Terry Fox: A legend who transformed cancer research in Canada

For us — and millions of Canadians including school children — Terry Fox is the face of cancer research. His Marathon of Hope, now a 30-year legacy, continues to inspire people here at home and around the world.

Terry’s vision and courage have helped to change and reshape Canada in many ways. Importantly, it transformed cancer research here — establishing a new attitude and threshold regarding what kind of investment was necessary to support cancer research. Through the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC), Terry Fox Foundation funds were allocated to researchers and teams for nearly three decades.

The NCIC was able to provide individual awards worth up to one million dollars to recognize the needs of individual investigators and their team members. This helped to ensure that Canadian investigators would be able to compete on a world stage and came at a time when funding to individual investigators was substantially less. Additionally, the funds were used for very specific needs such as the recruitment and training of medical experts. “These two activities were only possible through the availability of Terry Fox funds and I believe they had a major impact on how health research is supported in Canada,” reflects former NCIC head Dr. Peter Scholefield (assistant executive director (1969-1980) and executive director (1980-1991)).

“The Terry Fox Foundation has always insisted on funding the best research no matter where it was. By insisting on extremely high levels of excellence, they ended up focusing on a limited number of people, but this has led to huge advances in science and some of those are now on the cusp of being translated,” said Dr. Bob Phillips, also formerly with NCIC.

This transformation continues today. The research institute that now bears Terry’s name will play a key role in translating these findings into the clinic. Giving hope. Reducing the pain and suffering. Finding a cure. This is the dream.

Terry’s vision for a world free of cancer is alive in the hearts and minds of the bright, talented researchers, scientists, clinicians, post-doctoral and graduate students and support staff who work every day under his name in cancer laboratories, hospitals, clinics and academic facilities across this country.

More than half a billion dollars — $553 million — has been raised for cancer research by Terry’s Marathon of Hope and The Terry Fox Foundation. Three decades later, we know more about cancer today thanks to biological, molecular and genomic discoveries, and new technologies, tests and treatments made possible with funding from The Terry Fox Foundation. We have better ways to detect, diagnose and treat it. This is helping cancer patients to live, to live longer and with a better quality of life.

Many challenges still remain, but we are making a difference. In this issue (and future ones), we highlight some results:

• The life expectancy for men with advanced prostate cancer is improving
• Scientists have discovered a new mutation that may lead to new treatments for lymphoma
• Today’s health-care imaging tools and techniques are built on Terry Fox-funded research
• Early screening holds great potential for improving survival from lung cancer, the number one cancer killer worldwide
• New selective therapies are being explored to provide treatment that is “personalized”
• Translational research is helping to close the gap between discovery and application
• Terry Fox funding has helped to build the nation’s research capacity
• Young and promising new investigators will ensure Canada continues to lead discovery and innovation both nationally and internationally
• We have built, and continue to build, a critical mass of talent and expertise through team science to address cancer’s many complexities

There is still much for us to do to achieve Terry’s vision. “Thirty years ago, Terry brought people together, inspiring them to achieve more than they can imagine. Today we know that cancer is a huge challenge — perhaps far greater than anyone had imagined — representing more than 100 different diseases.
We are making progress and the future is very promising; much of this is because of Terry Fox,” said Dr. Victor Ling, president and scientific director of The Terry Fox Research Institute, which oversees the Foundation’s research investment portfolio.

“With the continued support of donors, run organizers and volunteers, and this team of world-class researchers, we will meet these challenges head on and, like Terry, we will not quit.”

Terry Fox Research Institute


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