Siteman continues legacy of philanthropic support for cancer research

Fifteen years ago, the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis did not exist.

Today, it is among the most recognized cancer programs in the United States, holding the prestigious designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute and treating more newly diagnosed cancer patients — about 8,500 a year — than all but a handful of U.S. cancer centers.

A critical factor in this rapid evolution is the longstanding support of Alvin Siteman and his wife, Ruth, BS ’75, whose $35 million gift named the cancer center in 1999. Since then, Alvin Siteman has made multiple gifts to the cancer center. In late 2013, he announced a long-term commitment for cancer research that represents the largest philanthropic commitment ever made to benefit patients at the Siteman Cancer Center and beyond.

“We are deeply grateful to Alvin Siteman for this significant commitment,” said Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of Washington University School of Medicine. “His longstanding leadership and generosity has had — and will continue to have — a profound impact on our ability to advance the fight against cancer.”

Siteman, chairman of Site Oil Co., said he is proud to be associated with the cancer center that bears his name.

“The research being conducted at the Siteman Cancer Center is transforming the way the disease is treated,” he said. “Over the years, I have been encouraged by the progress being made by physicians and researchers at the center and inspired by the stories of patients and families whose lives they have changed.”

Timothy Eberlein, MD, the Bixby Professor and Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor at the School of Medicine and director of the Siteman Cancer Center, said, “The Siteman Center has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients and their families. They will forever be grateful to Al and Ruth.”

The Sitemans have a long history of involvement with Washington University. Alvin Siteman, who was awarded an honorary doctor of philosophy degree from Washington University in 2000, is an emeritus member of the Board of Trustees. In 1994, he received the Robert S. Brookings Award for advancing the alliance between the university and the community. His wife is a founding member of the National Council for Arts & Sciences.

Alvin Siteman’s most recent commitment is the latest in a series of important gifts he has made during a period of reduced federal spending for biomedical research. As grant funding has become more difficult to obtain, Siteman’s support will continue to play a critical role in groundbreaking research at the cancer center.

In 2007, his gift of $1 million allowed a team led by Timothy Ley, MD, the Lewis T. and Rosalind B. Apple Chair in Oncology, to complete work on a pioneering project to decode the complete DNA of a patient’s cancer. This achievement marked the first time scientists had sequenced the genome of a cancer patient and traced her disease to its genetic roots.

The endeavor has been followed by additional studies that have uncovered genetic mutations associated with a variety of cancers and established Washington University as a national leader in the field of cancer genomics.

In 2010, Siteman committed $25 million for an endowed fund to provide annual grants for innovative cancer research projects. Since 2011, the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Research Fund has awarded nearly $4 million in funding for promising studies that have high potential to improve cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

In August, Siteman made a $1 million gift to help establish a Center for Human Immunology at the School of Medicine. The center will develop new therapies that harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

At the time of the Sitemans’ $35 million commitment to establish the cancer center, Alvin Siteman said that his years as a Washington University trustee and Barnes-Jewish Hospital board member had taught him about the institutions’ commitment to the St. Louis region and capacity to become leaders in cancer prevention, care and research. He believed it was possible to build a nationally recognized cancer program that would improve the lives of patients and families worldwide.

His ongoing commitment to the Siteman Cancer Center has played a transformative role in making that vision a reality, said Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “With this support, we are discovering better ways to prevent and treat cancer and bringing new hope for the end of suffering from this devastating disease. Al Siteman’s leadership and generosity is enabling us to advance human health, which is one of the central goals of our Leading Together campaign.”