Russ Agrusa met his wife, Paula, doing laundry in the basement of a residence hall at the University of Buffalo. He invited her for a homemade lasagna dinner with fresh bread he had baked, and by the spring of Paula’s senior year, they were married.
Ever the risk-takers, Russ and Paula employed their entrepreneurial spirit together for over 30 years to create an international software company, ICONICS, with hundreds of employees and offices in 30 countries.
And then in 2012, Paula was diagnosed with colon cancer, although she was only in her early 50s.
“We bet that if anyone could find something that would help Paula and others with colon cancer, it would be the team at Dana-Farber,” says Russ. Recognizing the potential of immunotherapies—successfully implemented for other forms of cancer—the couple established the Project P Fund at Dana-Farber to support innovative research into immunotherapies for colorectal cancer.
After a courageous five-year battle, Paula died on February 7th, 2016, and Russ vowed to honor her legacy by continuing to support the Project P Fund.
He recently pledged an additional $4 million as part of The Dana-Farber Campaign to fund a multidisciplinary team led by Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH, director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center and director of clinical research in the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center (GCC); Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, FASCO, the Douglas Woodruff Chair in Colorectal Cancer Research; and Marios Giannakis, MD, PhD, a laboratory investigator in the GCC. Meyerhardt and Ng also serve as co-directors of the Colon and Rectal Cancer Center.
With this generous funding, the Dana-Farber team will expand their research efforts by studying the microbiome of colorectal cancer patients and its effect on a patient’s response to therapy—particularly immunotherapy; exploring how CAR T-cell therapies and other personalized vaccine approaches can be made effective for patients with colorectal cancer; and conducting immunogenomic and single-cell sequencing studies to develop methods of overcoming drug resistance.
“After Paula’s diagnosis, and the amazing care given by the staff of Dana-Farber, we were inspired by the dedication and talent of those helping others with colon cancer,” said Russ. “I believe that the research dollar goes farther at Dana-Farber than at any other institution in the world. I have seen many amazing scientific publications and I can’t wait to see all of the new discoveries that are made by this distinguished team at Dana-Farber.”