Donna Kato watched her father die of lung cancer in 2010. Her heartache was accompanied by frustration that too few drug therapies were available for lung cancer patients. So she set out to change that.
Last year, Kato established a $25,000 endowment to help fund clinical lung cancer research at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. As a pharmaceutical regulatory professional with more than 25 years of experience, Kato knows firsthand how new drugs and therapies have transformed cancer care and saved lives. But so much more needs to be done, Kato says, especially in lung cancer.
“When Dad was diagnosed, I did research and realized there really wasn’t anything that could help treat his illness or prolong his life,” says Kato, founder of the Bay Area-based Regulatory Professionals Inc. “There were very limited options available to him, and it was frustrating.
“Better treatments for lung cancer are going to be found through research,” Kato adds. “And I know there are things that could be done but aren’t being done because the money’s not there.”
Kato has a long history with UC Davis. She graduated in 1978 with a degree in biochemistry, and her two sons graduated from the university in 2012 — Sean Kato with a B.S. in engineering and Jason Kato with a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology.
Kato’s strong ties to UC Davis played a key role in her decision to donate to the cancer center, but ultimately it was her deep respect for the university’s research that became the deciding factor.
“It all converged and felt like the right thing at the right time,” she says.
Kato worked with the cancer center and its development officers to establish the Kato-Summers Family Research Fund, named to honor her late father, Cecil Summers. The fund will help support training for young physician scientists in the design, execution and completion of Phase I cancer treatment studies.
Phase I studies are the first evaluation of promising new drugs and provide valuable insight into tumor-drug interaction. The increasing number of new agents in the pipeline intensifies demand for physicians to evaluate them as quickly as possible.
“Clinical research fellows are a priority for the UC Davis Phase I clinical trials program,” says Karen Kelly, UC Davis professor and associate director for clinical research. “Ms. Kato’s generous investment will advance the learning environment for the next generation of clinicians and help us get results.”
Kato says the fund will grow over time. “It’s nice that it is perpetual. I can donate from my estate, and so can my kids,” she says. “When my dad passed away, I wanted to honor him in some way that would be perpetual and forever. This is how I can do that.”
Sunny Mason, a director of development for the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, says gifts such as the one made by Kato are critical to the operation of the cancer center.
“A gift to the UC Davis Health System is a meaningful investment in our progress, research and technology,” says Mason.
Cecil Summers ran an electrical contracting business in the Bay Area and is remembered by his family for his inspiring curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Kato believes her dad’s lung cancer may have been caused by exposure to asbestos. Despite the prevalence of lung cancer, Kato believes the disease doesn’t get the same public attention and research contributions that other cancers do.
“There’s a pretty high prevalence of the disease, but you never hear of a lung cancer walk,” she says.
Kato is not organizing a lung cancer walk, but hopes to lead by example by using her money to help in the search for better treatments — if not one day a cure — for lung cancer.