Iris and Matthew Strauss
Iris and Matthew Strauss. Photo: UCSD

A local philanthropic couple has donated $1 million to UC San Diego in support of a clinical trial aimed at developing personalized cancer vaccines that could help patients fight the disease using their own immune systems.

The gift will support a clinical trial led by Dr. Ezra Cohen professor of medicine and associate director for Translational Science at Moores Cancer Center at UCSD Health. Cohen specializes in immunotherapy, a type of treatment that trains a patient’s immune system to fight cancer in a way that does not damage healthy tissue, according to a university statement.

“This is the first time a trial like this has been done. The idea of a personalized vaccine that can be applied to all types of cancer by activating the immune cells is unprecedented,” Cohen said.

Iris and Matthew Strauss, who gifted the $1 million, are all too familiar with the disease and are commited to fighting it.

In 2010, the couple created the Iris and Matthew Strauss Center for Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer after they lost their youngest daughter, Stefanie, to ovarian cancer.

The Strauss center is dedicated to investigating methods of early detection with a goal of increasing survival rates. Based on research at the center, scientists identified six mRNA isoforms (bits of genetic material) produced by ovarian cancer cells, but not normal cells, that are required for an early detection diagnostic of ovarian cancer. The technology, licensed by Isommune, is still in development to be used with a Pap smear for early detection.

Matthew Strauss said that with the latest donation he and his wife want to help launch a new breakthrough.

“We are pleased to support this groundbreaking work and hope that our gift will help our community and the world in understanding and treating cancer better.”