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IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center to establish new lung cancer research center with $20M gift

Julie Wood’s gift will support discovery of life-saving solutions for No. 1 cancer killer

For Immediate Release Mar 19, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center will expand its lung cancer research through a transformative $20 million gift that will advance discoveries related to lung cancer prevention, detection and treatment and establish the Tom and Julie Wood Center for Lung Cancer Research.

Tom and Julie Wood The gift from Julie Wood honors her late husband, Tom Wood. Photo courtesy of Julie Wood

The gift from Julie Wood honors her late husband, Tom Wood, the well-known Indianapolis auto executive who died in 2010. The Wood family has given more than $28 million to IU cancer research and care, placing them among the four largest donors to the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. The center is the central hub for cancer research and education across IU.

“Tom and I believed that to whom much is given, much will be required,” Julie Wood said. “We have a responsibility to give back to Hoosiers who have supported our business for nearly 60 years. When Tom was facing lung cancer, we were so grateful that for three and a half years, every time one treatment stopped working, research had evolved and something new was available that gave us more precious time together. We are creating this research center to give that same hope to others. We don’t want other families to suffer because of lung cancer.”

IU researchers are working to improve prevention efforts, detect lung cancer earlier and develop personalized therapy to improve the standard of care for lung cancer. The newly established center will expand research efforts to understand the complexities of lung cancer at a cellular level, develop innovative lung cancer drugs, support early-phase clinical trials for IU-developed treatments and expand the lung cancer precision genomics program.

The gift includes the creation of a new $11 million research fund that will allow the center’s leadership team to make investments to accelerate discoveries of lung cancer treatments and therapies.

Another $7 million in endowed funding will be directed to recruit additional lung cancer researchers and an executive leadership team for the Tom and Julie Wood Center for Lung Cancer Research. This includes an endowed senior chair and director for the center plus two endowed chairs to recruit additional lung cancer research experts.

Finally, $2 million will support End Lung Cancer Now. The initiative focuses on four areas: preventing lung cancer through tobacco education and cessation; advocating for patients to participate in lung cancer clinical trials; supporting those who currently have lung cancer; and expanding lung cancer screening.

“With her visionary gift, Julie Wood will equip our faculty and researchers to deepen Indiana University’s trailblazing fight against lung cancer,” IU President Pamela Whitten. “Her generosity will reinforce IU’s role as a champion for life-saving treatments and breakthrough therapies that can help end cancer for Hoosiers everywhere.”

This expanded research builds on other cancer center innovations funded by the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation, including a mobile lung cancer screening program supported by a $4.5 million gift to the cancer center and IU Health. The mobile program, the only one of its kind in Indiana, is expected to screen its first patient in 2025.

Screening with low-dose CT scans finds otherwise undetectable early-stage lung cancers and reduces mortality rates by at least 20 percent. Screenings are painless and take only a few minutes. In Indiana, only 5 percent of those at high risk were screened, according to 2023 data from the American Lung Association.

Previous gifts from the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation also established two endowed professorships. John Turchi, who was named the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation Professor of Lung Cancer Research in 2011, is developing a novel therapy to treat lung cancer. Dr. Nasser Hanna has served as the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation Professor in Lung Cancer Clinical Research since the position was endowed in 2018. In addition to clinical research and clinical trial development, Hanna is the founder of End Lung Cancer Now.

“Here at IU, we believe research cures cancer, and we are exceptionally grateful that Julie Wood believes that, too,” said Dr. Kelvin Lee, director of the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer-related death for Hoosiers, and research is the key to offering patients hope. The Tom and Julie Wood Center for Lung Cancer Research will allow us to continue our work focused on unraveling this disease.”

Lung cancer kills more people than colorectal, breast and prostate cancer — the second-, third- and fourth-leading cancer killers — combined. Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death.

What they’re saying

“This remarkable gift from Julie Wood will accelerate our work at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center to effectively treat and prevent this leading cause of cancer deaths. We are tremendously grateful for this visionary generosity.” — Dr. Jay L. Hess, dean of IU School of Medicine and IU executive vice president of university clinical affairs

“The impact Julie Wood and her family will make on the most lethal cancer affecting Hoosiers cannot be overstated. Their generosity over nearly two decades has allowed us to recruit and retain key researchers, ensuring patients have access to cutting-edge care and critically important clinical trials right here in our state. Their gift to create a statewide mobile lung cancer screening program will help us catch this disease in its earliest and most treatable stages and will undoubtedly save the lives of Hoosiers. And now the creation of the Tom and Julie Wood Center for Lung Cancer Research will allow us to significantly expand and grow our research. I am deeply grateful for the Wood family’s vision and trust in the IU team.” — Dr. Lawrence H. Einhorn, IU Distinguished Professor and Livestrong Foundation Professor of Oncology

About Tom Wood

Tom Wood, a Michigan native, graduate of Western Michigan University and veteran of the United States Army, began his business career as a used car salesman in Michigan. Eventually, he moved to Indianapolis to enter the new car business, which expanded greatly over the years. Wood was owner and CEO of Tom Wood Automotive Group. He was recognized by Time magazine for his community and philanthropic work, including his support of the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

In 2006, Wood was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Initially, a doctor told him there was nothing more to be done but keep him comfortable. But at IU, his physician, Dr. Lawrence H. Einhorn, told the family he believed Wood was strong enough to fight the disease. Research provided options — and hope — for Wood and his family.

After his death in 2010, Tom’s wife of 51 years, Julie Davis Wood, established the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation to memorialize Tom, who was a beloved husband, father and grandfather.

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