Fighting Brain Cancer With Community Support

Fighting Brain Cancer With Community Support

John Brennan will tell you that he’s alive now because of a cancer vaccine called SurVaxM.

One late night in June 2016, John had a seizure. It came out of nowhere for the healthy, active retiree. The EMTs who responded to the emergency call thought he’d had a stroke. But an aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma had actually been the trigger.

After surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, John came to Roswell Park. His family had learned about a clinical trial testing a vaccine in combination with chemotherapy in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma. “Thank God I met all the criteria,” John says.

He’s been receiving SurVaxM along with chemo through the phase II trial since October 2016. He travels to Buffalo from Syracuse regularly and stays with his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He says he’s fatigued from chemo but having no side effects from the SurVaxM — and is getting stronger every month.

SurVaxM at Roswell Park

The SurVaxM vaccine was developed right here in Buffalo by Roswell Park faculty members Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neuro-Oncology Program, and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Neurosurgery.

SurVaxM targets survivin, a cell-survival protein that’s present in the vast majority of cancers, including glioblastoma. The vaccine is engineered to treat survivin-expressing cancer cells as foreigners, inciting a specific immune response. It has dual mechanisms of action to stimulate a patient’s T-cell immunity and inhibit the survivin pathway to control tumor growth and prevent or delay tumor recurrence. And it does this with fewer side effects than chemotherapy or radiation.

The SurVaxM stage I clinical trial run by Drs. Fenstermaker and Ciesielski here at Roswell Park had promising outcomes — one of the original patients has survived six years — and other hospitals were eager to participate in the stage II trial for newly diagnosed patients. It is being conducted at the Cleveland Clinic, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in addition to Roswell Park, with favorable results once again.

The team presented its initial findings from the phase II trial at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in June.

“These interim phase II trial results in newly diagnosed glioblastoma patients are very promising and offer the potential for longer-term survival in this group where there is great unmet medical need,” says Dr. Fenstermaker. “We believe this drug has the potential to change the glioblastoma treatment paradigm.”

Donations from generous partners and friends have been critical in the vaccine’s development and success, from early seed funding to support for both the phase I and II clinical trials. And the results have great potential well beyond glioblastoma: Evidence so far suggests that SurVaxM could also be effective in melanoma, ovarian and prostate tumors and other survivin-expressing cancers.

The Difference a Clinical Trial Can Make

“If I weren’t on the trial, there’s probably a good chance I would be on the other side of the grass,” John Brennan says. “But I think that it’s really helped me, and hopefully, this SurVaxM will continue to work for many, many years.”

But it’s not just about him. “I entered the trial because I saw it as a way of extending or saving my life, number one. Number two, to help other people. So, I did it for myself and for other people. I appreciate the donors who donate the money for the research, and the brilliant minds at Roswell that can invent these immuno-vaccines.”

Is your company ready to join the Herd of Hope and help more patients like John? Find out more here.

Donations Fund Genetic Testing That Saves Lives

Donations Fund Genetic Testing That Saves Lives

Imagine that your child is sick but no one can tell you what’s wrong.

That’s what happened to Kyle’s parents when he took a strange fall and started having trouble walking. He kept waking up in great pain in the middle of the night, and nothing helped. After multiple hospital visits, an MRI finally found a tumor on his spine.

Surgery and pathology narrowed it down to a rare, unclassified spindle cell tumor — but couldn’t tell anything beyond that. Doctors didn’t know how to treat him.

“I was distraught,” says his mom, Christeana. “I was so upset and so scared, wondering, ‘Am I going to lose my son?’”
Finally, Kyle was sent to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and tested with OmniSeq Comprehensive®. The test discovered a gene mutation that conventional tests had missed. He had an inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor, a type of sarcoma.

What is OmniSeq Comprehensive®?

Developed by Roswell Park researchers in the Center for Personalized Medicine and the cancer center’s precision-medicine spinoff company OmniSeq®, OmniSeq Comprehensive is a diagnostic test that sequences genes of a patient’s tumor biopsy in a search for mutations. Once doctors know about a genetic mutation, they can tailor treatments specifically to that tumor.

Donations to Roswell Park have supported much of OmniSeq Comprehensive’s development. At first, these tests were not covered by insurance. But because donor support helped cover the cost of more than 600 tests for patients who stood to benefit from it, Roswell Park and OmniSeq were able to collect the data needed for insurance carriers to justify broader coverage for Roswell Park patients.

Because OmniSeq found that mutation, Kyle finally received the right drug. Now, the tumor has shrunk remarkably.

Christeana is deeply grateful that donors helped make this diagnosis happen. “I really appreciate the donations because they helped my son. I wish I could say thank you to them.”

Kyle calls his tumor his “monster” and after repeat imaging, asks how his monster is doing.

“When I found out the pill was working and it still is — it’s amazing, it’s a miracle drug to help my son cure this monster,” his mom says.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Western Division Federal Credit Union Proud to Be Part of the Herd Community

Western Division Federal Credit Union Proud to Be Part of the Herd Community

“Roswell Park makes a powerful difference in the fight against cancer and the determination to find a cure. We are honored to support such a wonderful resource and are blessed and fortunate to have Roswell right in our own backyard. Roswell is truly a very special gift to our community.” — Robert Harms, President/CEO, Western Division Federal Credit Union

When Rachael’s dad, Bill, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the family knew Roswell Park was the best place for him to be treated. And because Rachael works for Western Division Federal Credit Union as operations manager, she knew she would have the support to be with him when he needed her.

“At Western Division, we like to give back to the community as much as we can,” she says. “Not only do they give back financially, but during that time for me personally, they were wonderful to me. They accommodated my time off, and they do that for anybody.”

She says it was a relief during a very difficult time. But between the support of her employer and the care her father — and they as a family — received at Roswell Park, they came through it, and her father is doing well today.

Bill was in the ICU for several weeks after his first surgery. Rachael was touched by the depth of concern from staff, ranging from the aide who shaved off his scruffy beard to nurses who gently encouraged him to walk and to his surgeons. “That spoke volumes to us. It didn’t matter who you ran into, janitors, nurses, doctors, surgeons; the staff was absolutely incredible. Even the cafeteria staff — they get to know you every day. Just incredible people.”

When the Western Division team learned about the Herd of Hope and their CEO asked if they wanted to sponsor a blue buffalo, the answer was a resounding YES. “Absolutely, it was a no-brainer. We have it right out front of our entrance for our members, so everyone can see it. I think it’s great for the community, and when I’m driving to different places and I see it in front of other businesses, I know exactly what it says, which is kind of cool.”

She knows that Roswell Park has had a tremendous impact on many people she works with. “I think that if you were to poll this entire building, everybody has had some type of connection, whether it be a cancer scare or a family member that had it or a family member that had a scare.

“’Cancer’ is a scary word when you hear it, and you don’t know what will happen. You don’t know what three months is going to bring you; you don’t know what six months will bring. Roswell Park saved my father’s life. It means the world to us.”

Is your company interested in joining Herd of Hope? Find out more here.

Buffalo News: Spreading a Message of Hope

Buffalo News: Spreading a Message of Hope

Roswell Park is an important pillar of our local community. It provides outstanding care, research and, most importantly, hope. It gives hope for cancer patients and their families.

The Buffalo News is happy to support Roswell and the great work the institution is doing. Through sponsorships, advertisements and other promotions, The News has a well-established relationship with Roswell.

Roswell’s cause is also dear to our hearts. Cancer has impacted numerous families and employees here. Buffalo News colleague Joe Camizzi recently lost his battle with cancer. Everyone has been impacted by the disease in some way.

The Herd of Hope presents a unique opportunity to publicly show our support, raise awareness and foster conversations. We proudly showcase our blue buffalo in our lobby and take it on occasional field trips, such as our booth at Taste of Buffalo.

The News is dedicated to providing news and information to the community we serve. We are honored to be a part of the community in this way and support cancer research, spreading this message of hope.

Employer Services Corporation Joins the Herd to Spread Buffalove

Employer Services Corporation Joins the Herd to Spread Buffalove

Greg and Joanne Bauer are Buffalo pride personified. The husband and wife team were born and raised here in Western New York. They founded their company, Employer Services Corporation, in Buffalo and their family makes it a priority to support many local businesses and causes. That was part of the reason they jumped at the chance to participate in the Herd of Hope campaign.

But hometown pride was not the only reason. Supporting Roswell Park has a deeply personal meaning to the Bauer family. Greg’s father, Dr. Charles Bauer, was treated for leukemia there in 2014.

“My dad practiced medicine all his life, and when he first found out he was sick, he called me right away and said ‘I need you to take me to Roswell,’” Greg said. “We are so grateful we ended up in the clinic of Dr. Elizabeth Griffiths.”

Charles’ cancer was aggressive, but Greg recalls the way his father and their entire family was cared for at Roswell Park with fondness.

“Dr. Griffiths had a way of caring for her patients that I will never forget. She treated my dad with such dignity, and showed my entire family so much respect and compassion,” said Greg. “The way she talked to my dad—it was a beautiful thing.”

Greg’s father died about a year after he was diagnosed. The exceptional care he received encouraged Greg and Joanne to continue supporting Roswell Park. When they heard about the Herd of Hope campaign, they knew they wanted to be involved.

“We feel lucky to be able to support an institution like Roswell Park, where all the doctors, scientists, nurses—everyone who works there—are working as hard as they can on behalf of their patients,” said Greg. “We all need to do our part to beat cancer and this is our way of helping.”

Although Greg and Joanne see their support of Herd of Hope as a meaningful tribute to Greg’s father, it is also a way to honor everyone in their lives who have been touched by cancer. This includes Greg’s oldest brother, Joanne’s parents, some of their close friends, and many staff members at Employer Services Corporation. The company, a human resources firm, has about 55 employees.

“Many members of our team have dealt with cancer in some way, and Herd of Hope is our way of rallying around them and countless others in our community who have been affected,” said Greg. “This isn’t just about my dad, although that is a very important aspect of it for our family. But it’s about all of us—the Western New York community we care about so much.”

To Greg, the blue buffalo on display at the offices of Employer Services Corporation represents the company’s ongoing commitment to boosting Buffalo.

“We’re going to show our clients and employees our Herd of Hope statue as a way of saying: we are Buffalo and we’re doing our part to support an important Buffalo institution,” said Greg. “The blue buffalo is a symbol of the part we all play in helping Roswell Park advance the next lifesaving treatment.”

Is your company interested in joining Herd of Hope? Find out more here.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

For the Cutco Community, Roswell Park is a Beacon of Hope

For the Cutco Community, Roswell Park is a Beacon of Hope

When Jim Stitt was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he had the opportunity to travel south to a warmer climate for treatment. But he stayed right here in Western New York, where he knew he could receive the best care.

“I have a winter home in South Carolina, and I thought about going to Charleston for treatment,” said Jim, Executive Chairman of Cutco Corporation. “That thought lasted for about two seconds because I knew I had Roswell Park right here in our backyard. I knew of the great care that many of my employees and friends have received here.”

Cutco, an Olean-based company, is the largest manufacturer of kitchen cutlery in the United States and Canada. They’re also one of many local businesses who have stepped up as a Herd of Hope sponsor to support cancer research and patient programs at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We have about 700 employees at Cutco, and many of them have been personally affected by cancer,” said Jim. “Cutco’s connection to cancer is not unique. Cancer affects all of us in some way, and local businesses rely on places like Roswell Park to keep our team members, our friends, our customers, our community, and even our economy healthy.”

“Because of Roswell Park and the incredible doctors and scientists that work there, I am able to stand here today as a cancer survivor,” said Jim. “I often wonder what options I would have had and where I would be had I not been able to come here.”

Choosing Roswell Park for his treatment also allowed Jim to find strength and hope in the face of a difficult journey.

“Through my experiences at Roswell Park, I learned that it isn’t just a hospital that specializes in cancer. It’s a beacon of hope, a place to where I could turn at a moment in my life when my wife and I needed answers and a plan for what to do next. Facing a cancer diagnosis, you know you have no direct control over the outcome. But I was able to pick one of the premier cancer centers in the United States for my treatment.”

For Jim, the blue buffalo statue on display at Cutco’s headquarters represents their ongoing commitment to the fight against cancer. He encourages other Western New York companies to join the Herd of Hope and do their part.

“On behalf of my fellow survivors and the patients who are battling cancer today, I’d like to encourage other area business leaders to join us as part of the Herd of Hope,” said Jim. “It is only through research that we can find new cures, and that can only be made possible with our support.”

Is your business ready to join the Herd? Find out more information or donate here.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Clinical Trials and the Importance of Donor Funding

Clinical Trials and the Importance of Donor Funding

Clinical Trials and the Importance of Donor Funding

How important are clinical trials at Roswell Park? KayEllen will tell you that she is alive because of them.

After her diagnosis of stage 3 ovarian cancer and the treatment that followed, she learned about clinical trials being run here on a vaccine to prevent recurrence of her type of cancer.

So in 2010 she traveled from Ohio to Buffalo to meet Dr. Kunle Odunsi, who was conducting the trial, and see if she would qualify. Dr. Odunsi is Roswell Park’s Deputy Director, the Chair of Gynecologic Oncology and the Executive Director of the Center of Immunotherapy. KayEllen has participated in three trials run by him since that trip — and has remained cancer free the whole time.

“I believe that having access to clinical trials at a facility like Roswell Park has enabled me to continue to have a lengthy remission,” she says. “And, additionally, taking part in new treatments has enabled me to return to my ‘normal’ life — teaching, spending time with family and friends — feeling reborn.”

These clinical trials wouldn’t even be possible without donor support.

Bringing Tomorrow’s Treatments to Our Patients Today

We always strive to provide our patients with the best state-of-the-art treatment. Clinical trials enable us to go one step further and bring tomorrow’s treatments to our patients today. At any given time, there are more than 200 clinical trials underway at Roswell Park – and donations play a critical role in bringing some of these promising treatments to patients.

“We have patients and survivors who are alive today because they got a drug that was still in the research phase and which they couldn’t get anywhere else,” says Marc Ernstoff, MD, Senior Vice President for Clinical Investigation.

A clinical trial is a study designed to evaluate a promising new medical treatment. It might assess a new way to prevent, diagnose or treat cancer, or a new way to repurpose an existing treatment. All of the standard treatments our patients receive today are the results of clinical trials done in the past.

But it takes a lot to conduct all the stages of the process and bring a treatment to market: several years, hundreds of qualifying patients — and millions of dollars. At Roswell Park, trials like KayEllen’s receive significant funding from donations. Giving supports the research teams, equipment, facilities and other factors required to run a trial from start to finish.

Because of donor support, we are able to offer new hope to those battling cancer. We bring them the newest treatments faster. We run more clinical trials. And because of Roswell Park and our generous donors, we can offer the latest potentially lifesaving treatments right here in Buffalo.

A New Lease on Life

KayEllen has been married to her college sweetheart for more than 41 years now. They have two children and one grandchild. She walks 3-6 miles a day, teachers, gardens, sews, travels with her husband and “rejoices in having ‘Nana time’” with her grandson.

“I am thankful every moment of every day that I was able to take part in the clinical trials at Roswell Park,” she says. “Words truly cannot express how appreciative I am of such trials and new treatments and of the researchers and doctors who make them available to patients like myself.”

And she’s deeply grateful to everyone who gives to support clinical trials at Roswell Park: “Their gifts are going to change — and maybe save — someone’s life.”

Funds raised through Herd of Hope could be the catalyst that leads to the next cancer breakthrough at Roswell Park. Show your company’s support by making your sponsorship commitment today.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Community Support Drives the Search for New Treatments — and Cures — at Roswell Park

Community Support Drives the Search for New Treatments — and Cures — at Roswell Park

Imagine that a cure for cancer can be found at Roswell Park. Now imagine that support from community members across Western New York is the thing that will make it happen.

Cancer research projects require a lot of work, resources and financial investment. Too often they can’t even get off the ground because of lack of funding. With the great wealth of talent among Roswell Park’s researchers and scientists, there are a lot of promising ideas brewing.

To help real research get started here at Elm and Carlton, Roswell Park created the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). Composed of objective Roswell Park researchers and staff, the committee solicits and reviews research project applications and awards grants to those that show the most promise to cure cancer or substantially change the face of treatment. In 2017-18, $1,442,938 in seed funding was distributed among 17 projects — all made possible by donations.

While these dollars launch the very early stages of research, they can lead to much, much more. On average, every $1 given to Roswell Park for this kind of research generates another $13 in national grant funding — funding researchers can apply for with the data they generate thanks to SAC grants. Many have resulted in clinical trials, new drugs and new treatments for our patients.

Support from the Herd of Hope will enable Roswell Park to launch special multidisciplinary research collaborations in the same vein.

Dr. Mukund Seshadri, Director of Oral Oncology, leads the SAC process and is eager to see what project receives the Herd of Hope award. “Donor dollars from the Herd of Hope will support cutting-edge ‘Team Science’ projects that bring together clinicians and researchers to focus on all three aspects of cancer research — prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” he explains. “Creation of such multidisciplinary teams will enable timely translation of our knowledge gained on a specific cancer or a group of closely related cancers into novel preventive or interventional trials in patients.”

“If I ever need treatment again”

Kathleen Theal was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004. After 10 years of remission, she relapsed again in 2015 and 2017. She is currently cancer free again but continues on a maintenance drug.

If she develops tumors again, there are only two known drugs that will work on their particular DNA, and she has already become allergic to one of them. That leaves Taxol.

“If I ever need to be in treatment again and if Taxol becomes no longer effective, there is no other drug available at this time that will work for me. A very dear friend and fellow ovarian cancer patient died recently due to this fact. She ran out of options.” She knows that donations support innovative clinical trials at Roswell Park and holds out hope that a new treatment will emerge for her type of ovarian cancer before a dangerous day comes.

Through all her treatments and during her remissions, she has felt deep gratitude for the things donor support makes possible.
“Thank you, dear donors, for selflessly giving so clinical trials, research, new treatments and quality-of-life programs can continue to be available to people who you will never meet or know. If it wasn’t for kind and generous contributors who have been led to give financially to this wonderful organization, I most likely would not be here, continuing to fight.”

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Strength Of The Herd

Strength Of The Herd

Today, Bill Loecher is one of Roswell Park’s most active and passionate volunteers. But when he first visited 15 years ago with a loved one who was undergoing cancer treatment, he realized he didn’t know much about the place.

“Like most people, I knew Roswell Park is the place to go for cancer treatment,” said Bill. “But I didn’t immediately understand the importance of the research that happens there, too.”

Inspired by the care his family member received, Bill began volunteering with The Ride For Roswell a few years later. Through his volunteer work, he had the opportunity to meet some of Roswell Park’s research scientists and gain a better understanding of the landmark studies being led there every day.

He also learned how community donations to Roswell Park are used, as critically-needed grants that support the earliest stages of promising research. These grants, also known as seed funding, are awarded to the research projects led by Roswell Park scientists that have the most potential to find new, more effective ways to treat cancer.

“I saw how these funded projects were making such a great difference in our efforts to understand and treat cancer, and I knew that with more support, we could accelerate even more groundbreaking research,” said Bill. “I want Western New Yorkers to understand how important their donations are to that process. The research and clinical trials at Roswell Park are changing the way we treat cancer—around the world but also right here at home. That’s only possible because of the generosity of supporters in the community.”

That generosity was the inspiration behind Herd of Hope, the brand new fundraising effort that gives Buffalo businesses the chance to support this crucial research. Bill, who serves as chair of the campaign, wants to give every Western New York-based company the opportunity to take part.

“Time after time, Western New Yorkers rally around the causes they care about. Nobody does that like Buffalo,” said Bill. He sees the Herd of Hope as the chance for our corporate community—including businesses of all sizes—to come together in support of a cause that directly affects their friends, family, employees, customers and fellow citizens. “The idea behind this campaign is that together, we can have a greater impact.”

Companies that participate in Herd of Hope will receive a striking blue buffalo statue to display in their place of business. The statues will help raise awareness of this important cause and will show customers, employees and the public that these companies are dedicated supporters of Roswell Park’s mission.

The blue buffalo symbol connects the campaign to another popular community effort for Roswell Park: the Herd About Buffalo public art program, which took Western New York by storm in 2000 and again in 2010. Ultimately, though, Bill believes the campaign’s distinctive statue represents our community spirit—collaborative, generous and caring.

“I think of the herd of blue buffalo statues as a symbol of the pride, strength and compassion that Western New Yorkers are known for,” said Bill. “When you see the Herd of Hope buffalo at a local business, you’ll know right away what they stand for—making a difference in the fight against cancer.”
If you are interested in becoming a Herd of Hope partner, please email or call 716-845-HERD. You can also make your donation online.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

WGRZ Channel 2 is Proud to Join the Herd

Cancer touches and takes far too many lives in Western New York. That’s why, as the local ‘On Your Side’ television station advocating for the people of Western New York and celebrating the great things happening here, we are proud and honored to support Herd of Hope!

It’s not just a corporate initiative; it’s a personal one, too. Many of our employees and their loved ones have been affected by cancer, as have thousands of other people throughout the community. We tell these stories in our newscasts regularly.

These are not just stories of loss and heartache. These are also stories of victory and survival. And there are other stories we love share with our audiences — the stories of Roswell Park’s success and their continuing breakthroughs in the fight against cancer. To be able to showcase the achievements and the impact this world-renowned organization has made in the battle against cancer fills us with pride and BuffaLove!

We understand, appreciate and recognize the value that Roswell Park brings to this community and the hope they spread for those battling cancer. It’s why WGRZ has been a partner with Roswell Park and will continue to support the amazing work they do with such community events as The Ride for Roswell, The Tree of Hope and so much more. The Herd of Hope campaign is a perfect fit for us — and it’s just one more reason we are proud to support Roswell Park and to say, ‘This is Home!’