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Trustee Gives $10 Million to Redirect Fight against Prostate Cancer

Shipley Foundation gift will fund research in personalized medicine

Richard C. Shipley

For BU trustee Richard Shipley (Questrom’68,’72), the fight against prostate cancer is personal. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Each year, more than 100,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States undergo a prostatectomy, a surgical procedure that leaves most of them unable to function sexually and many of them incontinent. The majority would live just as long with no treatment at all.

It’s “Dark Ages” medicine, says Richard C. Shipley (Questrom’68,’72), who was diagnosed with prostate cancer 18 months ago and eventually sought out a new, less invasive treatment, called focal laser ablation. The successful technology investor and former CEO wants to see such humane, high-tech treatment become the norm for all men with prostate cancer. To help that happen, the BU trustee is giving the School of Medicine $10.5 million to create a prostate cancer research center on the Medical Campus and a website with information about treatment options.

“There are options, good options, that men don’t hear about,” says Shipley, “and I want to get that message out.”

The Shipley Prostate Cancer Research Center will focus on personalized medicine, finding genomic approaches to better determine which cancers are aggressive and need to be removed or radiated and which can be dealt with less aggressively, eliminating unnecessary treatment with devastating side effects.

“Research can provide a paradigm shift in how we diagnose and treat prostate cancer,” says Avrum Spira, director of the BU/Boston Medical Center Cancer Center. “There is a new, broader vision for what we can accomplish in prostate and other cancers in terms of precision genomic medicine.” Spira (ENG’02), the Alexander Graham Bell Professor in Health Care Entrepreneurship and a MED professor of medicine, pathology, and laboratory medicine and of bioinformatics, is a lung cancer specialist. He created a successful genomic test for early diagnosis of lung cancer, and believes prostate cancer could yield a similar outcome.

When Shipley learned that he had high PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels, which can indicate cancer, he chose to have a closer examination by a powerful 3T magnetic scanner, a procedure that is less invasive than the common course of blind biopsies. Such biopsies take many cores of the prostate without knowing if there are any lesions. And when lesions were found in Shipley’s case, he chose to have them treated with laser ablation, which is far less damaging than a prostatectomy. Shipley, who compares his chosen treatment to lumpectomy versus radical mastectomy for women with breast cancer, learned of these new treatments not from the usual medical sources, he says, but by using “Dr. Google.”

In most cases, says Spira, “we biopsy a prostate, look under the microscope, and unfortunately, we often don’t know what to do next because it’s often a low-grade lesion.” He says it’s almost always impossible to distinguish an “indolent” and essentially harmless form of the cancer from a form that may become aggressive and needs immediate attention.

Such uncertainty leads to overtreatment and damage to quality of life. Although statistics vary widely, and outcomes depend on the surgeon and on surgical technique, anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of men will have erectile problems in the long term after prostatectomy. Urinary incontinence affects a smaller, but still significant number of men.

Shipley hopes that the Shipley Center website, offering accurate, impartial information about alternatives in plain English, will become a resource for patients and a hub for scientific exchange on the disease.

“We are all very excited about this gift, which will catalyze research around determining the optimal treatment for a specific patient,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus.

She says that $1.5 million of the gift, plus a $500,000 contribution from BU, will go toward building the Shipley Center labs in existing space on the Medical Campus. The gift, which comes through the Shipley Foundation, allots $400,000 a year for 15 years to fund research projects, such as developing genetic tests to determine the threat posed by lesions or blood or urine tests to screen high-risk individuals. Antman estimates that, with support staff, the center will comprise 20 to 30 people, and continue to grow as pilot grants lead to additional federal and industry funding.

Shipley’s gift will also create an endowed professorship designated as “at any rank”—full, associate, or assistant professor—to allow BU to choose the candidate most at the forefront of the research. Antman says that researcher could start as early as January 2017.

A community engagement group, with men who are either in a high-risk group or are already diagnosed with prostate cancer, will be organized at the center as well. The group will meet at least quarterly to provide a patient perspective on issues and procedures related to the disease.

Shipley, of Sanibel, Fla., is the founder of Shiprock Capital, a private equity firm investing in early- and expansion-state technology companies. Previously, he was president and CEO of Shipley Company, LLC, a firm founded by his parents in 1957, which became a world leader in electronic materials and
 process technology development.

Prior gifts from Shipley to BU are $2.5 million in 2008 to endow the Richard C. Shipley Professorship in Management at the Questrom School of Business and $4 million in 2013 to endow the Beverly A. Brown Professorship for the Improvement of Urban Health. He is chairman and a founding fellow of the University’s William Fairfield Warren Society.

Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Trustee Gives $10 Million to Redirect Fight against Prostate Cancer

  • Cyborg1939 on 04.21.2016 at 11:33 pm

    Yes. He is so correct. The Rx for Prostate Cancet(s) to this day is in the dark ages. It’s almost a joke. A very tragic joke

  • Charles Cloy on 05.30.2016 at 8:28 pm

    I have asking my urologist for over ten years, “how do you maintain a healthy prostate?” and have not received an answer. Is it possible that an answer can be provided?

  • Wolfster on 06.10.2016 at 7:06 am

    Thank you Mr. Shipley for this amazing donation and for trying to bring more awareness to this disease. I am from the Boston area and was diagnosed last year with PCa and went to leading hospitals in the area but ultimately also learned about Focal Laser Ablation via my own searches on the web. I travelled out of state last year and paid out of pocket for my FLA procedure. The results show the cancer is gone and I have not experienced the side effects of the ‘dark ages’ treatments mentioned in the article. I would be happy to share my history with the team at BU.

  • Jim B. Surjaatmadja, PhD, PE on 07.31.2016 at 8:27 am

    Prof. Avrum Spira, and Mr. Richard Shipley; and to Whom it May Concern in the Boston University.
    Dear All; but most importantly, Prof. Avrum Spira & Mr. Shipley:
    Allow me to introduce myself: I am Jim B. Surjaatmadja, PhD, and I am an inventor, researcher working for Halliburton (I think I am good at it, as I have over 100 patents, and about other 100 in process in the patent office), and obviously I am an avid dreamer (I invent using visual imagery in my brain, for some reasons); and FINALLY, I am a “medical doctor by indirect education”  i.e. my dad, mom, sister and brother in law are all medical doctors, so we talk about medicine every day, lunch, dinner, conversations, until I am so sick of it so I became and engineer (no, I lied on this last one, I just have a hobby in engineering and medical inventing). I also have prostate cancer, hopefully gone, and I “controlled myself” with doctor’s advice or against their advice, did the radical removal and proton therapy treatment. Looking back, I know I should have DONE SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
    Before continuing further, I would thank Mr. Shipley for his generous donations, and wish him good health in the years to come. I also want to wish good luck to the BU Medical community, under Prof Spira, to find better cure for this disease. I also wanted to insure the readers of my letter that this is not for me (as it is too late) but for others in the future. I also do not want to influence the R&D LONG TERM direction, as we do want the total cure. I just want to recommend a “temporary, QUICK WIN” so that a rapid, doable solution can be implemented while a longer solution is in process.
    Let’s start with two statements I often hear 15 years ago: “Prostate cancer (call it PC) is so slow that if found at old age, the guy will die from other causes”, “slow because of the construction of the prostate gland does not allow easy spreading of the cancer”…. Lately however, many have actually died after diagnosis was given, very shocking… My thinking goes therefore:
    a. Do NOT perform biopsies, unless it is done DIRECTLY on the surface of the prostate, and immediately close the entry point using lasers. I think, biopsies, especially going through the colon liner and anything in between it, is a suspect of spreading the cancer, causing rapid death.
    b. My proposed method of “quick win” solution is: Perform PSA test regularly, watch for drastic changes (as done today). Do not biopsy for any reason. If a sudden rapid increase is seen, perform PCA3 test. Since they are different tests, dual positive is a good 90% indication of PC.
    c. When this is found, then immediately perform Proton therapy. (You now understand that I am FOR burning the critters quickly and I definitely like Mr. Shipley’s “Dr Google” laser ablation)… Proton therapy is not invasive, and treats just around the area.
    I think this will provide you with a big QUICK “low hanging fruit” win, which SHOULD BE continued with further in-depth R&D of laser ablation (I like this one, too, wish I thought about that); but most importantly, make sure the critters can not get out of the prostate by any means.
    I wish everyone involved good luck with this endeavor.
    PS. On my case, the medical insurance FORCED me to do the biopsy. I made a deal with the urologist to biopsy, and upon positive findings IMMEDIATELY go for hormone injections and removal of prostate. Of course now I am living the aftermath of the unwanted after-effects…

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