Israeli cancer fund marks 40 years of saving lives

Andrew Faas, an ICRF donor and cancer survivor, stands at the ICRF donor recognition wall in Tel Aviv during a recent trip to Israel that celebrated the organization’s 40th anniversary.
Andrew Faas, an ICRF donor and cancer survivor, stands at the ICRF donor recognition wall in Tel Aviv during a recent trip to Israel that celebrated the organization’s 40th anniversary.

Israel Cancer Research Fund supporters, volunteers and donors are celebrating 40 years since the non-profit organization began raising money to promote life-saving cancer research.

About 25 people from ICRF’s eight chapters throughout North America and Israel got together in Israel in October to visit some of the 90 scientists working at major Israeli universities and hospitals that ICRF funds to work towards cures for various cancers.

Since 1975, ICRF has granted about $53 million (US) to Israeli cancer research scientists, which has resulted in cancer-fighting drugs, including Gleevec, a drug that treats chronic myelogynous leukemia, and Doxil, a drug that fights ovarian, breast and AIDS-related cancers.

Andrew Faas, an ICRF donor and a cancer survivor who joined the delegation to Israel last month – during which the group visited Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University, and were treated to a gala hosted by ICRF’s Jerusalem chapter chair Tamir Gilat, who is a cancer survivor and former goalie for the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team – wrote a blog post that highlighted the need for an organization like ICRF.

“Unfortunately, now as in 1975 when ICRF was formed, governments and big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industry) provide little investment in basic research,” Faas wrote.

“Were it not for Israeli scientists funded by the ICRF, I would be dead today. Just over a decade ago I was diagnosed with leukemia and given, at most, six years to live. Thankfully I was prescribed a drug, Gleevec, which turned my fatal condition into a chronic one. ICRF funded the research, which led to the development of this miracle drug, which targets the harmful cells without affecting the healthy ones.”

He said in the years since his diagnosis, the Faas Foundation has supported ICRF for more than just personal reasons.

“It is our passion for basic research that has been the major factor. Without basic research there would be no discovery, and without funding there would be no basic research, which would restrain the development of better treatments and ultimately a cure.”

Joy Wagner Arbus, the executive director of ICRF in Toronto explained that the basic research that is being done is focused on “cellular division and why a cell starts off as being non-cancerous and high functioning in a person’s body and how it changes to become cancer.”

Brad Goldhar ICRF’s international president added that ICRF-funded scientists are changing the landscape of cancer treatment around the world.

“The big buzzword these days is personalized medicine, which means two people that walk into a hospital with the same disease – let’s say it’s breast cancer or lung cancer – may have different personal genetic makeup. Therefore the treatment of their disease has to be different. There is a lot of focus on how to get to the point where you can basically figure out the genetic makeup of the individual, and then come up with the right cocktail, a combination of medicine that will be beneficial,” Goldhar said.

He said that although the research is happening in Israel, the impact is global.

“If you ask a doctor working at a major cancer clinic anywhere in the world, ‘Are you using Israeli science in your clinic?’ no matter where they are in the world, the answer would be yes. So whether it’s that drug, or others, or other types of therapies, there is Israeli science everywhere,” he said.

One of the most exciting developments for ICRF in its 40th year, is that, for the first time, the organization is funding collaborative research between Israeli and North American researchers.

“There are three projects that are being funded. One is with a scientist working at Toronto General Hospital in partnership with scientists at Bar Ilan University. There was some pretty serious competition to get that funding and of the various projects that were reviewed, a scientist at Toronto General Hospital was one of the recipients,” Goldhar said.