Special Message

Director Dr. Tom Loughran shares his gratitude for recent accomplishments made possible by the Cancer Center’s faculty, staff, trainees, and supporters.

Dear friends,  

I’m delighted to share recent highlights from the University of Virginia Comprehensive Cancer Center (UVACCC). These achievements, some of which are detailed in this issue of Investing in Hope, are just a few of the many reasons to be thankful for and celebrate the invaluable generosity of dedicated donors and volunteers like you. Your support is UVACCC’s backbone and empowers our 200 researchers from 25 academic departments to battle cancer in communities across the commonwealth and beyond.  

      Our clinical cancer network is growing, and with it, our capacity to provide compassionate care and the most advanced treatments—many pioneered by UVACCC’s scientists—to an increasing number of patients in Virginia and surrounding regions. Dr. Michael E. Williams oversaw much of this growth in the last few years as UVACCC’s associate director for clinical affairs and UVA Health’s oncology service line physician lead. Dr. Williams stepped down from these positions in February. We are deeply grateful for his exceptional leadership and look forward to his continuing contributions as a cancer clinician-scientist, teacher, and mentor. We are also thrilled that Dr. Leigh Cantrell was selected to succeed Dr. Williams after a nationwide search. Dr. Cantrell brings a breadth and depth of experience to her new position. She will concentrate on clinical innovation, service line expansion, and championing the highest quality patient care.  

      Patients are at the heart of everything we do. That’s why we were honored to have our patient-centered nurse navigator program recognized by a representative of the White House’s Cancer Moonshot initiative during a visit in March. As you’ll read in this issue, our nurse navigators guide patients and their families through every step of their cancer journey, from diagnosis to survivorship. Increasing access to patient navigation services like these is a top priority for our organization. 

      The importance of cancer patient support services is beautifully illustrated in the story told in this issue by UVA alum and donor Mike Turner. We are incredibly grateful for Mike’s generosity, for elevating the work of patient support leaders like Christi Sheffield, and for sharing his wife’s cancer journey with our Investing in Hope readers. You’ll also find the Jessup family’s story and support of lung cancer research and patients inspiring.

      In the February webinar ‘Hope in the Fight Against Blood Cancers,’ our Division of Hematology and Oncology faculty detailed how UVACCC is at the forefront of studying and treating leukemias, lymphomas, and myelomas, including the rarest and most complex (orphan) types of these diseases, through UVA’s pioneering Translational Orphan Blood Cancer Research Initiative (TOBCRI). The TOBCRI, launched in 2022 with the support of visionary donors, has already generated six new drugs that could be available to patients in fewer than two years, and additional medicines are in the research and development pipeline.  

      Many of these new treatments leverage leading-edge nanotechnology—using tiny nanostructures to improve the delivery and efficacy of precision-targeted drugs, gene therapies, and immunotherapies. Building on our research strengths in cancer nanomedicines, gene therapies, and immunotherapies is one way the new Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology will transform UVACCC’s pioneering work. The University began constructing this new state-of-the-art biotech research and manufacturing facility in December. The Manning Institute will be the heart of a new biotech ecosystem in Charlottesville and the Commonwealth of Virginia, facilitating industry and University partnerships and establishing a robust statewide clinical trials network.   

      This year, thanks in part to the philanthropic support of UVACCC’s discretionary Director’s Fund, we launched the Accelerating Innovation Fund to boost the translational pipeline, committing $1 million annually to fund projects designed to convert scientific insights into tangible benefits for patients. These projects include developing new therapies, improving diagnostics and screening technologies, creating digital interventions, and enhancing patient care practices.  

      Recently, Dr. Matthew Reilley, associate professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, enrolled the first patient in a nationwide phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate a new immunotherapy drug’s potential to treat various forms of cancer. A phase 1 clinical trial—often the first testing of a new drug in humans—is a critical, resource-intensive step in the translational research pipeline. UVACCC has had phase 1 trials in the past; however, in 2022, we established a dedicated phase 1 program under Dr. Reilley’s direction to rapidly scale up our capacity. As we expand clinical cancer services throughout Virginia, having the resources to run more phase 1 trials will be critical in our efforts to save and extend more patients’ lives. 

      None of these achievements would be possible without your support. In this spring 2024 issue of Investing in Hope, I hope you enjoy reading about the incredible difference your generosity makes. On behalf of UVACCC’s cancer researchers, clinicians, and staff, thank you for joining us as we work to defeat cancer and build a brighter future for our communities, friends, and loved ones.  


Warm regards, 


Thomas P. Loughran Jr., MD
Director, UVA Comprehensive Cancer Center