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Historic Cornerstone Gift Creates the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center of The Wistar Institute

November 29, 2022

For more than a century, The Wistar Institute Cancer Center has led many of the major advances in cancer research and treatment. Wistar scientists were among the first to describe genetic abnormalities that are now recognized as the early-stage clues to cancer. Wistar scientists were the pioneers in monoclonal antibodies, paving the way for targeted therapies and immunotherapies that are – in most instances – the most effective cancer treatments.

The progress Wistar scientists have made is foundational to curing cancer but the journey to a cure or vaccine continues. In some instances, targeted drugs yield short-term benefit for patients before the cancer acquires drug resistance and spreads in the body. How exactly the disease achieves this resistance—such as by genetic changes or adapting to the tumor microenvironment—is essential to understanding cancer to ensure we can develop treatments to stop its progression.

To tackle these and other biological mysteries about cancer, Wistar is expanding its capacity for groundbreaking fundamental and translational cancer research within its walls thanks to a $10 million gift from Ellen and Ronald Caplan. The newly named Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center of The Wistar Institute will help forge new avenues for basic and disease-relevant research, recruit 10 new faculty members, and expand our high-end technological capabilities in imaging, single-cell profiling, and structural biology.

One of the top priorities at the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center will be to establish platforms that allow rapid identification of personalized cancer treatment options that can overcome treatment resistance. This goal will require enhanced efforts to link tumor genomic analysis with therapeutic response and the development of laboratory models that mimic patients’ sensitivity to various cancer therapies.

The Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center will also support Wistar’s capacity in computational research. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) enable scientists to understand cancer characteristics, such as likelihood of treatment response and progression, which in turn have started to allow personalized treatments for patients in some cases. But by probing deeper, scientists can better predict how cancers will behave and evolve.

The scale and impact of the Caplan naming gift is unprecedented for Wistar and builds on a foundation the Caplans have made to the Institute. Since 2009, Ronald has served on Wistar’s Board of Trustees. In 2014, he and Ellen donated a 200-seat high-tech auditorium in the Robert and Penny Fox Tower. It is named the Sarah and Matthew Caplan Auditorium for their children, because the couple hopes that cures for cancer will be found in their kids’ lifetime.

The Wistar Institute Cancer Center became the nation’s first National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center dedicated to basic research in 1972. It is among only seven centers in the U.S. to hold this distinction without interruption for a half century. The gift to establish the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center ensures that the critical contributions of Wistar to fundamental and translational cancer research will continue well into the future.