Canary was named after the birds coalminers once carried as early detectors of dangerous gases. It’s a fitting name for the world’s first non-profit dedicated solely to early cancer detection. Don and Dr. Hartwell began recruiting scientists for the research teams starting with ovarian cancer. Over the next several years, teams were added for pancreatic, lung, and prostate cancer.
During that time, Don had built a strong relationship with Dr. Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, a world-renowned expert in molecular imaging and now chair of the Radiology Department at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and an early member of the Canary team. While Canary teams were collaborating and innovating virtually, Don and Sam wondered what would happen if world-class scientists had a physical building at a major university, where they could draw on other disciplines and assets from material science to computer science.
After approaching the Dean of the School of Medicine at Stanford University who supported the idea, they talked with President John Hennessey who told them that he wanted the university to work on things that would uniquely differentiate them and have global impact. In 2009, the Canary Center at Stanford was formed.
Now led by Dr. Sam Gambhir, the Canary Center at Stanford is a key part of the Canary Foundation, and is focused on a two-stage diagnostic strategy consisting of blood-based diagnostic tests to identify individuals who are likely to have cancer, combined with molecular imaging to pinpoint and verify a specific cancer type. The Canary Center at Stanford is the first in the world to integrate research in both in vivo and in vitro diagnostics to deliver these tests by housing state of the art core facilities and collaborative research programs in molecular imaging, proteomics, chemistry and bioinformatics.
The Canary Center at Stanford is the model for future early cancer detection centers that will be developed, and along with Hutch, remains a key part of the work of the Canary Foundation.
Today, more than 10 years since its founding, the Canary Foundation is recognized around the world for its groundbreaking work in blood and imaging biomarker discovery, and companies are increasingly looking to collaborate with Canary on bringing new molecular diagnostics to market.
Canary has continued to collaborate with academia and industry including the National Cancer Institute, M.D. Anderson, El Camino Hospital, the BC Cancer Agency, and Genomic Health.
Says Don, “Participating in building the internet was one thing but being a leader who creates a whole new industry and saves lives, that’s quite another. Wouldn’t succeeding at this be a great thing?”
Don hopes to have a going-out-of-business party in 15 or more years when he sees global, self-sustaining centers building the next generation of technology and products, taking over the work that the Canary Foundation began.
Even better, maybe by then, and if Don gets his way, cancer’s time would have come, and gone.