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The one hundred honoree: Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD

Innovation Story

The one hundred honoree: Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD

Mass General Giving

While some cancers receive wide public attention and research funding because of how common or deadly they are, on the other end of the spectrum are orphan, or rare, cancers that affect very small numbers of people. Gary Hammer, MD, PhD, director of the Endocrine Oncology Program in the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Michigan, focuses on one such orphan cancer — adrenal cancer — and works to bring attention and awareness to this and other orphan cancers. Under his leadership, the program has become a beacon of hope for patients and a central hub of research that unites patients, advocates, scientists and clinicians from around the globe. Dr. Hammer’s reputation for transparency in the clinic and passion for his work has drawn patients and their families who routinely travel hundreds of miles to meet with him in person.

When Kristen Meekhof met Dr. Hammer in 2013, six years after she lost her husband to adrenal cancer, she confided in him that she continued to wonder whether she had done all she could for her husband during his illness. Dr. Hammer put her at ease. “Dr. Hammer took the time to talk with me about the nature of adrenal cancer, and how it is often asymptomatic in patients before it is discovered. Then he said something that I found very healing. Sensing my worry, he said,‘You did everything you could.’”

With treatment for adrenal cancer going unchanged for decades, Dr. Hammer and his colleagues have fought tirelessly to unravel the genetics of this disease and translate their discoveries into new treatments. Recently, Dr. Hammer partnered with Raili Kerppola, an adrenal cancer patient and pharmaceutical professional, to form a company that focuses exclusively on the development of new adrenal cancer therapeutics. With his promising lab trials and her business savvy, a new drug went into clinical trials in the fall of 2013. Dr. Hammer’s dedication promises to make a tremendous impacton the care of those afflicted with this orphan disease.