Philanthropy is critical to the mission of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Donors who are able to make gifts of any amount help CU Cancer Center members contribute to breakthrough research and improved patient outcomes.
Individuals and organizations with an interest in certain research areas or types of cancer sometimes choose to fund an endowed chair at the CU Cancer Center — a named position funded by an endowment that provides the chairholder with sustainable financial resources, allowing them to conduct research in a specified area knowing they will have the distribution from the endowment available to use each year.
“Endowed chairs are extremely important to the CU Cancer Center because they allow us to attract top talent, and they also allow us to retain top talent,” says Richard Schulick, MD, MBA, director of the CU Cancer Center and the Aragón/Gonzalez-Gíustí Endowed Chair of Surgery at the CU School of Medicine. “They eliminate the necessity of finding monetary support and free up the chairholder’s time to accomplish research and discover new cures.”
CU Cancer Center leader Eduardo Davila, PhD, holds the Amy Davis Chair of Basic Human Immunology, which he says allows him to devote his time to finding new ways to treat patients.
“Philanthropic support makes it possible for me to focus my attention on developing and optimizing the manufacturing of a new type of cellular therapy on campus,” says Davila, associate director of cancer research training and education coordination at the CU Cancer Center. “Philanthropic support also allows me the time to develop cutting-edge education and mentoring programs to train the next generation of cancer researchers and oncologists.”
Endowed chairs are considered the highest level of achievement in academic and medical institutions. Chairs are highly visible and prestigious symbols of academic status and a mark of distinction in higher education. The number of endowed chairs is also a mark of distinction for institutions.
Funding prevention and control efforts
The Denver-based organization CancerCure was created 25 years ago by neighbors Carolyn Fancher and Midge Wallace, both of whom had faced breast cancer, to raise money for the CU Cancer Center. With another neighbor, Nina Ahbe, Fancher and Wallace fund the CancerCure/AMC Cancer Fund Endowed Chair for Cancer Prevention and Control, currently held by Evelinn Borrayo, PhD.
“Knowing these funds are going toward attracting top talent like Dr. Borrayo is very gratifying,” Fancher, Wallace, and Ahbe say. “Her goal to decrease cancer disparities and make sure everyone in Colorado has equal access to cancer prevention and treatment is the direction we want our philanthropy to support.”
The position is equally important to the chairholders as it is to the donors.
“The CancerCure endowed chair is an honor for me to hold. It has allowed me to focus time on expanding the mission of the CU Cancer Center to communities disproportionally affected by cancer,” says Borrayo, associate director of community outreach and engagement. “In particular, I have focused my research on improving the timeliness and quality of cancer care for medically underserved patients who reside in remote rural and frontier communities.”
With a philanthropic commitment of $2 million or more, an endowed chair benefactor plays a critical partnership role in advancing strategic priorities and accelerating progress in specific areas within the CU Cancer Center in perpetuity. Endowed chairs recognize distinguished leaders in their fields and provide the time to dream, to innovate, and to change the very course of tomorrow’s health care.
Vision of excellence
CU Cancer Center member Sachin Wani, MD, holder of the Katy O. and Paul M. Rady Endowed Chair in Esophageal Cancer Research, in 2022 received a transformational gift from the Radys in honor of Katy Rady’s brother, Paul O’Hara, who was treated for his esophageal cancer at the CU Cancer Center before succumbing to his illness in 2015. Wani is using the funds to create an Esophageal and Gastric Center of Excellence at the CU Cancer Center.
“When we started these discussions several years ago to establish a center of excellence, our goal was to be one of the top five esophageal centers in the country,” Wani says. “I’ve revised that. We’ve got to be the top esophageal center in the country, period, and we won’t stop until we achieve that goal.”
Next generation of cancer care
CU Cancer Center leadership recently started a new type of chair, the Rising Star Chair, which highlights the CU Cancer Center’s commitment to ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusion are reinforced in research, and that members of traditionally underrepresented communities gain opportunities to conduct groundbreaking cancer research.
One goal of the Rising Star Chair is to support researchers from traditionally underrepresented populations in each of the cancer center’s four research programs. These opportunities will support up-and-coming researchers who are doing groundbreaking work, with funding directed toward ensuring that the CU Cancer Center is competitive with larger cancer centers and able to retain top future cancer leaders in Colorado.
“We created the Rising Star position to ensure we could attract the very best talent and diversify the research faculty,” explains Cathy Bradley, PhD, MPA, deputy director of the CU Cancer Center.
The first of these chairs is held by Channing Tate, PhD, MPH, in the Cancer Prevention and Control program.
“I feel very blessed to have this Rising Star position and, as a CU Cancer Center mentored member, access to some of the best mentorship in the country,” Tate says. “This opportunity is helping me become a better investigator to build and launch my research career. My dream is that the research we do, the tools we create, become the gold standard for how this work is done at a national level.”
Photo: Eduardo Davila, PhD; James DeGregori, PhD; and William Robinson, MD, PhD, speak at the 2019 Endowed Chairs Celebration.