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Pancreatic cancer written on a page and  purple awareness ribbon.
Pancreatic cancer written on a page and purple awareness ribbon.

Fighting Pancreatic Cancer

$20 million gift to launch the Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center.

Henry Ford Health System announced a new $20 million gift to launch the Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center, which will focus on global collaborations to develop new methods for the early detection of pancreatic cancer — a devastating disease with a 5-year survival rate of only 8 percent.

The gift is made possible by support from an individual donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

This $20 million gift will help to establish partnerships between Henry Ford and leading national and international organizations to identify means to detect pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage, with best-in-class collaborations and technological advancements.

“We are grateful for this transformational gift that will allow Henry Ford to bring the best minds in the world together to shine an important light on pancreatic cancer. It marks a crucial step in advancing pancreatic cancer research with the goal of increasing survivorship for patients diagnosed with this terrible disease,” says Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO, Henry Ford Health System.

Mort Harris donated $20 million to Henry Ford in December 2016 in honor of his late wife, Brigitte, to back the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion in Detroit, opening in 2020.

Mort Harris

This gift builds on the tremendous momentum created by Detroit businessman and philanthropist Mort Harris, who donated $20 million to Henry Ford in December 2016 in honor of his late wife, Brigitte, to back the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion in Detroit, opening in 2020.

The largest individual gift in Henry Ford’s history, Harris’ donation is part of a $40 million package to support the building project and three specific program areas: precision medicine, brain cancer and pancreatic cancer, which Brigitte battled for almost two years before she passed away in 2016. While incredible advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment have been made and some types of cancer are now curable, pancreatic cancer remains nearly a universally fatal diagnosis, according to Steven N. Kalkanis, M.D., medical director, Henry Ford Cancer Institute and chair, Department of Neurosurgery.

“One of the challenges is pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late, generally at an advanced stage, making it difficult to treat,” he said. “If we are going to move the needle, we need a global crowd-sourced effort to diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier and give patients a fighting chance for survival.”

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An estimated 53,670 people are diagnosed each year with pancreatic cancer. There is currently no effective screening tool available to diagnose pancreatic cancer early. Most people do not experience any symptoms of pancreatic cancer until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage.

David Kwon, M.D., director of Surgical Oncology, Henry Ford Cancer Institute, and director, Multidisciplinary Pancreas Clinic at Henry Ford Hospital, will help to oversee the Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center.

He notes that the scale and opportunity of this global collaboration will provide significant benefit and efficiencies that will change the landscape of pancreatic cancer through its focus on earlier detection and clinical trials to advance treatment.

“Never has there been a greater momentum in the fight against pancreatic cancer and, unfortunately, the incidence of pancreatic cancer will only continue to rise,” Kwon said. “To effectively fight pancreatic cancer, we need to work to find solutions to problems that have eluded clinicians and researchers to date, while embracing a culture of innovation and collaboration.”

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The $20 million gift will establish a Multi-Institutional Pancreatic Consortium, led by Henry Ford. The global consortium will serve to drive the research initiatives with focus on early detection, data analytics, translational research, precision medicine and clinical trials.

An endowed director’s fund will support the hiring of a leading pancreatic cancer clinical leader and a research leader for the Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center as well as an administrative director.

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