As a member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors (BOV), Vijay Goradia has been a long-time supporter of MD Anderson. But in early 2020, he became a patient as well.
After experiencing lower back pain, Vijay was diagnosed with high-risk kidney cancer, also known as renal cell carcinoma, and was treated with a nephrectomy performed by Jose Karam, M.D. Now three years after surgery, Vijay is doing well and remains cancer-free.
According to the National Institutes of Health, renal cell carcinoma accounted for approximately 79,000 new cancer cases and 14,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2022. While initial treatment with surgery for localized tumors can be curative, about 30% of patients develop metastatic disease, which is currently considered incurable because most of these tumors don’t respond well to available chemotherapies.
Treatment options for patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma have expanded rapidly over the past decade thanks to targeted immunotherapy. However, the most common class of immunotherapies, immune checkpoint inhibitors, benefit only a small portion of patients and can have significant side effects.
Although Vijay remains cancer-free, he’s often thought about the possibility of his cancer returning. He and his doctors considered adjuvant immunotherapy to reduce his chances of recurrence but ultimately decided the risks outweighed the benefits. However, he has remained curious about new treatments being developed at MD Anderson and how they could offer further options and hope to patients like him in the future.
This curiosity, along with Vijay’s lifelong entrepreneurial spirit and involvement on the BOV’s Innovation and Commercialization Committee, led him to learn about Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D.’s pioneering work with natural killer (NK) cells. These NK cells are unique types of tumor-destroying molecules derived from umbilical cord blood donated by new parents.
Rezvani’s Phase I/II study seeks to test the safety, feasibility, persistence and antitumor activity of this emerging line of cellular therapy. By genetically modifying NK cells with chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) designed to bind to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells, the NK cells can be activated to target CD70, a protein present in many cancers, including RCC. These CD70 CAR NK cells can be multiplied in the lab, frozen and stored, and then thawed and transfused into patients to treat cancer without the toxicities typically experienced with other immunotherapies.
While this research is promising, Vijay learned that Rezvani’s CD70 CAR NK study needed further funding to translate her research for humans. The process of securing funding through governmental or pharmaceutical entities could take a long time, impeding Rezvani’s ability to deliver this new, life-saving treatment to the patients who need it now.
Vijay wanted to advance Rezvani’s work so that patients could receive CAR NK therapy as soon as possible, so he and his family donated $10 million through the Vijay and Marie Goradia Charitable Foundation to establish the Goradia Cancer Fund at MD Anderson.
The Goradia Cancer Fund will support the development of emerging cancer therapies, beginning with Rezvani’s study. An initial investment from the Goradia Cancer Fund will jump-start the process of getting these promising treatments tested and approved. Once those approved treatments have gone to market, the revenue will go back into the fund to support more new research and clinical trials.
“MD Anderson has long been a leader in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment, and we are heartened by the institution’s efforts to bring cutting-edge research and innovation to market,” says Sapphira Goradia, Vijay’s daughter and the executive director of the Marie and Vijay Goradia Foundation. “Our foundation is dedicated to expanding access to quality health care, and we hope this investment will support the acceleration of more effective and affordable cancer treatment.”
Vijay hopes his gift will inspire others to support cancer research at MD Anderson. “We’re all hoping for the same end result,” he says. “Making Cancer History®.”