Published December 17, 2020

Anonymous donor gives $25 million to establish Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence

An anonymous $25 million philanthropic gift to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey will provide groundbreaking support for the Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence. This generous donation will support faculty recruitment, shared resource development, and cancer research to help scientists better understand the human immune response to cancer and ultimately develop the foundation for new treatments or make existing therapies more effective.

“At a time of great challenge, we are deeply grateful to be receiving one of the largest gifts from an individual in our history—and for such a life-giving purpose,” says Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway. “Already a national leader in cancer metabolism research, Rutgers Cancer Institute is poised to strengthen its focus in cancer immunology, and this gift will enable us to continue making scientific progress and expand our collaborations with industry, academia, and others to improve quality of life and survivability of a cancer diagnosis.”

Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are the first three “pillars” and main treatment modes in the fight against cancer. Considered the “fourth pillar” of cancer care, immunotherapy—a class of treatments that harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer—has recently produced significant advances that are revolutionizing cancer treatment. Despite this progress, cancer researchers’ most pressing challenge is to understand why some people respond to immunotherapies and others do not.

With the support of this gift, investigators will accelerate laboratory discoveries pertaining to these disciplines into clinical treatments through more effective and efficiently designed clinical trials. These trials will be offered in conjunction with other cancer centers and collaborators, such as the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, and made accessible to patients at RWJBarnabas Health facilities across the state.

“As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute has been at the forefront of developing and delivering immunotherapies, which are helping patients with previously untreatable cancers live longer or be cured altogether. While there are great outcomes for many patients, we still strive to determine the basis for limited response rates in certain patients and how this can be improved,” says Rutgers Cancer Institute director Steven K. Libutti, MD, FACS, senior vice president, oncology services, RWJBarnabas Health, and vice chancellor, cancer programs, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. “Through this transformational gift, we can leverage our expertise in the area of cancer metabolism to expand our efforts in immunology exploration, resulting in clinical trials and access to new and improved treatments.”

In collaboration with its research consortium partner Princeton University, the Cancer Institute is considered a foremost authority in the study of metabolism—the ability of cells to use nutrients and energy for sustenance—and how it contributes to cancer.

“While the altered metabolism of cancer cells drives tumor growth, it may also hold the key to enabling a patient’s immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer,” adds Cancer Institute deputy director and chief scientific officer Eileen White, Ph.D., who serves as co-director of the Center of Excellence. “By focusing significant effort to determine how tumor metabolism drives growth and suppresses the immune response, Rutgers Cancer Institute researchers can begin to develop new immunotherapies and make existing immunotherapies more effective for patients.”

The gift also supports the recruitment of a co-director to lead the center along with White. Following a nationwide search, Christian Hinrichs, M.D., an expert in cancer immunology and immunotherapy, was recruited from the National Cancer Institute. He will begin his new role in January. Additional new faculty at the center also will be supported through this gift.

“In addition to providing our world-renowned scientists at Rutgers Cancer Institute with the resources they need to make progress in this rapidly evolving field, this impactful gift sends a strong indicator to other potential supporters that this area of research holds significant promise. We are sincerely grateful for this level of support,” says David Edwards, the Cancer Institute’s chief development officer.

The gift is part of an overall $50 million fundraising campaign. The aim is to secure an additional $25 million to further fuel the work of the Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence.

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