Lazarex Foundation saves lives

Liz McIntyre has stage-four pancreatic cancer, but thanks to the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Lazarex Cancer Foundation, she is continuing to fight her battle.

As part of her treatment, McIntyre participated in FDA clinical trials hosted at Norris on March 28 and 29, trials she wouldn’t have been able to do had it not been for research and funding provided through Lazarex.

Dana Dornsife established the foundation in 2006 after clinical trials allowed her brother-in-law Mike to live far beyond what doctors originally told him. Dornsife, who together with her husband David is the namesake of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, wanted to give other cancer patients the same opportunity as Mike and started Lazarex to do it. Its name combines Lazarus, the man in the Bible who came back to life, and the name of an experimental drug that first helped Mike extend his life.

The foundation is a nonprofit that links cancer patients in late stages with clinical trials around the country and pays for their travel and lodging costs so they are able to participate.

“It is so morally and fundamentally wrong that these people who were just as loved by their family members were not going to be able to have the opportunity that Mike had because of the size of their checkbook,” Dornsife told the Daily Trojan in an interview last fall.

McIntyre is the latest beneficiary of an effort that has so far greatly exceeded Dornsife’s initial expectations. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, and since there is no test to detect it early on, most people are already in stage four when diagnosed. McIntyre thought she had lost hope until she found Lazarex.

“People take it as, ‘when I got the news it’s a death sentence,’” she said. “Not for me — I’m going to fight as hard as I can. We’ve had good people and good treatment, including Lazarex that have come into our lives.”

Amid McIntyre’s battle, her husband Eric got a unique idea for how to help his wife’s cause.

“I was just lying in bed thinking about things about a year and a half ago, and this thought came to me about riding a bike around the perimeter of the country,” he told the Daily Trojan.

After Eric spoke with Lazarex, the foundation contacted a physician to review McIntyre’s case, which let to her inclusion in clinical trials at USC; Eric began planning his historic bike ride with support from Lazarex.

His trip will span 110 days, cover 7,200 miles and take him through 18 states. Eric will stop in cities along the way to speak, spread awareness about pancreatic cancer and raise money for Lazarex. After planning and training for a year, Eric will begin his ride on April 19 in New Orleans, where he and Liz live. The ride will take them west to California, north to Washington, east to Minneapolis and south back to New Orleans. McIntyre will be by his side driving a support and gear, in cycling parlance SAG car, for as long as her treatment will allow.

Eric calls the bike ride a “victory tour” because of the role clinical trials have played in extending Liz’s life.

“The person I’m doing it for, the love of my life, is alive. This is a trip of appreciation and joy and blessing,” he said. “I think we should celebrate that and use it as a springboard for raising awareness and money at a time when money can do a lot of good.”

The McIntyres visited the USC Norris Cancer Center over the weekend to lay the groundwork for Liz’s participation in an FDA clinical trial arranged by Lazarex that holds the potential to extend McIntyre’s life. They decided to delay the start of the tour, which will come through Los Angeles in early June, because they wanted to go through the clinical trial and the tour as a couple.

Remarkably, McIntyre has lived for two years since her diagnosis — 75 percent of patients die within the first year — thanks in part to clinical trials.

Dornsife said more must be done to publicize the importance of clinical trails for developing effective cancer treatments.

“Every drug that we have available today is available as a result of completing a successful clinical trial,” she said. “Unless we are able to enroll and engage patients and complete that research loop by successful completing a clinical trial, we’re not going to get new drugs, treatments or cures on the market place.”

The McIntyres praised the rapid pace of innovation in cancer treatment, particularly the role that clinical trials have played.

“Five to 10 years ago, there wouldn’t be any choices,” Eric said.

Ultimately, Liz McIntyre hopes the drive to further cancer treatment will be just like her husband’s motivation to travel around the country: one that never stops pedaling.

“I hope this victory tour and what I’ve been going through will do for pancreatic cancer what Susan G. Komen did for breast cancer awareness,” she said. “I think we are on the brink of some breakthrough technology that will help people like me and others.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Eric McIntyre set up Liz McIntyre with clinical trials at USC and that Lazarex planned his bike ride. Lazarex actually contacted a physician to enter Liz in clinical trials, and Eric planned the bike ride with support from Lazarex. The Daily Trojan regrets the errors.