The Life Raft Group (LRG) is the world’s leading 501-C-3 non-profit organization providing information, support, and assistance to patients and families with a rare cancer called Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST). In 2007 the LRG, with a generous start-up grant from Novartis, initiated a unique research program to find the answers to GIST treatment resistance and to embark upon a pathway to find a cure for GIST that will serve as a model for other cancers. Read about our research philosophy here.
Starting with the creation of a realistic five-year strategic plan to identify the priority projects needed to overcome GIST treatment resistance, we brought together a core group of the world’s best GIST researchers and introduced cooperation, coordination and accountability as key building blocks of this historic effort. We created a grants structure designed to give maximum support to this research effort, including a 0% cap on the administrative overhead that could by charged by the researcher’s institutions.
We are approaching a critical intersection on the pathway to finding a cure for a cancer. We have the right scientific tools and the right researchers at the perfect time and place to demonstrate how to treat and cure cancer. We have achieved an historic understanding of the fundamental genetics driving GIST and the know how to identify and overcome the remaining downstream pathways of resistance. We have two approved targeted drugs, imatinib (Gleevec) and sunitinib (Sutent), and a number of other promising ones in the pipelines. We need to keep our core team in place, expand it ever so slightly to add a few additional priority research projects and commit the remaining three years of funding.
This opportunity to complete the pathway to a cure is unprecedented and well within our grasp.
Death rates from cancer are too high
Each year billions of dollars are contributed by government, charities and individuals to fund cancer research. Few causes touch so many families and create such passionate responses.
What has all this money accomplished? The 2005 Annual Report of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) proclaims that cancer death rates continue to decline and notes that death rates from all cancers dropped 1.1 percent per year from 1993 to 2002. A closer look shows that most of this progress has come from earlier diagnoses of cancer and lifestyle behavior changes like a decrease in smoking. Progress in finding effective cancer treatments has been relatively slow. And if one takes a longer historical view one finds that cancer death rates have not substantially improved.
The chart below provides a prospective from 1976 to 2000:
Finally, if we look at the success we have had in lowering death rates from cancer compared to that of other major diseases the disparity is quite striking. From 1950 to 2005 death rates from heart disease have dropped from over 586 per hundred thousand to under 245 per hundred thousand. In the same period, death rates from cancer have remained constant.
The term ”cancer” is comprised of many different diseases. The libraries of health statistics would likely provide data to support all sorts of opinions about the effectiveness of cancer research in providing treatments which lower cancer death rates but few would argue with the point that the death rates from cancers are too high and simply unacceptable.
GIST is the perfect model for demonstrating how to cure cancers
GIST cancer research provides a perfect model for demonstrating how to cure other cancers. GIST, although quite deadly, is a relatively simple cancer and has an increasingly understood mechanism of cancer mutations. Further, there is a growing list of targeted drugs to address these mutations. Finally, we have created an innovative research strategy, including prioritized project areas and the means to achieve them.