Ugly Sweater Day Is Here
Thursday is US Day. Ugly Sweater Day. The day I wear not one but two ugly holiday sweaters as part of a campaign to raise awareness and money for StandUp2Cancer.
I've blogged about the fundraiser over the past two weeks, explaining how the charity is asking donors to pledge money whenever a friend has the courage to wear an ugly sweater in public during December. Who could resist? If you feel so inclined, here's my pledge page. (Read More: Wearing That Ugly Sweater With Pride)
Thanks so much to those who've already contributed.
"Our mantra is get people excited about the prospect of new approaches to treating cancer," said StandUp2Cancer's co-founder, Kathleen Lobb. "Each and every person can make a difference."
So what happens next? What is SU2C doing with this money? Funding hope.
The organization was founded in 2008, and Lobb noted it has so far received pledges of $260 million (not all of it is in hand as some money is doled out over time). Of those funds, $137 million has been given to nine "Dream Teams", groups of researchers which have successfully convinced SU2C's advisory board they have potentially promising therapies. "We issue a call for ideas," said Lobb, "and we have a very specific approval process for choosing."
Just this week SU2C announced $10 million in funding in a joint project to research how the immune system might be used to fight a variety of cancers. Some of that funding was donated by tech entrepreneur Sean Parker. (Read More: Sean Parker)
The entire point of StandUp2Cancer is to create collaborative efforts among research institutions which could get life-saving treatments to the market much sooner than it currently takes. The grant money for each team is spread out over three years, and teams have to reach benchmarks annually to get the next installment of funding. So far, Lobb said every team has met its benchmarks.
One team has been working on a therapy for the epigenome, chemical compounds which essentially surround DNA. Unlike DNA, changes in the epigenome can be reversed, and Lobb explained the team has developed therapies to be administered to the epigenome before starting other traditional therapies, like chemotherapy. Treating the epigenome first may make those subsequent therapies more effective. "It has a priming effect," she said. The team is focusing on using the treatment for patients of late stage lung cancer.
Another team is working on a therapy for pancreatic cancer which may shrink previously inoperable tumors to the point where they are operable. One patient's story shows the therapy's potential.
Some of the grants are also going to young researchers with "big, bold ideas," said Lobb. "Proof of concept is not required ... these are high risk, high reward grants."
Currently the charity is not looking to have a piece of any patent or profit which may result from the treatments it's funding. "We had an awareness that doing that would have an effect of slowing us down," said Lobb, as it would make an already complicated contract process with institutions even more difficult. However, "It is something we are thinking of in the future."
The organization is a place where just about any idea will be considered. The ugly holiday sweater fundraiser was the idea of a young staffer named, appropriately, Alexis Jolly. It hasn't raised boatloads of money yet, but the free publicity and awareness coming out of it are equally valuable. MasterCard has teamed up with Ty Burrell from "Modern Family" for another SU2C holiday fundraiser, which will have the credit card company contributing to the charity every time someone uses a MasterCard.
In the meantime, more teams are pitching their ideas, seeking funding. When I asked Lobb where she hopes StandUp2Cancer will be in a few years, she paused. "We don't set these hard and fast goals for ourselves," she finally said, "because in large part these things are being done for the first time."
Let's just hope this is both the first time … and the last time … I wear these sweaters on television.
—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter: @janewells