This past Friday night, September 7th, you couldn’t help but notice that the same thing was playing on all three major television networks as well as countless more cable networks: the Stand Up to Cancer telecast. This telecast was the third such “road block” telecast that SU2C (as it is commonly abbreviated) has put on since it was founded in 2008 (with the previous broadcasts taking place in Sept ’08 and Sept ’10). While the broadcast was airing, and for hours afterwards, Stand Up 2 Cancer and the #IStandUpFor Twitter hashtag were blowing up social media networks. Viewers were shown clips highlighting the research that SU2C has funded in the last four years and some of the patients that they’ve helped. As of Monday afternoon, the telecast had raised over $81 million. So, given that SU2C is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, I thought this would be the perfect time to take a closer look at this revolutionary initiative.
What is Stand Up 2 Cancer?
Contrary to popular belief, SU2C isn’t a charitable organization like, say, LiveStrong or Komen for the Cure. Instead, SU2C is a joint initiative that was founded in 2008 by a group of women who all had connections to the entertainment industry and who had all been personally touched by cancer. Their idea to start a program focused on accelerating the time it takes for a scientific breakthrough to have a tangible effect on patients was brought to fruition by two organizations: the Entertainment Industry Foundation (or EIF), who took on the project from the start, and the American Association for Cancer Research (or AACR), who oversee the scientific aspects of SU2C. Since 2008, more than $260 million has been pledged to SU2C, funding 33 grants and more than 350 scientists across 85 institutions. Most impressively, because their leadership structure is primarily embedded within other pre-existing organizations, SU2C is able to donate 100% of publicly donated funds directly to cancer research.
The primary goal of Stand Up 2 Cancer is to take advantage of what we know about cancer today and turn it into effective treatments and diagnostics that will benefit cancer patients as soon as possible. Or to explain it more clearly, here’s how a recent SU2C press release puts it:
SU2C was founded on the belief that we are at a pivotal juncture with the potential for transformative progress in cancer research because of two trends: breakthroughs made in our understanding of the basic science of cancer, and technological advances that enable us to translate them into new treatments.
In order to take optimal advantage of this “pivotal juncture”, SU2C is committed to funding the most promising translational research (that is, work that will take something a scientist figured out at a lab bench and translate it into something of use to the medical community) ongoing today. Moreover, SU2C strongly believes in (as their website puts it) “removing the bureaucratic obstacles” from scientists and clinicians and allowing them to work the way scientists have always worked best: collaboratively, rather than competitively, as dictated by traditional funding models. And the final piece of this puzzle that makes all of this work? The entertainment industry’s ability to unite and rally the general public around a cause that affects all of us. As the telecast on Friday reminded us, 1-in-2 men and 1-in-3 women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetimes. Because of that, the founders of SU2C believed that just by providing an easy way to contribute and making it widely known, they could motivate us to give. And I’m excited to say: they were right.
The People Behind SU2C
While SU2C isn’t itself an organization, there are a number of groups of people who ultimately work together to make this venture a success, each of which are worth knowing a little bit about.
- Entertainment Industry Foundation: EIF, the primary organization behind SU2C, is a 501(c)3 non-profit that was founded in 1942 in order to unify Hollywood’s charitable giving around worthy causes and to make use of the entertainment industry’s uniquely loud voice to draw attention to deserving causes. EIF currently funds more than 300 charitable groups across the country and has a high three star rating on Charity Navigator. In 2010, EIF reported revenues of more than $128 million dollars and spent approximately 80% of those funds on programs, including oversight of SU2C. You can read more about EIF on their website, here, and you can view their financial statements here (Form 990s) and here (audited financials).
- American Association of Cancer Researchers: AACR, the scientific partner of SU2C, is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated specifically to advancing cancer research. AACR was founded in 1907 and currently has over 33, 000 members including basic, clinical, and translational researchers, health care professionals, cancer survivors and advocates. AACR is also a 501(c)3 non-profit and in 2010, they reported revenues of approximately $52 million dollars. They spent the majority of those funds on grants, fellowships, and scientific/career development awards for their members (~58%) and on hosting meetings and workshops (~ 27%). Remaining funds were spent on producing publications, legislative affairs, advocate support and training, and other scientific initiatives. AACR, like EIF, meets all 20 of the BBB’s Charity Standards for Accountability (I couldn’t find them on Charity Navigator). You can read more about AACR on their website, here.
- The Scientific Advisory Committee: This group of highly accomplished scientists, physicians, and patient advocates dictates the scientific direction of SU2C. This work includes identifying areas of promising research or great need within the cancer research committee, deciding on funding priorities, and overseeing the implementation and review of scientific grants.
- The Executive Management Committee: This committee advises the leadership on whether the things they are doing at the advisement of the Scientific Advisory Committee are working, especially as it pertains to cancer research philanthropy in general. My understanding is that they essentially act as a check on the power of the Scientific Advisory Committee. The EMC includes leaders in clinical and translational cancer research, oncology, and patient advocacy.
- The Advocate Advisory Council: Because the ultimate goal of SU2C is to help patients as quickly as possible, they highly value input from cancer patients and their families. This council elects representatives from this community to serve on the Scientific Advisory Committee and to participate in both Research Dream Teams and Innovative Research Grants (both of which are described much more below).
So that’s who makes up SU2C, in addition to all those celebrities that we see on the telecasts asking us to give to this worthy program. But how exactly do these folks come together to actually impact scientific research? Well, that comes down to…
The SU2C Research Funding Model
The SU2C Research Funding Model really comes down to two principles: collaboration between the top minds working on cancer research today and a laser-like focus on translational research to move basic research breakthroughs from the bench to the bedside as quickly as possible. To that end, SU2C funds research in two ways: through large, multi-faceted Dream Teams and through (slightly) more traditional Innovative Research Grants.
SU2C Dream Teams:
The Dream Team model is one that is, to my knowledge, completely unique to SU2C. Dream Teams are formed when the Scientific Advisory Committee (in response to input from the AACR community) identifies a specific area or topic of cancer research that they feel has a high likelihood of producing successful results while fulfilling a critical or high priority need in cancer care. These topics can be focused on a type of cancer (as in the Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team) or on a type of research (such as the Epigenetic Therapy Dream Team). Once a Dream Team topic has been selected by the Scientific Advisory Committee, proposals are solicited for specific projects and the teams that will perform them, again primarily from the AACR community. Because all of the work done by Dream Teams must be inherently translational, teams must include both laboratory and clinical researchers. The proposed work must be appropriate for specific projects performed by both senior investigators and young researchers. Teams are composed of 1-2 team leaders, up to 8 “Dream Team principals” (including the team leads), and at least two patient advocates. Importantly, all of the leaders and principals on a given team must be from different research institutions, ensuring a diversity of intellectual input into each team’s ongoing work. Because each principal represents their own research group, the total number of researchers on any given Dream Team is quite large, ensuring that the amount of work that can be done by each Dream Team in a relatively short amount of time is substantial. Ultimately, the Scientific Advisory Committee determines the most promising project for each selected topic and the Dream Teams are finalized. There is no pre-determined limit for funding levels for each Dream Team. Instead, SU2C provides what they deem “sufficient resources” for the proposed scope of work. Note that indirect costs by institutions participating in Dream Teams is capped at 10% of the total project budget, thus making sure that money donated by the public is truly being used for cancer research.
To date, SU2C has funded seven distinct Dream Teams, which you can read more about by clicking their names below:
- The Prostate Cancer Dream Team, which was just formed in April 2012.
- The Melanoma Dream Team, which was formed in December 2011.
- The Breast Cancer Dream Team
- The Epigenetic Dream Team
- The CTC-Chip Dream Team
- The Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team
- The PI3K Dream Team
In addition, SU2C has announced in March that they have begun the process of establishing a CRI Dream Team (focusing on Cancer Immunology) and, following the successful telethon last Friday, will also be establishing a Pediatric Cancer Dream Team as well. Many of these Dream Teams have been founded through the help of other cancer advocacy non-profit groups like The St. Baldrick’s Foundation. When SU2C says they believe in collaborative research, they truly mean it on all levels, bringing together researchers, patients, and even other cancer organizations to end cancer forever.
SU2C Innovative Research Grants
Unlike the Dream Teams, Innovative Research Grants follow more of a traditional model for research funding. That is, each grant is issued to one research group, rather than a multi-faceted team working in concert. However, where these grants differ from traditional grants is that they are focused specifically on funding the type of “high-risk, high-reward” research that federal granting agencies and commercial life sciences companies in particular shy away from. Proposals for these grants are accepted and reviewed annually by a special multi-disciplenary Innovative Research Grants Committee that is appointed by the Scientific Advisory Committee. Priority is given to projects from young researchers just starting out in their careers, many of whom are the most up to speed with the latest developments within their fields but who are lacking a long record of successful projects, something that often leads traditional funding agencies to reject them. Priority is also given to proposals with the potential to grow into future Dream Teams, which is SU2C’s ultimate hope for these Innovative Research Grants. Each grant is for up to $250,000 per year and can last for up to three years (which is a fairly standard length of time for a grant to last). To date, SU2C has funded 26 Innovative Research Grants. You can the list of grants that have been funded thus far here.
SU2C Fundraising and How You Can Get Involved
While SU2C has some significant corporate partnerships that help to fund some of its work (including Major League Baseball, Mastercard, the Safeway Foundation, Genentech, and GlaxoSmithKline), the majority of the revenue that SU2C raises comes from charitable donations from the general public like you and me. Much of this giving is generated through the program’s three telethons, but donations are accepted year round. If you would like to support SU2C and the important cancer research that they fund, you can make a donation here. Remember – 100% of the money that you donate goes directly to support research that will accelerate the end of cancer!
Disclaimer and important links: I don’t work for SU2C, EIF, or the AACR. I just think SU2C is worthwhile program and wanted to highlight their work. You can read more about SU2C at their website, here. You can also “like” SU2C on Facebook here and follow @SU2C on Twitter here. You can read more about EIF at their website, here. You can find the Charity Navigator review of EIF here and EIF’s BBB Charity Review here. You can read more about AACR at their website, here and on their BBB Charity Review here. Finally, if you missed the 2012 SU2C telecast or just want to watch it again, you can do so on HULU, here.