$25M donation a boost to new research arm at Norris Cotton Cancer Center

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2022 9:56:01 PM
Modified: 1/19/2022 9:54:56 PM

LEBANON — Dorothy Byrne, one of the Upper Valley’s most prolific philanthropists, has given $25 million to Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health to launch a new research institute at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, the institutions announced Wednesday.

Byrne’s donation is the lead gift of a $50 million campaign to create the Byrne Family Cancer Research Institute, which will be focused on accelerating the translation of research to prevent and cure cancer, boost survivorship and promote equity, according to a news release.

“It really is exciting,” Dr. Steven Leach, the cancer center’s director, said in an interview.

The gift is one of the first and the largest that has ever been given jointly to the two institutions, Leach said. As such, it aims to knit the two organizations even closer together than they are already.

The cancer center is supported both by Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and by D-HH, the Lebanon-based health system that includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Leach said he came to Norris Cotton because it was so integrated within both the college and the health system, and the new institute formalizes that integration and will allow the cancer center to recruit faculty to serve as “bridges” between the two organizations. Doing so aims to expand access to clinical trials and bring discoveries made in the laboratory to patients, he said.

“We know that cancer patients who participate in clinical trials do, on the whole, better than average,” he said.

Expanding such access is especially important for rural communities, where patients, on average, have worse outcomes with cancer and where the death rates due to cancer haven’t budged since the 1970s, Leach said.

The vision outlined on the cancer center’s website states that within a decade, the new institute will reduce the percentage of people in the region who die from cancer. In addition, at least one “revolutionary” treatment for cancer developed at Norris Cotton will enter clinical trials. Leach said he thought that was a reasonable goal within the next five years.

The new institute aims to expand access to immunotherapies and to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer using precision medicine, which creates a customized approach for each patient. The institute also is slated to expand the cancer center’s work in the biotech field by supporting research teams to bring innovations to market.

The center aims to become one of the top three entrepreneurial cancer centers in the country. It is currently No. 6, as measured by the number of biotech startups that have gotten their start there, Leach said.

“That’s the way that we bring Dartmouth discoveries to the world,” Leach said of entrepreneurship.

Half of the $50 million goal is slated to support recruiting and retaining new scientists, acquiring equipment and training for Geisel students and faculty. The other half is earmarked for clinical trials and innovations.

This $25 million gift, the largest ever received jointly by Dartmouth and D-HH, is not Byrne’s first gift to the cancer center. Etna residents Dorothy Byrne and her late husband, the insurance industry executive John J. (Jack) Byrne, established their foundation in 1999 to focus on supporting cancer research, the Dartmouth College community and general philanthropy in the Upper Valley.

The Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation has already given more than $12 million to the cancer center over the years. The foundation gave $10 million in 2014 toward the creation of the Jack Byrne Center for Palliative & Hospice Care and annually contributes matching dollars to increase the amount of money raised through The Prouty, the cancer center’s annual fundraiser.

“I have admired Steve Leach and his work since I met him, and I know that he and his fellow scientists will endeavor to strive for new cancer research initiatives in the years ahead,” Byrne said in Wednesday’s release. “I look forward to seeing that happen.”

For his part, Leach said he and others at the cancer center feel “deep, deep gratitude” toward Byrne.

“Few people have done as much good in their life as Mrs. Byrne,” he said.

The $50 million goal, which will require that other philanthropists step up, is half what the college initially said it was seeking in 2018 for the cancer center as part of the college’s broader $3 billion Call to Lead campaign.

At the time the $100 million figure was to include a “transformative naming gift.” But Leach said that figure was an earlier number and that the $50 million target has been the goal since the campaign was “finalized.”

Byrne’s gift has put Geisel close to achieving its goal of raising $207 million for the medical school as part of the college’s Call to Lead campaign, Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said.

“As we approach our fundraising goal, we appreciate our donors’ continuing support of Geisel’s mission and all of our campaign priorities,” she said.

Leach called Byrne’s gift and all the cancer center hopes to accomplish with it “humbling and inspiring.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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