Study of cancer metastasis gets $35M boost at Johns Hopkins Medicine

Gift from researcher, philanthropist, and race car driver Theodore Giovanis will help scientists find ways to stop the spread of cancer in the body, which leads to about two-thirds of cancer deaths

A microscopic view of a triple-negative breast cancer organoid invading collagen tissue appears like an exploding firework, with a purple center surrounded by green lines and dots

Image caption: Triple-negative breast cancer organoid invades collagen tissue

Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Vanessa Wasta
Office phone

With a $35 million gift from researcher, philanthropist and race car driver Theodore Giovanis, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine will study the biological roots of the most fatal aspect of cancer: how it metastasizes, or spreads, through the body.

The contribution, a 15-year commitment, will establish the Giovanis Institute for Translational Cell Biology, dedicated to studying metastasis. The institute's researchers aim to make discoveries that reveal common features of metastasis across cancer types, with the potential to develop new therapies.

"Cancer is most dangerous when the disease has spread to many parts of the body, and conventional treatments are not effective enough for patients with metastatic disease," says the new Giovanis Institute director, Andrew Ewald, professor in basic cancer research and director of the Department of Cell Biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Research in our department has shown that many different cancers use similar molecular tools to spread, and we seek to design treatments to disrupt this process."

Andrew Ewald and Ted Giovanis

Image caption: Andrew Ewald (left) and Ted Giovanis

Image credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Overall, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., and some estimates indicate that about two-thirds of cancer deaths are linked to metastasis.

"Understanding fundamental biology drives the majority of medical advances, and this gift is incredibly important for that goal," says Theodore DeWeese, interim dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Ewald and other researchers have previously received research funding from Giovanis' foundation, the Jayne Koskinas Ted Giovanis Foundation for Health and Policy, named to honor his late wife, who died from metastatic breast cancer in 2010. Giovanis is an advisory board member of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences.

"I think of myself as someone who wants to make a difference, and I can leverage the work of my foundation to a much broader and more impactful scale by providing this gift to Johns Hopkins," Giovanis says.

Born in Baltimore and a Maryland resident, Giovanis' career spans a long history in hospital system finance and insurance regulation. He led the legal battle for hospitals for a multibillion-dollar settlement in 2012 to correct an error in reimbursement rates for hospitals. He was among the first staff to run the Health Services Cost Review Commission in Maryland, the only state to annually review and set Medicare and Medicaid payment rates for hospitals.

Currently, Giovanis is a professional sports car driver and owner of Team TGM in the International Motor Sports Association.

"Mr. Giovanis' gift will enable collaboration among scientists from many disciplines, including those who specialize in basic biology, clinical treatment of patients, physics, engineering, machine learning and computational medicine," says Ewald, co-leader of the Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

The institute will be housed in the Department of Cell Biology at Johns Hopkins Medicine on the East Baltimore campus. It will include a core group of cross-departmental scientists who focus on fundamental mechanisms of cancer metastasis, and it will also award grants to fund metastasis research at Johns Hopkins more broadly.