IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 29, 2009
Tressa Iris Kirby
Georgetown Establishes New Gastrointestinal Research Center with $6.75 Million Gift
Groundbreaking center will advance personalized drug development for colon, pancreatic and other gastrointestinal cancers, the most fatal of common cancers. Center established in memory of Otto Ruesch
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Georgetown University Medical Center today announced the creation of a center that may help advance a cure for one of the deadliest forms of cancer. The Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers will fund gastrointestinal cancer research, drug discovery and patient advocacy efforts at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Jeanne W. Ruesch generously made the $6.75 million gift in memory of her husband, Otto, a prominent Washington-area businessman and philanthropist who died of pancreatic cancer in October 2004 at the age of 64, after being treated at Lombardi.
A Swiss-born immigrant, Otto Ruesch founded in 1980 Ruesch International Monetary Services Inc., which specialized in corporate foreign payments and risk management products. As passionate as he was about business, he was even more so about his volunteer roles with various civic, arts and educational organizations and was known for his hands-on approach to causes that were important to him.
Throughout Otto’s year-long battle with his disease, the Rueschs say they were struck by the lack of public understanding of gastrointestinal cancers, as well as the difficulty of accessing information and treatment. They saw a glaring need to shine a spotlight on the devastation caused by gastrointestinal disease through advocacy and increased research funding for more targeted drugs.
“Our family was astounded that the prognosis for pancreatic cancer – one of the most devastating GI cancers – was so grim,” Jeanne Ruesch says. “There has been so little progress in identifying new treatment methodologies in recent years. Through the course of Otto’s illness, we saw so many families whose suffering touched our hearts and made us feel that we had to take some responsibility for trying to make a difference in treating this terrible disease.”
Gastrointestinal cancers remain among the most fatal cancers. Advances in treatment have lagged well behind other disease priorities such as breast cancer because of a smaller pool of research funding and fewer survivors to carry the torch of advocacy, according to Ruesch Center Director John Marshall, MD, chief of the Division of Hematology-Oncology for Georgetown University Hospital and associate director for clinical research at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“We have lost our way in gastrointestinal cancer research in this country. We have accepted that merely adding time to one’s life is adequate as a treatment goal and have gotten away from the charge of curing these cancers,” says Marshall.
In addition to being a global leader in the research and development of drugs to treat colon cancer, Marshall treated Otto Ruesch for pancreatic cancer.
“We are fortunate to have identified Georgetown as one of 40 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer treatment centers in the Unites States, and John Marshall as one of the leading clinical research physicians for the treatment of GI cancers,” Jeanne Ruesch says. “Like Otto, Dr. Marshall believes that the status quo in cancer treatment is simply unacceptable. We have to find a cure. Our family wants to be a part of the process.”
Many of the patients Marshall sees with gastrointestinal cancers will die within a few years, mainly because the currently available therapies are not targeted enough to be effective. Large numbers of cancer patients are exposed to expensive and often toxic treatments, even though only a subset will benefit, because little is understood about the tumors’ molecular biology.
GI cancers include esophageal, colorectal, gastric, pancreatic and liver cancers. The Ruesch Center will leverage Georgetown’s existing GI cancer expertise and resources, linking them to other regional, national and global research institutions engaged in similar work.
Georgetown already is collaborating with a biobanking company, Indivumed GmbH, to establish a high-quality biobank and clinical database for the analysis of colon and pancreatic tumor specimens. This joint effort has helped refine the collection of patient samples, providing more reliable data for drug discovery research.
In addition to efforts to find a cure for these deadly cancers, the Ruesch Center builds upon Georgetown’s unique Drug Discovery program, led by Milton Brown, MD, PhD, to tailor drug therapies to individual patients’ diseases. And Georgetown’s Washington, D.C., location facilitates the stimulation of activism and advocacy for cancer among those who set and impact health care policy.
Ruesch Center scientists and physicians seek to better understand the molecular makeup of GI-specific tumors, in contrast to other GI cancer programs, which often focus more on early detection.
“As a medical oncologist who specializes in the management of patients with gastrointestinal cancers, I am all too aware of the challenges we face to prevent, cure and effectively treat these malignancies,” says Louis M. Weiner, MD, director of Lombardi. “The mission of the Ruesch Center dovetails beautifully with the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center’s ongoing efforts to meet these challenges, and this support will enable us to more completely understand the entirety of the problem – ranging from high-level policy decisions right down to the laboratory, where we can connect the specific molecular features of a cancer to clinical characteristics such as treatment responsiveness on a patient-by-patient basis.”
Highlighting Lombardi’s multidisciplinary approach to cancer care, another component of the Ruesch Center is the nurse navigator program. This program ensures that each patient receiving treatment for GI cancer at Lombardi will be paired with a specialized nurse navigator, who facilitates the complexity of the treatment planning process through timely referrals and connections to consulting specialists.
The center’s mission also underscores Georgetown University Medical Center’s overarching vision of a systems medicine approach to treating and preventing cancer, emphasizing the highly personalized nature of disease and the need for individualized therapies that fit each patient’s genetic and environmental profile.
“We are not going to solve everything within gastrointestinal cancer treatment within the walls of Georgetown. But we will provide a model for how to move forward,” Marshall says. “If we’re right – and I believe we are – we will have a major impact on drug discovery and development and on bringing about a cure for these deadly cancers.”
About the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu.
About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through our partnership with MedStar Health). Our mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.