ESR road warrior Dr. Joyce Ohm weighs in.
Your fundraising for Empire State Ride has a significant impact on cancer care and treatment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Few know that better than four-time ESR road warrior Joyce Ohm, PhD, Interim Chair of Cancer Genetics and Genomics. Not only is Dr. Ohm out on the road every July with Empire State Ride — fighting hills, weather and fatigue as she bikes from Staten Island to Niagara Falls—but she’s also in the lab at Roswell Park, fighting to find cures for all types of cancer.
We sat down with Dr. Ohm to ask a few questions and learn more about the impact of the funds raised through Empire State Ride.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Roswell Park.
A: I’m a scientist at Roswell Park, so I’m someone who does research for a living. This is what I do, and it’s what I believe in. It is amazing to see riders put a tremendous amount of trust in us — it really is a special, amazing thing to think about. I cannot imagine what it must be like as an oncologist to say to a patient, ‘I don’t have anything else for you.’ As researchers, that’s our job: We’re there to put new tools in the toolbox. The dollars that go to Roswell Park fund that, especially in three key areas.
Q: How has cancer treatment changed over the years?
For 20 years, we had chemotherapy and surgery and radiation. For some patients, that’s all we have still today. But there are new therapies being developed. It’s amazing to watch, just in my short career, how much everything has changed. In fact, we’ve reached a point where we’re really treating individual patients, not cancer as a whole, and that has added years to many patients’ lives.
Q: What are those key areas where the funds go?
A: First, they fund genetic testing and the development of new genetic tests — to help us decide what therapies might work best for our patients and to cover the costs of those tests for people who cannot afford them. The research world is completely different now, and how we treat patients is completely different. Now, we often make decisions about treatment based on genetic markers.
The second place the money goes is to clinical trials. New drugs and new therapies go through a rigorous testing process that takes many years and millions of dollars to get to clinic. We have tons of tools in our toolbox, especially for the more common cancers like breast and lung and colon. But for those rare cancers, like osteosarcomas and pediatric tumors, we don’t have new drugs for patients yet, and we’re working really, really hard to get them. A good chunk of the money raised for ESR goes to fund clinical trials, specifically to help patients who run out of other options. It goes to research teams who are asking cutting-edge questions, who are developing new therapies, who are learning more and more about tumors every day and who are learning how to treat individual patients. All of those dollars really, really pay off.
Then, we bring in federal support, pharmaceutical support and support from outside to really help make those dollars grow. And so, the impact of the dollars raised at Empire State Ride makes a tremendous difference for our patients.
Q: So, what does the future of cancer treatment look like?
A: Immunotherapy, including a really huge area of research at Roswell Park called CAR T-cell therapy, is making tremendous strides for our patients in every disease site that we’ve tested it in. We expect to see impressive changes in the next five to 10 years. There are new targeted therapies every day. So, every time we learn something new about a tumor, we’re able to start to think about ways to treat that and target it. New drugs are in development to achieve that.
Q: How does that all tie back to Empire State Ride?
A: Cancer touches all of us in many, many ways. When you think about what someone with cancer is going through today, you realize that what we struggled with on the road for Empire State Ride is nothing.
But the fundraising is everything, and it’s making a difference.
Q: What does outside support look like?
Statistically, for every dollar that we raise through events like the Empire State Ride, we’re able to match that by $13 from external funding, from federal sources and other places. If every dollar that comes in gets magnified by 13, you can start to imagine the tremendous impact that we can have.
I see riders every day and tell them, ‘Those dollars matter. Those $5, $10, $20 donations are going to turn into cures, and they’re going to save lives.’”
Thinking about joining Dr. Ohm on the road in 2023? Join our mailing list to learn more.