City of Hope to accelerate blood cancer research through a transformational gift from leukemia survivor James Belardi and his wife Leslie Belardi

Letisia Marquez
[email protected]
The couple’s gift, one of the largest in City of Hope’s history, comes 14 years after James "Jim" Belardi received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant at the cancer center.
DUARTE, Calif. — A gift from financial services executive and entrepreneur Jim Belardi and his wife, Leslie, will provide City of Hope, a world-renowned independent cancer and diabetes research and treatment center, with resources to aggressively advance research into the treatment of blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, which account for nearly 10% of new cancer cases each year in the United States.
The critical resources provided by the gift are designed to quickly move bold ideas from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside. The gift will support City of Hope’s Hematologic Malignancies Research Institute (HMRI) and will have three areas of focus — translational research, cellular immunotherapy and faculty recruitment.
In gratitude for the Belardis’ generous contribution, City of Hope is honored to name its new 100,000-square-foot administrative and leadership building the Belardi Family Pavilion.
“City of Hope has a unique approach to research that empowers our scientists and physicians to discover and develop new therapies as quickly as possible, to save as many lives as possible,” said Robert Stone, president and CEO, City of Hope, and the Helen and Morgan Chu Chief Executive Officer Distinguished Chair. “Jim and Leslie Belardi’s gift demonstrates how much they share our passion for this mission in blood cancer research. We are incredibly grateful and honored for their support and partnership in this lifesaving work.”
This transformative gift will support:
  • The Belardi Accelerator Fund for Speed to Cure Translational Research in Blood Cancers for blood cancer research projects in City of Hope’s pipeline. This fund will accelerate the pace of drug development, with the aim of making new therapies available to patients months or years faster than would otherwise be possible.
  • The Cellular Immunotherapy Innovation Fund for projects in emerging areas of blood cancer research, such as cancer vaccines, and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T and CAR natural killer (NK) cell therapies. Innovations such as CAR T cell therapy have made once fatal forms of leukemia curable for many patients, and they hold the potential to revolutionize the treatment of all types of cancer.
  • The recruitment of faculty and clinicians associated with HMRI, who will further the field of discovering, developing, and delivering new cures and treatments for blood cancers.
Cancer Survivor Gives Back to “Extended Family” That Gave Him a Second Chance at Life
Jim, who is currently chairman and CEO of Athene Holding Ltd., a leading financial services company specializing in retirement solutions, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2007, when there was no cure for the disease. His physician at City of Hope, hematologist/oncologist Stephen J. Forman, M.D., an international expert in leukemia and a pioneer in the development of bone marrow transplantation for treatment of cancer, recommended that he receive a novel transplant regimen developed at City of Hope that utilized total body irradiation in combination with the chemotherapy drug etoposide. That was followed by a transplant of bone marrow donated by Jim’s sister, Christa. As a result of the then-novel regimen and his sister’s donation, Jim was successfully treated and remains cancer free following his treatment.
“As an organization, City of Hope consistently demonstrates a rare combination of excellence, humility and kindness to everyone in their care,” said Jim. “During my battle with cancer, I received the best treatment possible from the best people, starting with Dr. Forman and his incredible team, and followed by the many other physicians, practitioners and nurses who really got to know us. Through a period of tremendous personal and familial adversity, the entire City of Hope team provided us with unparalleled care and support and, in turn, they became part of our extended family.”
Jim’s treatment regimen was developed at City of Hope by Forman and Karl Blume, M.D., the founder of the City of Hope transplant program, who together helped to transform the standard of care for bone marrow transplant patients. Jim credits his recovery to both the science and the hands-on care he received from Forman and his team, as well as the steadfast devotion of his family — his sister, Christa, donated perfectly matched stem cells, enabling his bone marrow transplant without hesitation, and Leslie was constantly by his side during his extended stay.
“Because we know that work in cancer is never complete, Leslie and I are delighted that our donation will be put to immediate use in the lab to develop new treatments that will help save lives faster, as well as support the next generation of leading care providers at City of Hope,” added Jim. “Our family believes City of Hope is the best place to push the frontiers of science to bring hope and healing to more people like us.”
Not everyone is as lucky as Jim to find a perfect match in a relative. In fact, 70% of patients must rely on an unrelated donor through registries like Be the Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. He hopes his story will draw attention to this need and encourage people to join the registry. Finding a donor match is particularly challenging for mixed-race individuals, so there is an urgent need for mixed-race donors.
Leadership in Advanced Research and Treatment
City of Hope operates one of the largest bone marrow and stem cell transplantation programs in the U.S. and has performed more than 17,000 transplants. The program has some of the best survival outcomes in the U.S. and is the only entity in the nation to exceed outcome expectations for 15 consecutive years. A pioneer in advancing research and care for blood-related cancers, City of Hope helped to set the standard of care for transplant patients worldwide.
City of Hope is also a global leader in the development of novel CAR T, NK CAR and T cell therapies for blood cancers, with nearly 80 active or completed trials. Its work in cellular therapy dates back to the late 1990s and builds on Forman’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation. City of Hope has launched several first-in-human CAR T trials for blood cancers and currently offers all five commercially approved CAR T therapies.
The Vital Role of Philanthropy to Discovery
The support of donors like Jim and Leslie Belardi is crucial to enabling City of Hope to fund its early stage discovery efforts and clinical trials. With more than 1,000 physicians and scientists focused on cancer, more than 725 clinical trials conducted in the last year and three Food and Drug Administration-approved drug manufacturing facilities, City of Hope stands out among comprehensive cancer centers for its ability to move new therapies quickly from the lab to the patient’s bedside.
“Our patients and their families cannot afford to wait when it comes to receiving lifesaving cancer treatments and care,” said Kristin J. Bertell, chief philanthropy officer, City of Hope. “Philanthropic support allows us to help more people, faster. We are deeply grateful to the Belardi family for their partnership in advancing our goal to deliver tomorrow’s cures to patients today.”
About City of Hope
City of Hope is an independent biomedical research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a leader in bone marrow transplantation and immunotherapy such as CAR T cell therapy. City of Hope’s translational research and personalized treatment protocols advance care throughout the world. Human synthetic insulin, monoclonal antibodies and numerous breakthrough cancer drugs are based on technology developed at the institution. A National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, City of Hope is ranked among the nation’s “Best Hospitals” in cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Its main campus is located near Los Angeles, with additional locations throughout Southern California and in Arizona. Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) became a part of City of Hope in 2016. AccessHopeTM, a subsidiary launched in 2019, serves employers and their health care partners by providing access NCI-designated cancer center expertise. For more information about City of Hope, follow us on FacebookTwitterYouTube or Instagram.
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