Comprehensive Cancer Center

Numerous Cancer Center researchers have made NCRC their home. The facility brings together world-class scientists and physicians with diverse interests across the spectrum of cancer research. A recent addition is the newly-founded Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery.

The Forbes Institute was established in June 2016, thanks to a generous $17.5 million gift from Sidney and Madeline Forbes, longtime Detroit-area philanthropists and dedicated friends of the University of Michigan. Serving at the crossroads of scientific innovation, business and philanthropy, the Institute will be the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s engine for high-risk, high-reward projects. The Institute will move rapidly to develop innovative technology and new therapies, advancing them from the laboratory concept to the clinic as quickly as possible, and its impact will be felt worldwide.

The director of the Institute is Max S. Wicha, M.D., Madeline and Sidney Forbes Professor of Oncology, and founding director emeritus of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. His lab was part of the team that first discovered stem cells in breast cancer, the first described in any human solid tumor; since then, Dr. Wicha has become one of the leading experts on cancer stem cells. He is also active as a clinician, specializing in the treatment of breast cancer patients.

“The greatest discoveries come from crossing the boundaries between the established disciplines,” says Dr. Wicha. “The Forbes Institute supports teams of investigators from across the university: the engineering school, the school of pharmacy, the school of public health, the business school, the law school and the medical school.”

A New Hope

Engaging physicians, engineers, chemists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and even physicists, among others, the Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery will begin with a focus on the Cancer Center’s proven strengths in:

  • Personalized molecular therapeutics
  • Cancer stem cell research
  • Bioengineering
  • Immunotherapy

For many of the 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year, the Institute will offer new hope.

As part of the NCRC, the Forbes Institute enables faculty partners from different schools and colleges to work side by side on their shared quest to conquer cancer. Scientists and engineers also will work with the Medical School’s Fast Forward initiative, the Business Engagement Center, the Ross School of Business and U-M Tech Transfer to patent new technologies and spin off biotechnology companies that will likely be based in Southeastern Michigan. This accelerated effort will not only invigorate the economy, spearhead new industries and fuel continued investment in research, it will also ensure patients gain greater access to approaches that will help them overcome their disease.

By providing bold, cross-departmental funding opportunities, the Institute fuels game-changing initiatives that drive breakthroughs in the latest areas of cancer research. This strategy sparks advances far beyond what we would expect through the incremental funding offered by government agencies and pharmaceutical companies, which often focuses on improving familiar approaches with periods of waiting between grants.

The Institute will share expertise and capital resources with research enterprises throughout the Cancer Center; the Medical School; and the other schools, colleges and institutes, amplifying the entire U-M focus on conquering cancer. The Institute will truly capitalize on the breadth and depth of expertise across the university, a unique strength that cannot readily be matched by freestanding cancer centers.

In March 2017, the Forbes Institute announced its first round of grant recipients. Four grants, totaling $500K, were awarded to research teams, each of which represent multiple U-M schools:

  • James Moon, Ph.D., John Gideon Searle Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, was awarded $200,000 for “Towards precision cancer immunotherapy.” Moon says, “The Forbes Institute will provide critical support for generating pre-clinical data that will examine this new idea and may promote bench to bedside clinical translation in personalized cancer immunotherapy.”
  • Nouri Neamati, Ph.D., the John G. Searle Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the College of Pharmacy, was awarded $200,000 for “Discovery of next-generation therapeutics through machine learning techniques.” The team includes Mats Ljungman, Ph.D., Duxin Sun, Ph.D., and Vaibhav Sahai, M.D.
  • Judy Leopold, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor at the Medical School and Co-Director, Experimental Therapeutics Program, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Carol Fierke, Ph.D.,  Jerome and Isabella Karle Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Biological Chemistry in the Medical School, were awarded $50,000 for “Drugging the Undruggable: Design of Novel KRAS Inhibitors by Dual Targeting of the Effector and Allosteric Binding Sites.”
  • Lonnie D. Shea, Ph.D., William and Valerie Hall Chair and Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Jacqueline S. Jeruss, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Surgery, Medical School, and Director, Breast Care Center, were awarded $50,000 for “A synthetic pre-metastatic niche for early metastasis detection.” Shea’s team has developed an implant that captures early metastatic cells, and the combination of these implants for early detection combined with an early intervention can improve outcomes. According to Shea, “The Forbes fund provides the seed to take the basic technology of the implant and develop a novel early diagnostic, which may ultimately enable a molecular staging of metastatic disease.”


During this inaugural year of the Forbes Institute, a second round of grants will be awarded in Fall 2017.

The opportunity that NCRC provides interdisciplinary innovators to collaborate and tackle the complex problem of cancer–with a laser-sharp focus on saving lives–is unparalleled. By pooling ideas and knowledge, and looking at cancer from different angles, the Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery and the Cancer Center at NCRC will substantially accelerate discovery, and impact the way many types of cancer are treated within our lifetime.

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