Tracey Batchelor, M.D.

“We have clear expectations of our researchers,” said Catherine Ivy, whose husband Ben died of the disease. “As continued funding is milestone based, we work closely with all of the research teams to ensure they achieve their aims and progress according to their timeline.”

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