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Bezos family donates $20 million to Fred Hutch to develop therapies that ‘melt’ cancer

Largest-ever gift to the Hutch promises to save lives by broadening the application of immunotherapy to lung, ovarian, pancreatic and colon cancers

20 million cancer-fighting T cells

The tiny white cloud at the tip of this test tube is made up of 20 million cancer-fighting T cells – enough, Fred Hutch researchers are finding, to melt away some tumors.

Photo credit: Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch file

Click for high-res version

SEATTLE — April 7, 2014 — Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists striving for new cancer cures — and the patients who stand to benefit from them — got an enormous boost today when the Bezos family committed $20 million to support the development of novel cancer immunotherapies. It is the largest single contribution in Fred Hutch’s history.

“We’ve followed the work Fred Hutch scientists have been conducting over the last few years in the promising area of immunotherapy to combat cancer and are so encouraged by the spectacular results in patients with leukemia and lymphoma,” said Mike Bezos on behalf of the Bezos family. “The potential to now attack other cancers with this approach is too huge not to take this research to the next level. We believe the scientists at Fred Hutch are ready to take this challenge, and we are pleased to be supporting their efforts.”

Larry Corey, M.D., president and director of the Hutch, said, “We are immensely grateful to the Bezos family for this remarkable gift. It will allow us to extend the momentum we have established in using genetically modified human T cells to treat cancer.”

The gift will enable Fred Hutch, along with its partners at the University of Washington and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, to combine its long record of discovery in cancer immunotherapy with the latest technologies to transform treatment for common solid-tumor cancers, including those of the lung, ovaries, pancreas and colon.

stage 4 lymphoma

CT scans of a patient with stage 4 lymphoma before (top) and five months after (bottom) treatment with T cells show how tumors melted away.

Photo credit: Scans courtesy of Dr. David Maloney / Fred Hutch

Click for high-res version

“The contribution comes at a pivotal time,” said Corey. “We have strong indications that immunotherapy will be effective for a much broader range of cancers, and we now have resources to utilize our technologies to discover targets for some of the most deadly cancers.”

Frederick R. Appelbaum, M.D., executive vice president and deputy director of Fred Hutch, called the Bezos family’s gift “absolutely invaluable.”

“Their enthusiasm for this work and the impact it can have on patients means a great deal to us. They are extraordinary allies,” he said.

This is not the first time the Bezos family has partnered with Fred Hutch to fuel lifesaving cancer research. In 2009, the family made a catalytic $10 million challenge gift to support immunotherapy research. With the collective philanthropic support generated by that challenge, Fred Hutch researchers have steadily advanced their work from laboratory experiments to early phase trials for patients with certain leukemias and lymphomas.

“We’ve developed methods for significantly improving adoptive T-cell therapy, in which certain immune cells are reprogrammed to recognize and destroy a patient’s cancer,” Appelbaum said. “Early results with lymphoma and leukemia patients who were resistant to chemotherapy have been incredibly encouraging. These are patients with literally pounds of tumor that are treated with less than a thimbleful of T cells, and their tumors melt away. They get complete remissions in a matter of days — not months, days.”

Now, with the Bezos family’s continued partnership, Seattle-based scientists can supercharge an even broader array of projects and extend these research successes beyond blood cancers to the so-called “solid tumors.”

“Seeing our initial investment translated into a therapy that is truly changing patients’ lives in a profound way is so motivating. It gives us great optimism for the future,” Jackie Bezos said.

“Cancer got the jump on us, but it doesn’t have to have the last word.”

Editor’s note: To arrange an interview with Corey or Appelbaum or to request related photographs contact Kristen Woodward in Fred Hutch media relations at media@fredhutch.org or 206-667-2210. All photos credit Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center / Fred Hutch.

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At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first and largest cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Fred Hutch scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs. For more information visit www.fredhutch.org or follow Fred Hutch on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

CONTACT
Kristen Woodward
206-667-2210
media@fredhutch.org

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.