Nov 5, 2013
01:25 PMHealth & Science
Driving Force in Fight to Cure Cancer With Gene Therapy Is Stamford-Based
Fast forward to the year 2025: Cancer has been cured, and one of the driving forces in the endgame of the battle to defeat a “plague of our lifetime” was a Connecticut-based philanthropic entity called the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT).
The stuff of a cinematic medical thriller?
It’s reasonable to believe it’s closer to being a true scenario that is within reach, given the dedicated work of the ACGT and very hopeful results achieved through “ground-breaking and life-saving research” that has resulted from the 42 grants—totaling since $24.2 million—that the Stamford-based ACGT has given since its inception in 2001.
Asked in a phone interview Monday if a cure is on the near horizon, Barbara Netter, the ACGT president, said there are “a lot of questions but there’s a lot more hope than there ever was.”
“It’s a very exciting time … the beginning of the Golden Age,” said Netter, who co-founded the ACGT with her husband, Edward, and has taken the helm after his death two and a half years ago. She described “real progress” being made through the results of research that have patients who faced dire diagnoses instead being in complete remission—not short-term but for years and counting.
A couple of weeks ago, on Oct. 21, more than 100 prominent donors, scientists, biotech representatives and physicians attended the ACGT’s “Achieving Cancer Remission with Cell and Gene Therapies” event at the Harvard Club in New York City.
Pictured, from left: Charles Hallac, (Scarsdale, NY); Barbara Netter, President & Founder, ACGT Foundation (Stamford, CT); Jeffrey Keil, Chairman of the Executive Committee, ACGT Foundation (New York, NY). Photo by Elaine Ubiña / www.fairfieldcountylook.com
“The evening highlighted recent tremendous strides made in combating cancer with cell and gene therapy treatments, and served as appreciation for donors who have committed time and funds to furthering research and clinical trials across the nation,” a release explained.
“Our donors have allowed top scientific minds to explore this new and promising avenue of cancer treatment, and their philanthropy is directly linked to the lives saved so far,” Netter said after the event, and on the phone she elaborated by adding, “We need to raise more money. As we enlarge ourselves, it’s costly.”
Enlarging ACGT translates into additional research “in order to achieve the goal of the fully successful treatment of all types of cancer.”
And that goal, which increasingly appears to be in reach, was embodied at the Manhattan event by Connie Burnett-West, a cancer survivor who overcame a critical case lung cancer with gene and cell therapy treatment.
“Surgery and radiation weren’t options, and I was told I had limited hope for recovery,” Burnett-West said in the release on the event. “But after a sixth-month course of gene therapy, I’ve been in remission for over 10 years. I could not have imagined a treatment so easy and effective.”
The reception at the Harvard Club was followed by a salutation from Dr. Savio Woo, chairman of ACGT’s Scientific Advisory Council and a Professor of Hematology and Oncology at the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He was also instrumental in ACGT’s founding over a decade ago.
“The evening’s capstone was a presentation from three of ACGT’s esteemed and award winning Research Fellows. Carl H. June (M.D., University of Pennsylvania), Laurence Cooper (M.D., Ph.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center) and Michel Sadelain (M.D., Ph.D., Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) spoke of the breakthroughs and growing momentum that gene and cell therapy has achieved with the support of ACGT,” the release said.
“ACGT has the potential to provide less expensive and less harrowing cancer treatment – and, ultimately, a cure,” Dr. June said at the event. “And all of ACGT’s life-saving work was funded through philanthropy.”
“My husband was a prophetic individual,” Netter said on the phone. “He made it a public charity. In 2001, no one knew about gene therapy.”
Edward Netter, according to his bio on the ACGT website, was Chairman of Independence Holding Company, a NYSE-listed life and health insurance holding company, and Chairman of the Executive Committee and a director of The Aristotle Corporation, a publicly traded manufacturer and global distributor serving the education, health, medical technology and agriculture markets. Mr. Netter is Chairman and CEO of Geneve Corporation, a private diversified holding company which has a controlling interest in IHC and Aristotle.
The ACGT is the nation’s only not-for profit exclusively dedicated to cancer cell and gene therapy treatments for all types of cancer. ACGT, which provides grants to leading scientists in the U.S. and Canada, has a Scientific Advisory Council comprised of 16 of the nation’s most pre-eminent physicians and researchers in cell and gene therapy, who thoroughly review all grants.
The Connecticut advisory council member is Lieping Chen MD, PhD, the United Technologies Corporation Professor in Cancer Research and Professor of Immunobiology, of Dermatology and of Medicine (Medical Oncology); Director, Cancer Immunology Program at Yale Cancer Center.
Since its inception ACGT has awarded 27 grants to Young Investigators and 15 grants to Clinical Investigators, totaling $24.2 million in funding.