Shortly after his son, Andrew, died from a rare form of muscle cancer just before his third birthday in 1994, Dover resident James Weinberg approached Dr. Holcombe Grier of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to see what could be done to help make it so fewer parents would endure the pain that he had.
Weinberg, a scientist with training in the biology and chemistry realms, knew from his science background and as a parent who had been dealing with several pediatric oncologists that there had been a lack of advancement over the past 50+ years in pediatric cancer medications. In fact, over a 58-year period, only 19 new anti-cancer drugs that have been developed to address childhood cancer have received FDA approval for use in the United States.
The idea they came up with was a symposium in which researchers from all over could come together and share their ideas so that they could potentially inspire each other into developing new concepts in pediatric cancer research and treatment.
The Andrew H. Weinberg Pediatric-Chemotherapy Drug Development Symposium has been going on for 16 years now, and each year they get some top-notch attendees to hear a world-renowned pediatric cancer researcher speak.
“The annual symposium brings together a broad array of physicians, researchers, academicians, with one focus – the development of new therapies and approaches for the treatment of pediatric cancer,” Weinberg said.
The keynote speakers over the years have been some of the most well-known oncologists and researchers in their field from across the country. In fact, the only time someone gave the keynote lecture who was not a doctor was in 2006, when Senator Edward M. Kennedy spoke.
“It’s become very prestigious,” Weinberg said when asked about all the incredible speakers they’re able to get. “I have a great committee from Dana-Farber and Beth Israel. After a couple of years a lot of people saw who was speaking and I think they also wanted to speak.”
One thing Weinberg does every year, along with some of his friends and family members, is take part in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. As the leader of Team Andrew Weinberg Memorial Fund, he has been able to raise close to $100,000 over the past 19 years.
The walk, which he will be participating in once again this Sunday, involves over 9,000 total walkers who follow different paths based on distance, including one route that is identical to the Boston Marathon.
The money Weinberg’s team raises goes to help the Andrew H. Weinberg Symposium. Last year’s lecture was given by Dr. James Downey, Deputy Director and Scientific Director of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is leading an unprecedented effort at his hospital to identify genetic origins of childhood cancers.
“It’s incredible what St. Jude is doing with that project,” Weinberg said. “It’s a long haul. I’m a realist. We’ll see improvements, but we’re not there yet.”
Weinberg is still hoping to raise at least a couple of thousand more dollars before the walk on Sunday. If you would like to donate, you can do so by going to the Team Andrew Weinberg Fundraising Page.
“If we are able to get one good idea formulated or help develop any scientific collaboration on this subject that can help lead to a cure, the symposium would be judged a success,” Weinberg said.