UPDATE: We published a new, updated review of Stand Up To Cancer in November 2020.
Many of us are interested in donating to organizations that support or conduct cancer research. But figuring out which organizations will make the most effective use of our contributions isn’t always an easy task.
Making a choice based on value for our money means considering factors such as how an organization uses the money it raises, its financial health, and how transparent it is about what has been accomplished with the contributions it has received.
This post is the first in an occasional series in which we’ll take a look at individual charities that focus primarily on cancer research–their history, mission, financial profiles and results reporting. We’ll start with Stand Up To Cancer, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
Stand Up To Cancer: It’s History
SU2C was founded in 2008 by members of the media and entertainment industry who had been personally affected by cancer and wanted to see more rapid progress made in translating knowledge about the biology of cancer into new treatments.
The SU2C initiative is under the umbrella of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which has been around for 74 years and raises awareness and funds to address leading health and social issues.
SU2C launched its first five “dream teams” in 2009 based on the idea of bringing together researchers from different institutions with different areas of expertise to address specific problems in cancer research.
Since 2008, over 160 clinical trials have been “planned, initiated or completed” by SU2C scientists in which more than 8,000 patients have participated.
The Organization’s Mission
Stand Up To Cancer says that its mission is to fund translational research that can get new therapies from the bench to the bedside quickly and save lives. The idea behind the initiative is that the mapping of the human genome has opened up an understanding of the biology of cancer and its drivers that hadn’t existed before. Thus, the thinking is that we’re on the brink of major advances that can help patients if we can pull together to accomplish the needed translational research.
It means focusing on the clinic to drive what happens in the lab, and vice versa: scientists look at diseases on a molecular level and develop tools for physicians to try in clinical trials, while clinicians make observations about the disease in humans that drive the scientists’ efforts.
SU2C approaches its mission by putting together “dream teams” of scientists, clinicians and other experts as well as patient advocates to “work on solutions to the unique problems that cancer presents.” Each team has a specific goal that it is trying to achieve.
SU2C also awards “Innovative Research Grants” to early-career scientists with “novel ideas that have a strong potential to impact patient care – projects that are high-risk but could also be high-impact.” It has awarded three rounds of these grants–in 2009, 2012 and most recently, in April 2016–to a total of 36 recipients.
The American Association for Cancer Research partners with SU2C and is responsible for administering grants and providing scientific oversight in conjunction with a Scientific Advisory Council. The Council is comprised of scientists, clinicians and patient advocates and is charged with identifying the most promising projects for funding.
Major Program Areas, Expenses and Funding
(Sources: Charity Navigator and the SU2C website)
The Entertainment Industry Foundation reported that it had $77 million in revenues for fiscal year 2014. EIF’s largest program is the Stand Up to Cancer Initiative at $30 million, or about 70% of total program expenses.
Of EIF’s total expenses, 77% were spent on its programs and services (13% were spent on administrative expenses and 10% on fundraising).
SU2C raises funds for collaborative cancer research from individuals, corporations and organizations. A large part of its donations are raised through a biennial televised fundraising event. The organization says that 100% of donations received from the public for the Stand Up to Cancer Initiative support cancer research programs.
Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
These are the ratings Entertainment Industry Foundation has received from charity rating agencies:
- Charity Navigator: 4 stars (highest rating)
- Charity Watch: A-
- BBB Wise Giving Alliance: Accredited Charity – Meets Standards (highest rating)
Results: What Does the Charity Report?
SU2C provides detailed information on its website about work currently underway in 17 Dream Teams and two Translational Research Teams. Information provided includes a detailed description of the problem that each team is working to address, the amount of funding it has received and a list of the team members and bios of the leaders. There are progress reports for each team that are updated every six months.
Here are a few examples of the problems that the Dream Teams are working on as reported on the website:
- Lung Cancer Dream Team – develop transformative therapies for lung cancer patients with KRAS mutations–a subtype that is difficult to treat–by combining targeted therapies with immune system therapies to attack the cancer.
- Breast Cancer Dream Team – uncover the driving mutations that lead to treatment resistance in the three major breast cancer subtypes–estrogen receptor-positive, HER2-positive and triple negative–allowing for innovative therapies to be developed.
- Prospective Use of DNA-guided Personalized Cancer Treatment Translational Research Team – focusing on patients from clinical studies of breast, colorectal, lung and pancreatic cancer, determine how mutations in tumor DNA are linked to responses to anti-cancer drugs.
The Entertainment Industry Foundation’s 2014/2015 Annual Report, available on its website, describes a number of accomplishments of SU2C, including these examples:
- A drug to treat advanced breast cancer in post-menopausal women, Ibrance (palbociclib), received accelerated approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after the Breast Cancer Dream Team showed dramatically increased survival in women taking it.
- Based on work by the Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team, the FDA approved a new combination of drugs that enables longer survival in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.
- The Immunology Dream Team’s work led to FDA approval of the “checkpoint inhibitor” immune system therapy, pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for patients with advanced melanoma. That team has also developed new approaches to predict who will benefit from pembrolizumab and other checkpoint inhibitor drugs.
Additional Reading About SU2C
If you’re interested in reading more about SU2C, here are some articles to check out:
- A blog post published by AACR, SU2C’s scientific partner, earlier this year provides an overview of progress and accomplishments discussed at SU2C’s 2016 Annual Scientific Summit.
- In a piece in HuffPost Science, two SU2C leaders write about the group’s work in light of the new national initiative in cancer research led by Vice President Biden.
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