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Hutch Award merits broader support, including MLB

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The award honoring the memory of the Major League Baseball star and manager for whom the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is named has been presented for more than half century, but it has yet to gain the visibility traction that would put it on the prestige pedestal that it’s supporters think it merits.

To students of baseball lore, the name Fred Hutchinson brings to mind a Seattle kid who became a star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, went on to manage three big league teams, including guiding the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 World Series, but succumbed to cancer in 1964 at the age of 45.

But to those afflicted by the disease that claimed his life, his name on the renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, created in 1975 by his brother, Dr. William Hutchinson, to honor his memory, has conveyed hope.

A year after Hutch’s death, three Midwest sports media admirers who saw him in action created an award to honor his memory, and ever since then The Hutch Award has been presented to a Major League Baseball player who exemplified the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.

For years the award was given out annually in New York, starting with a flourish as the first honorees were New York Yankee legend Mickey Mantle and Dodger pitching great Sandy Koufax. But it was an event far from Seattle and wasn’t a fund raiser until, in 1999, it was brought back to Seattle and was moved to Safeco Field a year later.

But despite the fact the Seattle Mariners are a sponsor and, for the past 16 years, have hosted the annual luncheon where the award is presented at Safeco Field, attracting about 1,000 attendees and raising about a half-million dollars a year for The Hutch, it has not yet achieved the success its supporters think it could and should.

The missing link to bring the award to a visibility level equal to the prestige of The Hutch itself is viewed as active support from Major League Baseball.

And a new push to achieve higher visibility and broader support, including from Major League Baseball, is under way by officials of The Hutch as well as those who have long been involved in this event.

“We hope to take this prestigious award onto a national stage to increase the support and awareness around our world-class science at the Fred Hutch,” said Justin R. Marquart Deputy Director of Development at The Hutch. He was quick to note that local sponsors like the Mariners and Alaska Airlines have provided key support but that what direct involvement from Major League Baseball would mean is national sponsors.

Organized effort to gain visibility for what it is and what it does has not been part of the strategy for The Hutch as an institution until the last year or so, which is part of the explanation for the fact that this event hasn’t received a lot of media visibility, even locally.

Certainly the achievements of The Hutch’s “stars” have gained attention over the years. Those range from the Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine that have gone to Donnall Thomas in 1990, Dr. Lee Hartwell in 2001 and Dr. Linda Buck in 2004, as well as the major awards across the medical industry to individual researchers. Perhaps the most compelling of advances for which The Hutch is known is the life-changing research of Thomas into bone marrow transplantation.

But research into cancer and related diseases has come to require huge amounts of money and the quest to attract those dollars from grants, individuals and events has come to require a visibility strategy and focus matching the research itself at the institutions where research and treatment are carried on.

“It is our goal to eliminate cancer as a cause of human suffering and death through prevention and curative treatments accessible to all patients,” as Marquart put it. And that “accessibility to all” is a major cost driver. Among those is the Hutch School, where patients and family members of those living temporarily in Seattle while being treated at The Hutch have classes, from kindergarten through high school.

The success the award has achieved since returning to Seattle is due to a large extent to the involvement of Jody Lentz, regional sales manager for Mass Mutual, who set up and chaired a committee to oversee planning for the event.

“We had about 25 to 30 people at the event at the hotel the first year and I thought ‘we should make this a fund raiser,’” she recalls.

Her plan included getting a hall of fame player as keynoter each year, and the event has generated attendance of between 1,000 and 1,400 and about $500,000 a year for The Hutch.

Her commitment to the event has stemmed from the fact that both cancer and baseball are part of her life. Husband, Mike, was the highest pick in the baseball draft ever from this state, being the second overall pick as the first choice of the San Diego Padres in 1975.

Her sons Ryan, Richie and Andy were all baseball All-Americans at the University of Washington and Ryan and Richie had careers that included high minor league play and time on the roster of the Major League teams that drafted them.

And she has suffered two cancers, the latest, thyroid, hit her in 2008, as that year’s event was in planning, after she had chaired and overseen the event the previous eight years.

“I just never got involved again,” she told me as we talked about her sense of frustration over the fact “I guess I figured it was time for others to have a chance to guide this event. But I do believe this event could be so much more as a source of funding for The Hutch.”

It was that 2008 event where John Lester, a native of Puyallup and most recently on the mound for the Chicago Cubs in this year’s World Series, was honored after being successfully treated at The Hutch for anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Lentz is convinced that a lack of local visibility for the event is a reason that major local sponsors have not stepped up in major fashion to add value to the funds raised for The Hutch.

The 2017 event, an 11:30 to 1:30 luncheon, will be January 25 at Safeco with Boston Red Sox star Jim Rice as the Hall of Fame keynote speaker. The honoree for 2017 will be announced in the next few days.

Honorees are chosen by a vote of each Major League team to determine which player on the team meets the criteria and those chosen represent the finalists from which the winner is selected. Jamie Moyer is the only Mariner to be selected.

Last year’s honoree was Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals as the event raised just under $550,000, which The Hutch put toward faculty fellowships.

 

 

 

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CTI's Bianco: Controversial and complex CEO

Dr. James (Jim) Bianco, M.D., was an up-from-poverty son of Italian immigrants, just out of medical school in New York, when he was recruited by E. Donnall Thomas to come to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to join its pioneering bone marrow transplantation team. The work of the team would bring Thomas a Nobel Prize for Medicine and launch some team members, including Bianco, on careers pursuing cures for cancer. Bianco has resigned suddenly from the company he founded in 1991 to find a cure for blood-related cancers. During more than a quarter century as chairman and CEO of what is now CTI Biopharma, he became one of the area's most intriguing CEOs, a complex and controversial leader praised by those who experienced his moral and philanthropic support and criticized by others who focused on his high-spending ways. Bianco has just turned 60 and whether he or his board decided it was time for him to leave isn't certain, and really doesn't matter except as fodder for cocktail conversation for those who knew of him, or knew him. Among the latter there's a conviction, summed up by one mutual friend: "He'll be doing something interesting within a year and his interests are so broad, it won't necessarily be in medicine." Bianco's challenges in seeking to find new cancer-fighting innovations and his confrontations with regulators over those drug-focused efforts were well documented over time by local media and wrapped up in a Seattle Times article following his sudden departure on October 2. The headline over The Times' story, "CEO Bianco retires after 25 years running profitless CTI Biopharma," was, for those aware of the long adversarial relationship that existed between him and the media, an amusing final putdown. But the person behind the controversies is always more intriguing to me. So it has been with Bianco, with whom I visited frequently over the years, usually while planning for columns exploring various aspects of Bianco and his involvements, including but beyond his company's business performance. Bianco, who received his B.S. in biology and physics from New York University and his M.D. from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, was high visibility in his business and also highly visible in fund-raising efforts for his special causes, though not in a way to designed to attract personal credit. Those personal causes included the Hope Heart Institute, where he and his wife, Sue, won the Wings of Hope award in 2002 and where he's helped revamp the key fund-raising event, and Gilda's Club, the cancer-support organization whose continued existence was largely due to Bianco's personal support. In addition he was long closely involved in the annual Celebrity Waiter event during the years that the Leukemia Society was the beneficiary of the most successful event of its kind in the country. He was long involved with Gilda's Club, named for the late comedian Gilda Radner, and when I once asked him about that involvement, he explained "Gilda's provides that other kind of Medicine, the kind you can't get in hospitals or clinics but that place where family, kids, friends etc have support. It's a great cause, but because they don't do research they're not sexy so funding in these times is tough. That's why I stay involved. It's in our (CTI's) DNA." Bianco's struggles with media coverage, usually over some aspect of the fact that CTI raised and went through about $1.8 billion without turning a profit in its quest for a successful cancer drug undoubtedly played a role in the wild ride investors went on. The stock price peaked in the mid $80s but spent most of the past decade bouncing between a few dollars a share and a few dimes. As one Bianco supporter put it, "let's just say the media and Jim Bianco don't like each other very much," the tension possibly due in part to the fact Bianco enjoys the perks go with the CEO role and is a competitive kind of guy who doesn't shrink from a fight. The latter isn't surprising given his Bronx upbringing as a second-generation Italian kid in a household shared by up to 20 relatives at a time in an environment where "you were okay as long as you didn't leave the few square blocks of our neighborhood." Then he smiled as he recalled that his bus to high school made its closest stop 10 blocks from his home. "Every day I sprinted to the bus because if you couldn't get there faster than anyone else, you were a statistic." He admits he didn't do very well academically in high school, but by the time he found himself at NYU, he recalls that a major disappointment was the lone "B" he received among his "A's." Bianco had a love of the arts from a young age, an involvement that actually brought him into life-saving contact with his most famous patient and ultimately one of his closest friends. As I wrote in a column a few years ago, the first meeting between Jose Carreras and the young physician who would have a key role in the life-saving treatment for his rare form of leukemia turned out to be a bonding moment for the opera singer and a fan "blown away" at being his doctor. "I was a fellow at The Hutch working with Doctor Thomas when they told me a singer from West Side Story, the opera, was coming in for a transplant and since I was from New York, they thought I might know him," recalled Bianco. "Since I had been a season ticket holder at the Met, I immediately identified him and was blown away that I was going to have the privilege of being his doc," said Bianco. "When he met me he observed 'you're not from here, you dress different!' When I told him I saw him at the Met and I loved his performance of Carmen, we hit it off." That first meeting almost 30 years ago was likely on the minds of both Bianco and Carreras when the famed creator of "The Three Tenors" came to Seattle for a special event at Benaroya Hall. The event, billed as "A celebration of life and friendship," was to celebrate both the 25th anniversary of Carrera's victory over cancer and the 90th birthday of Dottie Thomas, wife of the Nobel-prize-winning doctor. The "private performance" recital for about 500 invitees who paid $250 each to support a research fellowship benefiting the Jose Carreras Research Institute and The Hutch, was sponsored by Bianco's company. "When I learned Dottie was turning 90, coupled with the fact that September, 1987, was the month I admitted Jose to the Hutch for his transplant, there was no better tribute to both of these milestones than to bring Jose back to the U.S. for a celebration," Bianco said.
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Jose Carreras to celebrate anniversary of leukemia victory and a special birthday

The first meeting between Jose Carreras and the young physician who would have a key role in the life-saving treatment for his rare form of leukemia turned out to be a bonding moment for the opera singer and a fan "blown away" at being his doctor.

 

"I was a fellow at The Hutch (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle), working with Dr. (Donnall) Thomas when they told me a singer from West Side Story, the opera, was coming in for a transplant and since I was from New York, they thought I might know him," recalls Dr. James Bianco.

 

"Since I had been a season ticket holder at the Met, I immediately identified him and was blown away that I was going to have the privilege of being his doc," said Bianco, now CEO of Cell Therapeutics (CTI). "When he met me he observed 'you're not from here, you dress different!' When I told him I saw him at the Met and I loved his performance of Carmen, we hit it off."

 

That first meeting a quarter century ago may well be on the minds of both Bianco and Carreras when the famed creator of "The Three Tenors" will be on hand in Seattle next Tuesday for a special event at Benaroya Hall.

 

The event, billed as "A celebration of life and friendship," will celebrate both the 25th anniversary of Carrera's victory over cancer and the 90th birthday of Dottie Thomas, wife of the Nobel-prize-winning doctor who pioneered the leukemia treatment that saved him.

 

The "private performance" recital for about 500 invitees who will pay $250 each to support a research fellowship benefiting the Jose Carreras Research Institute and The Hutch is being sponsored by Bianco's company, which is focused on development of new cancer-fighting therapies.

 

"When I learned Dottie was turning 90 on September 18th, coupled with the fact that September, 1987, was the month I admitted Jose to the Hutch for his transplant, there was no better tribute to both of these milestones than to bring Jose back to the U.S. for a celebration," Bianco said.

 

Bianco was a young associate at The Hutch who had been recruited by Thomas to come to Seattle from New York City as Thomas assembled a team to assist with his new bone marrow transplantation process that would win him a Nobel Prize in 1990.

 

I asked Bianco, who was the "fellow" in charge of Carreras' medical care, day and night, under an attending physician who provided supervisory oversight, to share some details of Carreras' treatment.

 

He recalled that the singer was assigned to an "an experimental treatment protocol" in which he would have to have his own bone marrow treated to remove leukemia cells because there was no match with the marrow of his siblings.

 

"His leukemia was usually uniformly fatal in adults," Bianco noted. "He would receive the highest amount of total body irradiation and chemo that the center ever utilized."

 

Bianco explained that there was concern over whether Carerras' body would be so damaged by the extreme radiation that his stored bone marrow wouldn't be able to regrow and make normal blood cells. So because of that concern, as well as that the high radiation levels would be potentially fatal to his lungs, liver and GI tract, he was put in an ultra-clean bubble environment.

 

Carreras spent approximately 60 days in that isolation environment from start of transplant until his bone marrow recovered normal blood cell-making ability and was infection free.

 

"That day for Jose was on December 23rd 1987," Bianco said. "I remember because that day I didn't gown up but rather just walked into his isolation room and he freaked out that I wasn't 'clean'"

 

"I opened the barrier to the room and told him he was well enough to go out to his apartment with his family," Bianco recalled. "It was a really memorable and special moment for me and for him. That was a really special Christmas."

 

It was three years later that Carreras went on to world fame when he convinced fellow Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti to perform as "The Three Tenors," with the first event at the Roman Colosseum. The performance resulted in the best-selling classical CD in history, some 16 million copies. Mass concerts by the three continued for more than a decade.

 

After he was discharged to return home from Seattle, Carreras established the Jose Carreras Leukemia Research Foundation and invited Bianco to be a board member.

 

"I have participated on the board ever since," Bianco said. And as part of their continuing friendship, when CTI had its 20th anniversary last year, Carerras did a video tribute to the company's research and efforts to improve cancer treatment.

 

Donnall Thomas is now frail and "not doing well," according to Bianco, who describes his mentor as "inspiring, a pioneer, sweet, honest, compassionate visionary who touched the lives of everyone he trained and treated worldwide."

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