Page content

Cancer fight at Ohio State gains momentum

September 23, 2014

The Midwest’s largest cancer hospital is about to open at Ohio State, and a globally recognized leader in the fight against cancer is taking the helm at Pelotonia, which has raised $61 million for cancer research at Ohio State.

Momentum is building at Ohio State in the fight to end cancer.

You can see it in the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, rising high from The Ohio State University campus and set to open in December.

You can feel it in the mounting excitement over Pelotonia’s continued successes in fundraising - $61 million in its first five years - and its new president and CEO, Doug Ulman, who has spent the last 14 years transforming LIVESTRONG from a startup, nonprofit organization to a globally recognized force in cancer advocacy.

“Nationally, people are starting to realize that Columbus is starting to become the hub of cancer-related philanthropy and care and research – and that’s because of Pelotonia, The James and Ohio State. The potential is unlimited," Ulman says. “This community is changing lives here and across the world.”

A survivor's story: 'Cancer has taken a backseat to other things'

For patients like Wally Yocum, Ohio State’s cancer-fighting work is personal: It’s literally life over death.

“I didn’t think I would live this long in the beginning,” Yocum says. “Now, the cancer has taken a backseat to a number of other things. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was a possibility.”

Yocum, 61, was diagnosed in 2008 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In 2009, his oncologist in Marietta, Ohio, referred him to John C. Byrd, MD, a specialist and CLL researcher at Ohio State.

Byrd suggested Yocum take part in clinical trials that staved off the need for a more risky stem cell transplant procedure. Yocum had success with a medicine called ibrutinib, the first designed to target a certain protein that is essential for CLL survival and proliferation. (Thanks to trials like the one Yocum participated in, the Food and Drug Administration expanded the approved use of ibrutinib for CLL in February.)

Ibrutinib trials were supported by Pelotonia, a cycling fundraiser that has drawn the largest number of riders in the U.S. Between trials, Yocum took part in the ride in 2010. Returning in 2014 with the word "survivor" on the back of his jersey was emotional.

“To take off through downtown Columbus, with all the people on the sides of the road ringing their bells and cheering for people,” he says, “it was surreal. The word probably gets used to often, but that’s what it was.”

Pelotonia riders have raised $61 million for cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). The nonprofit organization projects exceeding $80 million when fundraising totals from this year’s ride are announced Nov. 13.

'Cancer research requires money' — and Pelotonia delivers

When Michael Caligiuri, MD, director of the OSUCCC – James, was in medical school, "No one was cured of cancer. Everyone died."

The James, he continues, has cured cancer for at least 12,000 people.

"What's changed in 30 years? Research," Caligiuri says. "Cancer research requires money."

Caligiuri credits Pelotonia for making it possible to recruit world-renowned cancer experts to Ohio State, fund innovative research studies and clinical trials, acquire state-of-the-art equipment and fuel the next generation of scientists.

With Pelotonia providing a revenue stream to fund groundbreaking research and the nation’s third-largest cancer hospital opening in a few weeks, Ulman arrives at a critical moment in Ohio State’s fight to end cancer. He says, “(My family and I) are in awe of what’s happening here in Columbus, what’s happening with Ohio State and The James. To be part of that is an honor.”

In addition to his role at Pelotonia, Ulman will work on behalf of OSUCCC – James by building awareness and support nationally for its work in research, education and prevention.

Ulman, a three-time cancer survivor, is a widely recognized ambassador and well-respected voice in the cancer community. The Maryland native has been named twice to the Non-Profit Times’ Power and Influence Top 50, and he has more than 1 million followers on Twitter.

Ohio State President Michael V. Drake says Ohio State has enjoyed great founding leadership with Caliguiri and the others who have made Pelotonia successful.

"Now we need the best leadership possible to extend it forward and help it grow, and that’s Doug Ulman — really the best leader in the country for this work," Drake says. "We're really pleased to bring him here."