The magazine of UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Fall/Winter 2014

Donna Kato

A gift that keeps on giving

Endowed professorship seeks lymphoma cure

The promise has been kept, so the giving is far from over.

What started in 2006 as a $313,000 donation from the family and friends of Norman deLeuze and a promise to raise more money to fund research into lymphoma blossomed into an endowment of more than $1 million. Now, that money is being used to fund The deLeuze Family Endowed Professorship to Find a Non-Toxic Cure for Lymphoma — a professorship that will allow focused, continued lymphoma research at UC Davis. A promise kept, indeed.

“We saw the endowment as a long-term effort,” says Brett deLeuze, Norman’s son. “We’ve never really let up. Now, we’re in the process of converting the endowment to an endowed professorship with the goal to find a non-toxic cure for lymphoma.”

Norman deLeuze, 75, the family patriarch, was a Napa winemaker who lost his battle with mantle cell lymphoma in 2007. During his illness, he was committed to finding a non-toxic cure for lymphoma, eschewing the traditional path of radiation and chemotherapy as too toxic. As fate would have it, deLeuze was treated by UC Davis oncologist Joe Tuscano. The two hit it off — as patient and physician — as well as through their mutual interest in non-traditional treatments.

“They developed a relationship,” says the younger deLeuze, “not just as doctor to patient, but on a research basis.”

Tuscano remembers deLeuze as a “very smart man” who took an active role in his treatment.

“He investigated it and read about it,” Tuscano says of deLeuze’s research into lymphoma. “He would come to me and say, ‘What about this?’”

That relationship, and Tuscano’s continued commitment to alternative lymphoma treatments, has spawned some interesting research. Specifically, Tuscano has investigated the efficacy of Avemar, a natural product made from fermented wheat germ extract. Norman deLeuze took Avemar during his lymphoma treatment, and his tumors shrank. Tumors also shrank in mice injected with Avemar during tests conducted in Tuscano’s lab.

Tuscano continues to pursue the Avemar treatment with vigor. He and his colleagues have identified 17 proteins in Avemar that appear to be effective against lymphoma. The research team has submitted a patent application and has agreed to collaborate with Avemar maker BioScience Inc. to continue work on developing the product as a lymphoma treatment. The deLeuze Family Endowed Professorship to find a Non-Toxic Cure for Lymphoma will go a long way toward continuing the research.

“The funding environment is very difficult, and it’s even more difficult to get funding for the non-traditional approach,” says Tuscano. “Hopefully we can prove it is effective so we can get more funding.”

As deLeuze’s physician, Tuscano initially counseled his patient to stick with traditional therapies with proven track records, such as chemotherapy and radiation. But deLeuze, a determined man who launched his now hugely successful winery as a side venture while working at Aerojet, was adamant that he avoid the toxicities of those treatments.

Brett deLeuze and the other members of his family appreciated Tuscano’s willingness to consider his patient’s wishes.

“My father was sick, and he couldn’t find anybody to listen to him,” says Brett deLeuze. “Dr. Tuscano listened to him.”

The deLeuze family, which runs ZD Wines in Napa, has continued its relationship with Tuscano since Norman’s deLeuze’s passing. Each year, the family hosts a dinner in Davis for staff at UC Davis Health System, Tuscano included. The family is also co-sponsoring a fundraising bike ride in Napa in October called the Crush Challenge. Co-sponsored with the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Maine and Amgen, proceeds will be split among the endowment, Dempsey Center and Amgen’s Cancer research fund, Breakaway from Cancer. Tuscano, an avid cyclist, will ride with the deLeuzes.

“He’s a total match for us, a neat guy,” said Brett deLeuze of Tuscano.

Since the deLeuze endowment launch in 2006, Brett deLeuze, along with his brother Robert, mother Rosa Lee and niece and nephew Jill and Brandon continue to raise money for the endowment.

Sunny Mason, director of development for the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, says the deLeuze family’s support is a huge boost to the health system and its cancer research.

“We are so grateful to the deLeuze family for their unwavering and visionary support for cancer research,” says Mason. “By funding an endowed professorship, their support will have a profound effect on the future of cancer research, patient care and clinical services.”