$20 million gift boosts multiple myeloma research

View Content

The blood cancer multiple myeloma takes the lives of about 11,000 Americans each year. While treatment options and life expectancy have improved in recent years, there’s still no cure. That reality has inspired St. Louis native Rodger Riney and his wife, Paula, to give $20 million to research teams at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis to use the newest, most advanced technologies to aggressively pursue every possible target that could improve the outcome of this disease.

The gift establishes the Paula C. and Rodger O. Riney Blood Cancer Research Initiative Fund. To date, the Rineys have given $25 million to the School of Medicine to develop promising new treatments for multiple myeloma. The work will be carried out by a research team – physicians and scientists at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine – with broad expertise in multiple myeloma, genomics, immunology and immunotherapy, imaging and pharmacogenomics.

For the Rineys, the disease is personal. Rodger Riney is waging his own fight against multiple myeloma, a formidable challenge that has spurred the couple to think about ways they could help change the odds for patients with the disease.

“We are deeply grateful to Paula and Rodger for their exceptional support,” said Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “Their personal story, dedication and commitment to multiple myeloma research is inspirational, and I look forward to seeing the important work made possible from this tremendous gift.”

Riney founded the discount brokerage firm Scottrade and led the company until it was sold to TD Ameritrade in 2017. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2015 and is being treated at Siteman. After his diagnosis, he became a dedicated advocate for multiple myeloma research and treatment, including as a board member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Gifts such as the Rineys’ propel the pace of medical discovery by providing researchers with the resources necessary to investigate a new thesis and generate the early data needed to compete for larger federal grants. Philanthropic support is a stepping stone that leads to additional critical, federal funding. The goal, of course, is to develop new and effective therapies.

“Siteman and Washington University are gems to have in St. Louis,” said Riney. “I feel fortunate to be under the care of their physicians and researchers, and proud to invest in the advancement of leading-edge research.”

While new drugs have been approved for multiple myeloma in the past 15 years, they are not a panacea. Some patients respond exceptionally well to the new therapies, but others don’t respond at all – and scientists don’t understand why. Even for patients who experience a dramatic response, the cancer almost always returns, and eventually hope runs out.

“Day in and day out, I see the struggles of patients fighting this disease – many of them experience weakness, fatigue and debilitating bone pain,” said John F. DiPersio, MD, PhD, Siteman deputy director and the Virginia E. and Sam J. Golman Professor of Medicine in Oncology and chief of the Division of Oncology at the School of Medicine. “While we have more treatment options than ever, the disease is clever and comes back. The Rineys’ gift provides an extraordinary boost to our research efforts aimed at advancing personalized care for multiple myeloma patients. We are working to translate the Rineys’ generosity into a new wave of treatments that will benefit patients for years to come.”

In December 2016, the Rineys donated $5 million in seed funding for three pilot studies that have the potential to transform treatments. Their latest gift establishes a fund to continue the research, which aims to:

  • Refine a promising immunotherapy technique for treating multiple myeloma. The technique, called CAR-T cell therapy, harnesses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer.
  • Comprehensively characterize the genomes and proteomes, the collection of proteins, of multiple myeloma patients and mine the data to identify new personalized treatment options aimed at the unique genetic makeup of patients’ cancer cells.
  • Use a unique 3D tissue-engineered bone marrow created from individual patient cells to screen medications to determine which ones might offer the most effective treatment.

The Rineys have been longtime community and nonprofit leaders – supporting various social and research organizations at the regional and national level.

“The generosity of Paula and Rodger Riney will help to serve as a bridge to more personalized and effective treatments for multiple myeloma patients,” said Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, Siteman director and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor at the School of Medicine. “We are so grateful to them for their transformational gift.”

Washington University is widely recognized as a leading multiple myeloma research center. In 2015, the National Cancer Institute awarded university researchers $13.7 million, spurring creation of the Center for Multiple Myeloma Nanotherapy, where scientists are developing nanomaterials and drugs to treat the disease.

“This gift comes with enormous passion and vision,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine. “Yes, these are the kinds of resources that can spur the most imaginative and innovative approaches. But also, Paula and Rodger Riney have given us the kind of passion and vision to pursue our best ideas with urgency and profound purpose. With the support of the Riney family, we will work tirelessly to accelerate the development of precisely targeted treatment options for many more patients affected by myeloma.”