New cancer treatments are born in the lab. The last two decades have witnessed astonishing progress — scientific and technological advances in cancer research that have transformed the diagnosis and treatment of many cancers. The Krantz Family Center for Cancer Research, the engine for discovery within Mass General Cancer Center, has made major contributions to this revolution in cancer science, from breakthroughs in our understanding of genetic risk for breast cancer, to pioneering discoveries in targeted precision treatments for lung cancer, melanoma and biliary cancers, to creating engineered immune cell therapies against brain tumors. But much remains to be done in understanding the fundamental biology that drives different types of cancer, and far too many cancers remain without effective therapies.
Now, thanks to an unprecedented gift from philanthropists Jason and Keely Krantz, researchers at the Mass General Cancer Center will be empowered to tackle the major unsolved challenges in oncology. The Krantz family’s visionary commitment — the largest contribution in the 34-year history of the Mass General Cancer Center, and the largest cancer research-directed gift in the hospital’s history — includes annual funding for innovative and collaborative research projects, advanced technologies to support lab research and an endowment to ensure sustainability. In recognition of their landmark gift, the Mass General Cancer Center’s Center for Cancer Research will now be named the Krantz Family Center for Cancer Research.
“Cancer research is at a crossroads,” says Jason Krantz, executive chairman of Definitive Healthcare. “We’ve seen incredible progress in the last decade, but cures for many forms of the disease remain out of reach. We want to give Mass General Cancer Center researchers the support they need to close that gap. We want to remove the obstacles and enable them to run with their best ideas, faster. Keely and I believe that by making this investment in basic science at Mass General Cancer Center, we can enable a monumental change in how cancer is diagnosed and treated for patients everywhere.”
In this video, Jason and Keely Krantz speak about the goal of their gift to Mass General Cancer Center.
“Medicine’s progress is rooted in basic science discovery,” says David F. M. Brown, MD, President of Mass General. “This gift from the Krantz family is a powerful recognition of the enormous contributions that Mass General researchers have made in the past but also of the pivotal role and responsibility we have going forward in the ongoing fight against cancer. Patients across the world are depending on us, and thanks to the support of donors like Jason and Keely, I believe we have the foundation to deliver the knowledge and solutions that we have sought for decades.”
The Krantz Family Center for Cancer Research is home to 50 independent Mass General faculty members, appointed at multiple departments of Harvard Medical School, whose lab research spans from fundamental cancer genomics, proteomics and cell biology, to molecular diagnostics, drug discovery and cellular immune therapies.
Investigators have established an international reputation for scientific excellence, with particular recognition for its active collaborations between research labs and the partnership between basic research and patient care. According to Daniel Haber, MD, PhD, Director of the Mass General Cancer Center and of the Krantz Family Center for Cancer Research, the Krantz family gift will have a catalytic effect on cancer research faculty — and on Mass General as a whole.
“Basic science plays a unique role at a hospital like Mass General because our faculty are oriented toward clinically relevant questions, and they have access to the clinical materials to answer those questions,” Dr. Haber says. “The Krantzes’ generosity and partnership will enable us to collaborate and interact in powerful new ways that will make an indelible impact on the chain of discovery.”
Success is the Reward
At the heart of this historic gift are a series of annual research awards for faculty at the Krantz Center. The largest and most prestigious awards are the Quantum Awards, with up to $2 million given to research projects that have the potential to transform our understanding and treatment of cancer. In addition, Breakthrough Awards of up to $1 million are designed to accelerate the most promising scientific concepts, and Spark Awards of $100,000 are available to test exciting new thought-provoking ideas. Multiple awards from each level will be made each year to fund the best ideas. The approach is reminiscent of venture capital and tech startups, the sectors in which Jason and Keely earned their professional stripes — with one major exception.
“Jason and Keely are challenging us to excel, but there are no financial strings attached,” Dr. Haber says, referring to the equity stake venture investors receive in exchange for similarly large amounts of funding. “They are, in a sense, saying ‘go and do great things for the sake of cancer patients everywhere.’ Success is the reward.”
The research awards will be selected through a highly competitive process within the Krantz Center, with both internal and external scientific review, and the Krantzes have promised to remain informed and engaged over the many years of progress to come.
“Research progress is not a steady incline — it goes up in big steps that are usually driven by new enabling technologies,” says Dr. Haber. “The cost of advanced technologies is often prohibitive, yet they allow powerful ideas to come to fruition.” This is why the Krantz family’s gift will also include major funding for cutting-edge equipment and technological innovation.
Betting on a Winner
For the Krantzes, the decision to support research in the Mass General Cancer Center was driven by careful consideration, a deep understanding of the biomedical landscape and a strong connection to the Boston area.
The couple met as undergraduates at Boston College and continue to live in New England. As founder and executive chairman of Definitive Healthcare, a Framingham-based health care analytics company, Jason Krantz has fostered a company culture of giving back to the local community. Over the past five years, Definitive employees have volunteered their time and financial resources with more than 50 regional organizations.
“Why wait 40 years to start this important work? The need to dramatically advance cancer research has never been greater, and we want to inspire other people to give while they can see the impact of their investment.”
In 2019, the Krantzes made an initial gift to Mass General to support several ambitious immunotherapy-related projects in the Center for Cancer Research.
That initial investment supported a major initiative to create cellular immunotherapy CAR T-cells directed against common solid tumors, such as lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancers, under the leadership of Marcela Maus, MD, PhD; a new strategy to generate anti-cancer vaccines to activate the immune system to fight the disease, directed by Nir Hacohen, PhD; and research into the mechanism of immune cell exhaustion, the primary reason immune cells fail to eradicate cancer cells despite initial responses, led by Debattama Sen, PhD.
“The progress we saw was remarkable, and that led us to the decision to double down,” says Jason.
Giving While Living
While the level of their investment is more than enough to make the Krantzes stand out, it’s not the only reason they do. At 50 years old, they are young compared to most other change-making philanthropists.
“Why wait 40 years to start this important work?” says Keely. “The need to dramatically advance cancer research has never been greater, and we want to inspire other people to give while they can see the impact of their investment. The more people who get involved, the quicker we can create new insights, and the sooner those insights can be leveraged not only at Mass General, but also by researchers at all cancer centers across the country and internationally.”
In 2024, the Mass General Cancer Center will celebrate its 35th anniversary — making it young in comparison to cancer centers at other academic medical centers.
“I started my own research lab here back in 1991, after clinical and research training at Stanford, Mass General, Dana-Farber and MIT, and our Cancer Center was just about two years old at that time. It’s just amazing how quickly we evolved into one of the preeminent cancer centers in the U.S.,” says Dr. Haber. “This incredible gift will launch Mass General into the highest realm of cancer discovery, and make us a major, sustainable force in the field for decades to come. This is rocket fuel.”
“This gift from the Krantz family is a powerful recognition of the enormous contributions that Mass General researchers have made in the past but also of the pivotal role and responsibility we have going forward in the ongoing fight against cancer. Patients across the world are depending on us, and thanks to the support of donors like Jason and Keely, I believe we have the foundation to deliver the knowledge and solutions that we have sought for decades.”