University of Chicago Medicine has announced a $10 million gift from the Jonas family to establish a center dedicated to the development of personalized therapies for hard-to-treat forms of cancer.
Named for David Jonas, the founder of PharMEDium Healthcare, and his late wife, Etta, the David and Etta Jonas Center for Cellular Therapy will focus on improving treatments such as CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy, an emerging type of cancer treatment that works by supercharging patients' white blood cells to seek out and destroy cancer cells. The center will use the gift to advance research initiatives and recruit leading experts in T-cell biology and cell engineering, create and expand its clinical trial infrastructure, acquire specialized technology and equipment, and conduct an annual lecture that brings together leaders in the cellular therapy field.
CAR T-cell therapy has a response rate of greater than 90 percent for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but other cancer patients do not respond as well to the therapy or relapse shortly after undergoing treatment. Among other things, the center will work to improve the therapy's overall effectiveness by identifying qualities that make certain T cells more receptive to the treatment and exploring its potential to treat other types of cancer, including hard-to-treat solid-tumor cancers such as pancreatic and ovarian.
"I was impressed by UChicago Medicine's multidisciplinary research program and commitment to attaining tangible outcomes that will really serve cancer patients," said Jonas. "They have all the key elements for a successful research program: experience in clinical trials, access to the most leading-edge technology, a tremendous track record in attracting scientific talent, and a strong team to lead the program."
"This gift will allow us to translate these groundbreaking discoveries made in the laboratory into novel cancer therapies, which have the potential to treat not just blood cancers, but also solid tumors," said Kenneth Polonsky, dean and executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago. "If we can accomplish even part of that, it will be a major transformation in cancer therapy that will change the lives of many patients here in the United States and around the world."