Every so often, a story comes around that is truly full circle. This is one of those.
Matthew Davids, MD, MMSc, director of clinical research in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Division of Lymphoma, was a competitive runner while studying chemistry at Harvard College. Although he maintained his running throughout medical school and into his residency in New York City, he was encouraged by his uncle, Steve, an avid cyclist, to make the switch to cycling to take it easier on his joints. The seemingly simple suggestion set the two on a course that would interweave family, science, and cycling for years. Steve told Boston’s WBZ-TV, of his nephew: “We need to keep him around because he’s a genius.”
When Davids moved back to his native Massachusetts for his hematology/oncology fellowship at Dana-Farber, he found a way to fuel his competitive nature by participating in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), a bike-a-thon that raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country—and which solely supports research and care at Dana-Farber as the Institute’s largest annual contributor. Since it was founded in 1980, the event has raised more than $900 million for the Institute, and in 2022 raised an incredible $69 million, accounting for more than 60% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue. 100% of every rider-raised dollar from PMC, which features routes from 25 to 211 miles, goes directly to Dana-Farber—and to researchers like Davids.
In fact, Davids’ research on a drug venetoclax, which began in 2011 and was funded in part by PMC philanthropy, contributed to the development of an oral treatment that targets a specific protein crucial for the survival of leukemia cells, while mostly leaving normal cells undamaged. When he observed how venetoclax could kill leukemia cells in under an hour in pre-clinical tests, Davids knew it would be a gamechanger. In 2016, it was approved by the FDA to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common form of leukemia in adults.
Just six days after this exciting FDA approval, Davids found out his own uncle Steve had been diagnosed with the exact same disease.
“I was grateful I had devoted my life to this,” he says, “because now I knew it could help my uncle.
For Steve’s part, he was deeply comforted knowing his nephew was instrumental in developing a treatment he would now benefit from. Steve soon started treatment with venetoclax, and in summer 2021, was deemed cancer-free.
To thank his nephew—and to pay it forward for the next CLL patient—Steve and his daughter Faye joined Davids for PMC 2022, their first ride and Davids’ 12th. The funds they raised through Team Flames, which has raised nearly $10 million since it was formed 20 years ago, will now lay the groundwork for the next clinical trial—and provide hope for the next patient.
“Funding from the PMC allows us to take on the most difficult problems in cancer research here at Dana-Farber,” Davids reflects. “And in addition to the funding, riding the PMC each summer rekindles our fire as researchers and inspires us to continue to work relentlessly to improve outcomes for patients with cancer here and around the world.”
Learn more about the PMC and how you can get involved in the 2023 event, August 5 and 6, at PMC.org.
Help support research like this by joining The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.