While it’s best known for its signature Bike to Cure weekend, which happens every summer, VeloSano is actually a community-driven fundraising program with numerous initiatives. It has raised more than $21 million throughout the course of six years. That amount of money is exceptional given the relatively brief lifespan of VeloSano’s fundraising efforts.
Recently, doctors and scientists took time to host the donors, riders, philanthropists and other “big wheels” that make the program possible.
It turns out that the money raised by VeloSano (Latin for “swift cure”) goes a lot further than one might think. Doctors and scientists use the funds to leverage research grants. In its first five years, VeloSano has supported 125 cancer research projects, and the $5 million raised in VeloSano’s first two years generated an additional $14 million in external research grants — more than 280 percent in return.
The explanation of how this multiplier effect impacts research took center stage at VeloSano’s Beyond the Microscope event at the InterContinental Hotel Cleveland, located in the middle of Cleveland Clinic’s campus.
Dale Shepard, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, is the director of Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute Phase 1 and Sarcoma programs. He’s also the co-medical chair of VeloSano and has been a rider for five years. “I’ve been peripherally involved from the beginning, but have only been serving as director for about a year,” Shepard says. “This whole program was started by Stewart A. Kohl about six years ago.”
Bike to Cure has grown steadily throughout the years. Last summer, 2,400 riders from 36 states, Canada and Great Britain pedaled nearly 100,000 miles supported by more than 1,000 volunteers. An additional 443 people from 22 states, Canada, Great Britain, India and Mexico participated as virtual riders. In total, Bike to Cure participants received more than 27,000 donations.
“The Bike to Cure weekend is just one of our events,” says Shepard. “One of our others is something called VeloSano Kids, which this year included eight community trike and bike events, where children rode within their communities to raise funds for pediatric cancer research.
“It teaches kids two things: the value of fundraising and helping others,” says Shepard. “I selfishly hope they will be adult riders when they grow up.”
The amount VeloSano Kids raised is not exactly child’s play. It amounted to more than $365,000, a substantial part of more than $4.7 million raised by VeloSano last year. That total will be allocated to cancer research projects across Cleveland Clinic’s enterprise via VeloSano Pilot and Impact Awards.
“Pilot Awards are competitive awards that are peer-reviewed and are generally used to answer a specific question or problem, such as the resistance of chemotherapy in glioblastoma cells,” Shepard explains, “while the Impact Awards tend to be about an issue that is more problematic, such as Seth’s [Rotz] research on issues related to fertility preservation in pediatric and young adult cancer patients.”
Rotz was one of four doctors and scientists who participated in a panel chaired by Shepard during the event. The others included: Hannelore Heemers, Ph.D.; Justin Lathia, Ph.D.; and Jacob Scott, M.D., DPhil. Each of the four discussed their specific Impact or Pilot Award.
“A lot of people don’t realize just how hard it is to get research dollars,” says Shepard. “Unfortunately, a lot of people doing basic research spend an inordinate amount of time just trying to get the money to do the work. These awards allow us to get the money to free up people to actually get work done, which makes it easier for us to get those additional monies. With one grant, you can really sustain a program of research.”
That makes it easier for scientists and doctors to publish studies, which in turn generates further studies while sharing knowledge throughout the medical community worldwide.
In addition to its fundraising events, VeloSano has raised significant funds through its partners, which include: the Stewart Kohl Fund, Cleveland Indians, Adcom, Jones Day, Lexus, Zack Bruell Events, Advance Ohio, Amgen, DiGeronimo Companies, Hileman Group, House of LaRose/Michelob Ultra, KeyBank and the Lerner Foundation.
VeloSano 7 Bike to Cure weekend is slated for July 17 to 19 and will be chaired by Paul Dolan, chairman and CEO of the Cleveland Indians, and John Saada, partner at Jones Day.