Nearly One Million Dollars Raised for Immunotherapy Research at Providence

May 31, 2016

Excited by the promise and power of immunotherapy research, Providence Cancer Center supporters raised nearly $1 million in the month of May, with most of that coming at the 2016 Creating Hope through Innovation Dinner May 25.

Caption: Walter J. Urba, M.D, Ph.D., introduces two of Providence Cancer Center’s two newest physician researchers, Kristina Young, M.D., Ph.D., and David Page, M.D. to the 500 attendees at the Creating Hope through Innovation Dinner.

The donations will further immunotherapy research and help recruit and train the next generation of scientists at Providence Cancer Center.

“Our investigators are trying to innovate every day and together we are making great progress toward finishing cancer,” said Walter J. Urba, M.D., Ph.D., oncologist and director, Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center in the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at Providence.

Of the $960,000 raised for immunotherapy research, $692,000 came from the evening event, and the rest, $268,000, from Safeway and Albertsons customer and employee contributions throughout the month of May. The amount raised was a record and capped an inspiring event. Speakers repeatedly praised the rapid progress of immunotherapy research in the last five years, and looked to the future when the body’s ability to heal itself may truly finish cancer.

Innovation was a major theme through the evening as national thought leader and PBS host Steven Johnson addressed the crowd of 500. Johnson hosts the PBS series, “How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson,” and has authored such books as “How We Got To Now,” and “Where Good Ideas Come From.” He drew from his research to share how the roles of innovation, collaboration and invention throughout history have led us to a place of remarkable possibility today.

One of those remarkable possibilities is immunotherapy – and that is attracting a new generation of scientists to Providence. Two of the newest researchers spoke to the dinner crowd about their decisions to join Providence.

“I came because of Providence’s commitment to radiation oncology research,” said Kristina Young, M.D., Ph.D. “There are advances happening here that are not happening anywhere else in the world.”

Immunotherapy research for breast cancer patients drew David Page, M.D., to Providence from Sloan Kettering. “There is so much here, the collaborative rather than competitive atmosphere, the proximity of research labs to patients – everything under one roof.”

Drs. Page and Young are just two of the recent physician researchers from around the world to come to Providence to work alongside internationally known scientists, led by Dr. Urba, who have believed in and advanced immunotherapy for more than two decades, long before it was a widely accepted cancer treatment.

“Many members of the scientific community held the view that immunotherapy would never work as a cancer therapy,” Dr. Urba told the dinner attendees. “Nevertheless, we believed in the power of the immune system and we did not give up hope. We built a great team and in the past five years we have seen more progress in cancer therapy than in the previous 100 years.”


Caption: Cancer survivor Joanne Warner told the dinner crowd her future depends on the immunotherapy research underway now at Providence Cancer Center.

But there is still so much more to do said Dr. Urba, a sentiment echoed by Joanne Warner. Warner, a registered nurse and former dean of the University of Portland School of Nursing, is also a cancer survivor, thanks to immunotherapy and Providence.

She fought metastasized kidney cancer with high-dose interleukin-2 at Providence, one of the top five high-dose IL-2 immunotherapy programs in the nation. Warner is stable now and her oncologist tells her the treatment will give her years, but not decades. “I am crystal clear that my ‘years’ depend on current and future research that is happening at Providence.”

Providence operates with a ‘bench to bedside’ research philosophy – meaning treatments are moved rapidly from the lab to the patient. Warner challenged Providence to think differently, “I don’t want ‘bench to bedside’ research translation,” Warner said. “I want ‘bench’ to hiking trails, kayaking, cello lessons and grandmother time.”

Warner challenged the dinner attendees to fund research not just for people fighting cancer today, but for all the children and grandchildren who, with advances in immunotherapy, may know a world without cancer in the future. Attendees responded in record fashion, donating nearly $1 million that will finance additional immunotherapy research at Providence.

Currently, Dr. Urba leads nearly 100 scientists and oncologists at Providence who are part of an elite international network eliciting novel immunotherapy treatments from the laboratory and quickly getting them into clinical trials with patients.

Providence’s leadership in the cancer field goes beyond groundbreaking immunotherapy research. The cancer center serves more patients than any other health care system in Oregon and offers four times as many clinical trials as the national average.