06:22 AM

Pelotonia and Ohio State announce the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology

One of the largest gifts to The Ohio State University will help launch a new institute to focus on harnessing the body’s immune system to fight cancer at all levels.

Christine Sander knows firsthand how groundbreaking research can save lives. In 2015, Sander was undergoing treatment for back pain and exhaustion. But when that treatment provided no relief, further testing revealed a large mass in her chest.

When her oncologist offered no definitive guidance, Sander chose to get a second opinion at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. At Ohio State, her new oncologist reviewed Sander’s existing testing, imaging and biopsy results and believed she had a type of cancer called primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Sander immediately began a combination of chemotherapy and an immunotherapy drug called rituximab, a combination that is 90 percent effective among patients with her type of cancer.

“I recognize the value of research but this really brought it home for me. Ten years ago, this treatment would not have been available to me,” she said.

Now, more patients like Sander stand to benefit from this type of pioneering research. Friday, leadership from Ohio State, The OSUCCC – James and Pelotonia announced formation of the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology. Pelotonia, the annual grassroots, cycling event, has pledged $102,265,000 million over the next five years to The OSUCCC – James. The largest portion – $65 million – will directly fund the new institute.

The OSUCCC – James is also supporting the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology with a $35 million commitment to grow and sustain modern research infrastructure.

Zihai Li, MD, PhD will lead the new institute. Li joins Ohio State from the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center, where he served as the Sally Abney Rose Endowed Chair in Stem Cell Biology & Therapy, co-leader of the Cancer Immunology program and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

The OSUCCC – James expects to add up to 32 faculty over the next five years to work within the new institute. Renovations will take place during this time to create advanced cellular laboratory facilities, immune monitoring and other research areas for start-up initiatives and national collaborations with other academic centers and industry partners.

Li’s appointment will help Ohio State build upon the already strong endeavors in immunotherapy, which is widely considered to be the next frontier in cancer treatment, OSUCCC Director Raphael Pollock said.

“Building this institute is a bold, forward-thinking leap that we expect to move the mark on drug discoveries in immuno-oncology in a significant way,” Pollock said. “This effort will allow us to make fundamental discoveries to develop next generation immuno-oncology agents, expand existing cellular therapy research facilities, offer pilot funding for new research projects and training opportunities for students and junior faculty.”

To date, Pelotonia has raised more than $190 million for cancer research initiatives at the OSUCCC – James. The new commitment honors the riders who participated in the inaugural ride in 2009.

“In 2009, 2,265 riders showed up for the inaugural Pelotonia ride. They believed in the potential of this community and we honor their vision and dedication. Today, we are thrilled to make this transformational commitment to an area of research with such profound promise – immuno-oncology,” said Doug Ulman, president and CEO of Pelotonia. “We hope that this pledge inspires our community to do what they do best – to go above and beyond to achieve something that none of us could do on our own.”

This new strategic initiative within the OSUCCC – James brings together scientists from across The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The institute adds to the existing track record of success in cancer research, prevention and care at central and southern Ohio’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center.

“The OSUCCC – James is a pillar of strength at Ohio State and in our community. Through the cancer center, we conduct multi-disciplinary research spanning medicine, engineering, food science, public health and other disciplines in the health sciences. This transformative gift will allow for an entirely new level of collaboration, research and discovery at our university – a level only possible at a comprehensive institution like Ohio State,” said President Michael V. Drake.

Sander completed her treatment in March 2016 and is now supporting research. She rode her first 25 miles in Pelotonia that following August.

Sander said the Pelotonia community is part of who she is now. Her extended family even planned their upcoming vacation around the 2019 ride, when Sanders will be riding 55 miles. To date, she has raised nearly $11,000 for cancer research at the OSUCCC – James.

“The momentum and energy is palpable riding in Pelotonia. I have been personally touched by cancer, but it feels so good to be part of a bigger movement to support cancer research for the good of all of us,” Sander said.