Filling the gaps in cancer research
As a businessman with an engineering and mathematics background, Alex Knaster is used to precision and clarity. So when his father was diagnosed with kidney cancer, he experienced an intensely frustrating and compressed education in the chaotic and uncertain world of patient care. “My father’s illness was quick, six months,” Alex reflects. “He was diagnosed late and the treatment steps proposed didn’t work. I saw that his doctors didn’t have many options.”
Moreover, Alex discovered that dialogue with his father’s clinicians was not at the level he needed. “The doctors used a lot of jargon,” he remembers, “and they often seemed to lack both clear understanding of my father’s disease and confidence in the science behind the treatments.” This lack of clarity prompted him to learn more about the gaps in knowledge that exist for cancer. He compares the current state of biology to where the field of physics was a century ago. “Discoveries are coming at an incredible pace now and are truly expanding our capabilities,” he explains. “The toolkit available in biology and oncology is helping researchers make rapid progress, which positions the field extremely well for major breakthroughs.”
As Chairman and CEO of Pamplona Capital Management, an investment management firm he founded two decades ago, Alex is always looking for ways to benefit society. His approach, he says, is logical: He looks for interesting opportunities to which he can best apply his skills and knowledge. His experiences at his father’s bedside made Alex aware of critical gaps in scientific knowledge and of the limitations of existing cancer therapies, and he decided to address these problems by establishing The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. Named after his late beloved father, the foundation uses a nimble, high-impact approach to fund and invest in projects that can bridge the gap between science and patient care. For Alex, making a difference means giving healthcare workers the tools to improve their patients’ outcomes. “It’s not all that different from the investment world,” he explains. “Here, the return is science, and we have built a small group of scientifically advanced people who find the best opportunities with great potential to improve science and, eventually, patients’ lives.”
To better understand the cancer field and strategically guide the Foundation, Alex enrolled in a molecular biology graduate program at New York University. “I found out that you can’t take classes unless you’re in a program,” he humbly states. “So, I’m now finishing my master’s thesis.” Educating himself made him realize that cancers vary widely in how they develop and behave, and more importantly, that there are no simple solutions to curing the disease.
Because of the stunning complexity of cancer research, the Foundation operates on the premise that collaboration, flexibility, and agility are vital to successful research projects. Alex promotes the mindset that the Foundation is a living organization and should not be molded to fit a single direction or paradigm. In just 3 years of operation, the Foundation team has awarded or invested more than $100 million toward research projects that are already producing exciting results.
Improving dialogue and collaboration among scientists, physicians, and patients, as well as linking promising new technologies to pharmaceutical development, are Alex Knaster’s goals. Working together, talking with each other, and sharing ideas will lead to life-saving answers.