BY Kristie L. Kahl
On March 4, 1993, basketball legend Jim Valvano received the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first-ever ESPY Awards, where, despite fighting metastatic adenocarcinoma at the time, he delivered an inspirational speech many still remember today. Now, almost 25 years later, the V Foundation, continues his legacy while encouraging patients to never give up in the fight against cancer.
The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded by ESPN and legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano with one goal in mind: to achieve victory over cancer. Since its start in 1993, the V Foundation has awarded over $200 million in cancer research grants nationwide and has grown to become one of the premier supporters of cutting-edge cancer research funds.
Susan Braun, CEO of the V Foundation
However, despite such success, more still needs to be done in the fight against cancer. “[The Board of Directors] so often will say ‘what would Jim say about where we are?’ And the response is almost always, ‘Good work, but we need to do more,” Susan Braun, CEO of the V Foundation, said in an interview with CURE. “We are aware of having his legacy to not give up, and to do more until we hit the goals that we have set for ourselves.”
Not a Moment to Lose
In 2013, the V Foundation launched a campaign to raise $200 million by 2020. To date, the foundation has already raised $140 million of that goal.
“We are pushing that hard, and really just working to be able to give more to outstanding cancer research,” Braun said.
To assist with these efforts, the V Foundation raises money through a variety of outreach programs, charity events and fundraisers. Signature events for the V Foundation include:
- The Victory Ride – a bike ride through central North Carolina that includes 100-, 60-, and 30- mile ride options to support Duke Cancer Institute, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center;
- Wine Celebration – which has raised $88 million for cancer research;
- The Dick Vitale Gala – which has raised $21 million for pediatric cancer; and
- Virginia Vine – which has raised more than $560,000 for cancer research.
In addition, the V Foundation works with groups including Connor’s Cure, V University, Gastric Cancer Foundation, Scott Hamilton CARES, and new in 2017, a K-9 Comparative Oncology Initiative with veterinary-oncologists. Lastly, the foundation began working with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins to raise funds for cancer research, also known as Victory Over Cancer.
All of these efforts enable the foundation to provide researchers with grants, including:
- The V Scholar Grant, a two-year grant of $100,000 per year to support young tenure-track faculty early in their cancer research careers;
- The Translational Grant, a three-year grant of $200,000 per year to support “bench to bedside” research;
- The Designated Grant, which supports basic or translational research; and
- The Mission Grant, made to support projects within the mission of the V Foundation.
“What is so important to us is that people get familiar with the kind of research we fund and how we fund it,” Braun said. “It is a competitive process. We pick such extraordinary grants.”
Kris Wood, Ph.D., from Duke Cancer Institute, received the 2013 V Scholar Grant for his research in drug resistance and developing new treatment options for targeted therapies.
“Often times, resistance to therapy is quite complex. So, what we are discovering is that sometimes when a patient becomes resistant to a drug, there are actually multiple resistance mechanisms that are co-occurring within the body of a single patient,” he said.
Wood has his own personal stake in the fight against cancer, as he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare blood cancer, shortly after starting his independent laboratory at Duke. “My experience as a patient really inspired me moving forward because of the fact that I was diagnosed with a cancer that is ultimately quite rare,” said Wood.
In particular, it was the work of those who came before him, that ultimately led to treat his own cancer.
Scientists and doctors who came before me were willing to spend their time studying that disease even though in the broad spectrum of things it is rare,” said Wood. “And because of their hard work and diligence to study a rare cancer, therapies were developed that led to cures. So, I learned in my own experience that it is valuable to study not just the cancers that broadly impact millions of people – the lung and breast cancers of the world – but also to think about the cancers that are rare and have a profound impact on the lives of certain patients.”
Wood commended the efforts of the V Foundation in supporting such innovative, breakthrough cancer research. “If you are doing great science, they want to support you,” he said.
Lastly, he recommended for people to get involved and support these efforts, in particular, because the V Foundation supports young cancer researchers.
“One of the reasons why giving to the V Foundation is in particular quite valuable is that they do not just broadly distribute their money with no good rhyme or reason,” added Wood. “They are very careful and strategic to give their money to the best ideas and to support many of the brightest young minds in cancer. By doing that, putting a little bit of money into the V Foundation is like making an investment that will pay off many dividends.”