Changing The Odds.
Families who have experienced an advanced cancer diagnosis are far too familiar with the difficult decisions to be made in the moments immediately following the news – namely, the choice of accepting the limited, standard treatment options available or looking for new roads forward, at any cost. For investor Ralph Whitworth, building new roads was a way of life, a lifelong philosophy handed down from his father that fueled a pioneering career of activist investing, steering publically traded companies toward profitability from the helm of his firm, Relational Investors. For his wife, Fernanda Whitworth, cancer had left its mark on her life twice already, taking first her mother and then her aunt.
Now, Fernanda was seeing cancer affect her family for a third time - recurrent and metastatic in her husband Ralph, after a grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy for his HPV+ head and neck cancer. At the time Ralph’s cancer returned, patients with his diagnosis had few next steps – recurrence of this disease is particularly lethal, and Ralph was given only months to live. But neither Fernanda nor Ralph were prepared to accept the options on the table, and together began learning all they could on the leading research for Ralph’s particular cancer. Their determination to change the odds would help light the spark for a new vision of cancer care.
During the course of their search, a fortuitous phone call took place between Ralph and Dr. Ezra Cohen, a world-renowned head and neck oncologist and researcher who was leaving his position at the University of Chicago to become the associate director of UCSD Moores Cancer Center. Dr. Cohen’s vision was to help unlock the promise of the emerging field of cancer immunotherapy, studying how to harness the power of the human immune system to fight cancer, rather than traditional chemotherapies and radiation. Believing in the promise of this new approach, Fernanda and Ralph pledged to support these new projects, strategizing a unique collaboration between UCSD Moores Cancer Center and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology to create a novel bench-to-bedside research partnership that would accelerate the most promising cancer immunotherapy into human trials – bridging the crucial gap into potential new cancer therapies.
In early 2015, the philanthropic support of the Whitworth Family formalized into the Immunotherapy Foundation (IF), which enabled the construction and certification of an advanced cell therapy laboratory, recruited world-class researchers to its supported programs, resourced a neoantigen identification platform for use across different types of therapies, and has helped to create a thriving research ecosystem for San Diego.
Though Ralph sadly passed of complications from his cancer in the fall of 2016, through early immunotherapy treatments, his life was extended years beyond those few months first given to him. Today, Fernanda leads IF with a vision to see a world free from HPV cancers. To help her continue in this work, IF is crafting a night of legendary and cutting-edge rock-n-roll to raise money for both research and educational. The event details will be announced early August – you won’t want to miss this!
IF is dedicated to catalyzing immunotherapy research and advancing the HPV vaccine as a critical cancer prevention tool. To learn more, visit www.joinIF.org
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