Newswise — Rush University Medical Center has received a $5 million donation from Chicago philanthropists Robert and Emily King that will accelerate blood cancer immunotherapy research and the development of new treatment options. This transformational gift to the Rush University Cancer Center is expected to increase much-needed early-stage clinical trials at Rush over the next five years, the kind of research that is essential in developing lifesaving treatments or even a cure.

The Robert and Emily King Cancer Immunotherapy Research Program will complement current research efforts at Rush aimed at using immunotherapy, a treatment approach at the forefront of a rapidly advancing new era in cancer care. Immunotherapy has been most effective to date in tackling hematologic cancers, such as lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma.

Robert King, who is being treated for brain cancer at Rush, and his wife, Emily King, provided the gift because of their long history of positive experiences with clinicians at the Medical Center, as well as the promise that immunotherapy holds. Their gift will boost critical phase I clinical trials, which is the first stage in bringing a new treatment from preliminary laboratory work to testing on humans.

“Our hope is that this gift will contribute to the momentum behind immunotherapy research and will result in a cure for certain kinds of cancers,” Robert King said. “That would be terrific and worth every bit of the money.”

‘Potential to have a huge impact’

“With nearly 2,000 immunotherapy trials in progress, this treatment form harnesses the body’s capability to use its own powerful immune system effectively against cancer, a medical breakthrough recently celebrated with the Nobel Prize. The ability to offer these novel therapies requires capital and knowledge — infrastructure that the Kings’ generosity will help Rush put in place,” said Dr. Jochen Reiser, the Ralph C. Brown, MD, Professor of Internal Medicine and chair of internal medicine at Rush. 

Immunotherapy is a relatively new way to treat cancer. It often is more targeted than conventional cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy treatments have the potential to work across different cancer types and may be effective against even the most advanced and hard-to-treat cancers, but scientists are still at the beginning stages of tapping its capability.

“The Kings’ gift has the potential to have a huge impact,” said Dr. Parameswaran Venugopal, director of the Section of Hematology at Rush. “Rush physicians and patients get the benefit of novel therapies, and our research findings will be beneficial to the greater cancer community. Rush will be able to further the conversation with scientists across the globe as we seek to understand the full potential of immunotherapy.”

A portion of the Kings’ gift will be used to establish and sustain an endowed professorship to support immunotherapy research at Rush. Once recruited, the Robert E. and Emily H. King Endowed Professor of Cancer Research will serve as the scientific leader of the program, building the hematology arm of Rush’s existing immunotherapy research, coordinating efforts among physician-scientists and researchers throughout Rush, and spearheading important collaborations with other leading cancer institutions across the country.

‘The more we learn, the better the treatment we can provide’

The Robert E. and Emily H. King Cancer Immunotherapy Research Program will advance research that will initiate more phase 1 clinical trials to help bring new immunotherapy medicines to patients faster. These kinds of studies not only give patients access to promising new treatments, often before they’re widely available, but also provide physicians with invaluable data about the safety and efficacy of emerging treatments. Additionally, the program will facilitate increased laboratory studies — at Rush and in collaboration with the Medical Center’s partners — aimed at improving understanding of immunotherapy and its prospective impact on patients.

Rush’s research will focus on uncovering more effective and personalized approaches to immunotherapy by determining which patients will benefit most from new therapies. In addition, researchers at Rush will explore the development of new immunotherapy compounds that are easier to administer, have fewer long-term side effects and increase survival rates.

“Still in early development, immunotherapy is proving very effective ― even against the most difficult-to-treat cancers. The more we learn, however, about personalizing the dosage and using it in combination with other therapies, the better the treatment options we can provide our patients,” Venugopal said. “More clinical trials and translational research will allow us to answer these questions in immunotherapy.”

Gift will accelerate the momentum of Rush’s cancer program

The Kings’ gift comes at a time of great momentum for both Rush and its cancer center, observed Dr. Larry Goodman, CEO of the Rush System and Rush University Medical Center.

“Throughout Rush, we are creating ways to help expand access to care, continue to advance better outcomes, rapidly adopt emerging treatments and deliver a uniquely personal care experience,” Goodman said.

“In the cancer program specifically, we’re using approaches and partnerships that will help care teams evaluate and quickly implement the best possible treatment plan for each individual patient, including immunotherapy. The establishment of the Robert and Emily King Cancer Immunotherapy Research Program is a critical component of this comprehensive, integrated approach to oncologic care.”

Rush University Cancer Center’s expert oncology services are recognized among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report and are fully accredited by the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons. Building upon this clinical strength and continued growth in basic research and clinical trials, Rush has made investing in its cancer program a top strategic priority.

Rush will maximize the Kings’ philanthropic investment through partnerships with institutions such as Tempus, a Chicago-based biotechnology company led by Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky that provides genetic analysis to guide treatment plans for cancer patients. Expansion of these kinds of bioinformatics capabilities not only will help clinicians at Rush personalize care, but also will enable researchers to more effectively test and refine new therapies through research and clinical trials.

Plans for cancer services at the Medical Center also include the construction of an 11-story outpatient care center on the northeast corner of Ashland Avenue and Harrison Street. With a focus on cancer and neuroscience treatment, the new building will bring together clinical services, radiation therapy, infusion therapy, integrative medicine and imaging — all in one location. The center also will provide convenient amenities for visitors, including a pharmacy, retail space and food options.

Building on a tradition of nursing excellence

The Kings’ gift will also create a dedicated fund for nursing research and education in hematology. Cancer nurses at Rush play an integral role in patient care and research initiatives, monitoring side effects and helping patients become familiar with the administration of new therapies.

To strengthen this vital role, the fund will support an immunotherapy nursing care symposium that will provide specialized training to nurses both at Rush and at other institutions. Rush nurses will be leaders in the field of providing care for patients undergoing immunotherapy treatments, hosting annual training sessions for nursing staff from other health care institutions.

“Nurses and nurse practitioners are the backbone of clinical trials,” Venugopal said. “Specialized training in hematology for our nurses will benefit the immunotherapy program as we enroll and treat more patients.”

Funding for nursing education is particularly meaningful to the Kings, who have experienced the difference that highly trained nurses make in the overall quality of care.

“We did not want to leave out nurses because they’re very important not just for treating patients but also for managing clinical trials,” Emily King said. “Rush nurses’ interpersonal skills and the way they have cared for Bob has been terrific.

“If we can combine nursing education with an increase in clinical trials and move just a little bit forward in the realm of immunotherapy research  — if we have the capacity to do it — we should offer to help.”

About Robert and Emily King

Robert and Emily King are active philanthropists in the Chicago area and beyond. Their experience in the not-for-profit world, particularly in education, has allowed them to merge their passion and vision to create initiatives aimed at improving educational outcomes.

Robert King is vice chairman on the board of directors at Rasmussen College. He has spent his career building businesses, with a focus on the application of technology to education, and has participated in the formation of seven companies. He serves as a board member with the Academy for Urban School Leadership and works on college readiness programs for high school students. Robert King is a past board member for the African Wildlife Foundation and remains an active member, developing conservation school programs. Robert King is a graduate of Northwestern University and continues to work on programing for student athletes focusing on career readiness and leadership skills.

Emily King, a graduate of Denison University, created a program with Robert to improve postgraduate outcomes for career success. At the Chicago Zoological Society, she spearheaded the King Conservation Science Scholars initiative, with 300 inner-city youth participating in after-school opportunities to expand their knowledge in science in preparation for college. She also has been working for the last 40 years with Art Resources in Teaching and Urban Gateways, which brings engaging arts programing to students in Chicago Public Schools. Emily King has also served for 18 years on the board at Crow Canyon Archeological Center in Cortez, Colorado, which conducts archeological research and educational programs, including work to help Native American high school students become college-ready.


About Rush

Rush is an academic health system whose mission is to improve the health of the individuals and the diverse communities it serves through the integration of outstanding patient care, education, research and community partnerships. The Rush System comprises Rush University Medical Center, Rush University, Rush Copley Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, as well as numerous outpatient care facilities. Rush University, with more than 2,500 students, is a health sciences university that comprises Rush Medical College, the College of Nursing, the College of Health Sciences and the Graduate College.