Recent federal budget cuts have reduced funding to many government research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and its National Cancer Institute. For researchers studying cancer, especially rare types (which individually affect only a small percentage of the population but collectively impact about half of all cancer patients), acquiring grants from that ever-smaller pool of money is increasingly difficult.
For many investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Cycle for Survival, our nationwide indoor team cycling event, has stepped in to help fill the gap.
The event raises funds exclusively for research on rare cancers at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and 100 percent of those funds go directly to our investigators. The program was started in 2007 by Memorial Sloan Kettering patient Jennifer Goodman Linn and her husband, David, as a one-day event in New York City and became an official Memorial Sloan Kettering fund-raiser two years later. That same year, Equinox became the founding partner of the event.
In 2014, participants will ride in major Cycle for Survival events in 13 cities, as well as in dozens of smaller satellite locations around the country. There are even satellite events taking place in Hong Kong and Kenya. To date, Cycle for Survival has raised more than $44 million.
Many of the researchers who receive funding from Cycle for Survival are also participants, pedaling alongside patients and their families and friends to raise money for the cause. We spoke with three of them about what Cycle for Survival means to them.
Diane Reidy Lagunes
Medical oncologist Diane Reidy Lagunes treats patients with rare tumors called neuroendocrine tumors, which are most commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract. In 2012, Dr. Reidy received a Cycle for Survival grant to start a clinical study for a subtype called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.
“There are two approved drugs for this cancer, but we don’t know who will and won’t respond to them,” Dr. Reidy says. “We analyze pieces of the tumor by genome analysis throughout the course of treatment to study which genes play a role in tumor response and also the genetic changes that cause the tumors to later stop responding. Once we understand what’s happening genetically, we hope to find new ways to target resistant tumors and prevent recurrence.”
Dr. Reidy explains that Cycle for Survival provides seed funding for studies that otherwise would be difficult to undertake. “When you apply for a big grant, you need data, and that’s what Cycle for Survival allows us to obtain,” she says. “It’s what we need to get a foot in the door and start working on these diseases that no one has worked on before because there hasn’t been any funding.”
A longtime participant in the event, Dr. Reidy will be riding in New York City this year. “It’s an amazing day,” she says. “I’m riding side by side with friends, family, and patients, and we’re all super excited.” She adds that this year she is also riding for a friend’s young daughter, who has leukemia. “Childhood cancers are all rare diseases, and that’s another area where Cycle for Survival funding can make a big difference.”
“Cycle for Survival is one of the most inspirational events in which I have had the opportunity to participate. … It’s an incredible mix of emotion and energy and passion.”
-Richard Carvajal, medical oncologist
Physician-scientist David Solit will be participating in Cycle for Survival this year as part of Team HOPP, along with several of his Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program colleagues and their spouses. “This is our third year as a team, and we’re all very excited,” he says, adding that last year he traveled around the country to participate in seven different Cycle for Survival events. “It’s a great event, and the stories from patients and their families who ride are incredibly inspirational.”
Dr. Solit has applied for Cycle for Survival funding to study the phenomenon of extraordinary responders. These are patients with cancers that usually have poor outcomes, yet a small number of them have a complete response to a targeted therapy, and may even be cured.
“We do a whole-genome analysis to figure out what is genetically different about certain tumors and are able to discover the molecular basis for those responses,” he says. “Now we’re using Cycle for Survival support to find other patients who have a similar molecular profile. We are then testing these novel targeted therapies in this molecularly selected subset of patients.”
Dr. Solit says Cycle for Survival allows him to focus on researching rare cancer types that historically have received little funding support. “At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we’re particularly well positioned to do this research because we care for a large number of patients with rare cancers.”
Medical oncologist Richard Carvajal was one of the original participants in Cycle for Survival. This year he rode in Chicago in February and also will be riding in New York City in March.
“Cycle for Survival is one of the most inspirational events in which I have had the opportunity to participate,” he says. “The gym is filled with individuals battling uncommon cancers, their friends and family members, and others who want to make a difference, all with a shared interest in trying to find better therapies for these rare cancers. It’s an incredible mix of emotion and energy and passion.”
A recent study from Dr. Carvajal and his team showed that the experimental drug selumetinib is the first therapy to improve progression-free survival and shrink tumors in patients with advanced uveal melanoma, a rare form of eye cancer. That work was partially funded by a Cycle for Survival grant.
“I am particularly proud that this particular trial didn't just benefit patients in New York, but provided patients with uveal melanoma access to this promising new therapy in 14 other cities in the United States and Canada,” he says. “Based on more recent laboratory studies, we have recently initiated a follow-up trial of a new combination therapy that is partially funded by a Cycle for Survival grant and that will also be open in the UK and Europe. Now the reach of Cycle for Survival really is worldwide.”
To learn more about Cycle for Survival and how you can take action against rare cancers, go to www.cycleforsurvival.org. Join the Battle.