OK, it didn’t happen quite like that. But it was close.
In Augusta, Ga., pro golfer Bubba Watson headed to his crucial playoff in the Masters — one of golf’s four majors — on April 8. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, City of Hope’s David Horne, Ph.D., watched on TV in nail-biting suspense.
Golfer Bubba Watson, center, poses with David Horne, left, and John Williams at the Northern Trust Open. (Photo by Kyle Traynor)
Horne loves golf. He grew up playing the storied courses at Pebble Beach, Calif., and caddied at the Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournament in his younger days.
But there’s more to it than that. Horne is chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine at City of Hope, and Watson is helping to make his cancer-fighting ideas a reality.
An ongoing partnership between Watson and the golf apparel company Travis Mathew will send critical dollars to City of Hope. The funds will support research by Horne and John C. Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine.
Horne and Williams are creating a new way to deliver therapies straight to cancer cells, reducing damage to healthy cells. That could make medicines more effective and cause fewer side effects.
They’re studying and designing meditopes: tiny, customizable cargo that can be loaded onto monoclonal antibodies made in a lab. Monoclonal antibodies can be injected into the body where they grab onto specific spots on cancer cells and deliver their cargo.
The scientists aim to get a potential therapy to patients in clinical trials within five years.
The two researchers talked with Watson at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles in February, an inspiring experience they won’t soon forget. Watson’s father died of throat cancer in 2010, so he understands the need for better treatments. He’s also committed to supporting important causes.
“I’ve become a big fan of Bubba’s since meeting him,” Williams says. “I watched him the last day of the Northern Trust Open and at Doral [at the World Golf Championships] on TV.” And despite having to travel during the Masters, he followed Watson’s progress on his cell phone.
Horne was equally thrilled. “I was so excited to see Bubba win the Masters. I’ve never rooted harder for anyone else,” he says. “It was such an exciting finish. He is an amazing golfer and human being.”
The scientists are especially grateful to Travis Mathew and its founding investor, John Kruger. Without their private support, it would be tough to move the research forward. Scientists with high-risk, high-reward projects often struggle to get funding from big pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health, especially during financial belt-tightening.
“We absolutely need this kind of support to develop this novel technology to get it to the clinic,” Williams says.