UVA Cancer Center donations to target treatment of rare blood cancers

Aug. 8, 2022

A gift of more than $5.75 million from anonymous donors will allow UVA Cancer Center to speed the development of new treatments for rare blood cancers and provide more patients with these cancers access to cutting-edge clinical trials.

UVA’s National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center will use the donation to establish a new Translational Orphan Blood Cancer Research Initiative Fund. The initiative already has several projects in the pipeline that will help doctors better understand and treat rare blood cancers. These cancers are considered “orphans” or “neglected” because doctors and scientists often struggle to obtain funding for potentially life-saving research.

“Individually, these cancers affect relatively small numbers of people when compared with other cancers, but collectively they touch the lives of countless patients and families,” said K. Craig Kent, MD, chief executive officer of UVA Health and executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Virginia. “We are deeply grateful for this generous gift that will allow us to conduct important, groundbreaking cancer research and develop new treatments that will benefit patients around the world.”


The new fund will be overseen by Thomas P. Loughran Jr., MD, director of UVA Cancer Center, and Owen A. O’Connor, MD, PhD, an international authority on lymphoma. The fund will support far-reaching efforts in the battle against rare blood cancers, including research, drug development and a special training fellowship in orphan blood cancers. In addition, the fund will allow UVA to help subsidize patients’ travel costs to participate in clinical trials, allowing more people to do so.

“This extraordinarily generous gift will accelerate innovative research in such rare blood diseases,” said Loughran, who discovered a rare form of blood cancer called large-granular lymphocytic (LGL) leukemia and is a leading expert in its treatment.

The donation will help support Loughran’s research into LGL leukemia with collaborator David J. Feith, PhD. They aim to identify new treatment targets and develop new approaches to improve outcomes for patients with the cancer and other malignancies in immune cells called T-cells.

O’Connor, meanwhile, will work with Enrica Marchi, MD, PhD, to develop innovative therapeutics for peripheral T-cell lymphoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Other projects planned include:

·       Michael E. Williams, MD, and Craig A. Portell, MD, will develop a clinical study to enhance a treatment approach for mantle cell lymphoma that was developed by Loughran’s team. In addition, they plan to identify combinations of non-chemotherapy drugs that work better together than individually.

·        The Cancer Center will launch a new effort to increase collaborations with top researchers outside UVA. This will include awarding three $250,000 grants to foster these collaborations.

·        The Cancer Center will provide patients with financial assistance to help cover the cost of traveling to participate in clinical trials. For many patients, the lack of access to an academic medical center such as UVA is a major barrier to accessing clinical trials that are the testing ground for the latest treatments.

·        UVA will launch a monthly lecture series for faculty and staff to keep them abreast of state-of-the-art treatments and the latest developments in the battle against rare blood cancers.

“These initiatives sponsored by this generous gift will further establish UVA Cancer Center as a world leader in rare blood cancers,” Loughran said.

Finding new ways to treat cancer in all its forms is a primary mission of UVA Cancer Center, which on Feb. 1 became one of only 52 cancer centers in the country to be designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. The designation recognizes elite cancer centers with the most outstanding cancer programs in the nation. Comprehensive Cancer Centers must meet rigorous standards for innovative research and leading-edge clinical trials.

UVA Cancer Center is the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in Virginia.

UVA Health release