10 Years of SurVaxM

10 Years of SurVaxM

In 10 short years, donor support helped bring a homegrown cancer-fighting discovery to the national stage in the form of a clinical trial. SurVaxM, a therapeutic cancer vaccine developed at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, has the potential to drastically extend the lives of patients living with brain cancer. You and your donors are part of that.

SurVaxM was created in a lab at Roswell Park by Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of Neurosurgery and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery. Dr. Fenstermaker is the Principal Investigator of the nationwide randomized trial and Dr. Ciesielski is CEO of MimiVax, the company which now produces SurVaxM. Their work has been passionately supported by donor funding for the past 10 years, proving instrumental in bringing this new treatment to where it is today.

Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of Neurosurgery and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, with a sample of SurVaxM

2012

Roswell Park announces a new clinical research study that could put cancer cells “in a Catch-22.”

2013

A phase I clinical trial begins in human patients, supported by the American Cancer Society.

SurVaxM
SurVaxM lab image

2014

Roswell Park donors begin to financially support SurVaxM alongside the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation through events like Ride for Roswell and more.

2015

Drs. Fenstermaker and Ciesielski present their phase I clinical trial results to the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Phase II of the clinical trial begins, bringing hope to 50 newly diagnosed patients at Roswell Park and Cleveland Clinic.

Ciesielski and Fenstermaker in the lab
SurVaxM

2016

Experts investigate usefulness of SurVaxM for patients with multiple myeloma.

2017

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awards orphan drug status for SurVaxM. This designation is intended to encourage innovation in the treatment of rare diseases.

Dr. Ciesielski SurVaxM lab image
Ciesielski and Fenstermaker in the lab

2018

Findings through SurVaxM trials open doors for other types of treatments like CAR T-cell therapy and antibody-based therapies.

Drs. Fenstermaker and Ciesielski join their colleagues at Cleveland Clinic to present their phase II findings so far at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Results from phase II clinical trial show significant success: well-tolerated; 96.7% of patients did not experience disease progression within the first six months; 94.2% of study participants were alive one year after their diagnosis, as opposed to 65% of patients in a historical comparison group.

2019

Trial leaders bring fully completed results to the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Roswell Park and MimiVax announce the next step forward: a larger scale phase II study and a licensing agreement.

SurVaxM lab image
Dr. Renuka Iyer

2020

Two new studies, led by Renuka Iyer, MD, of Roswell Park, explore the potential use of SurVaxM for patients with neuroendocrine tumors.

2022

SurVaxM

2023

The FDA grants Fast Track Designation for SurVaxM, opening doors to accelerated approval as late-stage clinical trials advance.

2024

You fundraise for Ride for Roswell, armed with the confidence that your hard work is propelling something meaningful on a national scale.

Want to learn more about your impact?

Contact our team at rideforroswell@roswellpark.org.

Rider Profile: Dr. Kathleen O’Leary

Rider Profile: Dr. Kathleen O’Leary

Dr. Kathleen O’Leary has many accomplishments to her name — even rising through the ranks over her nearly 30-year career at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. But, in June 2023, she achieved a different kind of goal — one that felt almost impossible a few months prior due to a life-altering stroke. With the support of her husband Mike Collins, Dr. O’Leary crossed the finish line at Ride for Roswell. Together, they rode 34 miles.

Connection to Roswell Park

Dr. O’Leary began her career at Roswell Park back in 1992. She worked her way up to being the Chief of Surgical Anesthesia in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine.

“I loved every minute of it,” she explained.

She also got involved outside of the clinical setting by participating in Ride for Roswell.

“I love cycling and I love the message that the Ride gave, that it was such a community event, and it was such a celebration of survivors and hope, so that was very appealing to me.”

However, both her career at Roswell Park and her passion for cycling would be put on pause sooner than planned.

Dr. O'Leary at Ride for Roswell

Road to recovery

“In 2019, I had a stroke that resulted in my becoming paralyzed on the left side of my body, and because of that, I had to stop my work as an anesthesiologist. Honestly, I thought I would never get back on a bike again and be able to cycle.”

But Dr. O’Leary pushed every day to relearn, rebuild and adapt.

“Part of what I’ve been going through is trying to regain some normalcy in my life.”

And in the pursuit of normalcy, Dr. O’Leary and her husband purchased a tandem bike in October 2022.

“The bike is totally modified on the left side to hold my foot on the pedal and keep my leg in position. All the steering and the majority of the work is done by my husband.”

As husband and wife, they decided their goal would be to ride in Ride for Roswell. They aimed high — and registered for the 34-mile route.

Dr. O'Leary at Pathways Park

Fundraising

While Dr. O’Leary had participated in Ride for Roswell many times, this was the first year she and her husband made fundraising a top priority. They utilized the Ride for Roswell app and shared their story on social media.

“Every person riding in the Ride has so many stories that are cancer related. Mine is cancer related by virtue of my job and the wonderful patients I’ve cared for who inspire me. For me, telling the story about my stroke and my determination to get back on the road, I think that really hit home for a lot of people.”

Dr. O’Leary says the response was filled with support and encouragement. They received donations even from people who they had never met.

“I set a goal of $1,500. I couldn’t really imagine that I would achieve that. In the end, it was over $7,600.”

Ride Weekend

That fundraising amount made them members of the Extra Mile Club, meaning they were invited to be a part of the Peloton. Alongside 175 other riders, Dr. O’Leary and her husband traveled on their tandem bike through the pouring rain from Roswell Park’s campus all the way to the University at Buffalo, where Ride for Roswell is held.

“Working at Roswell Park, I had seen the Peloton take off every year. It’s such an emotional event. When the riders all hold their cards up so that patients can see it, it’s absolutely tear-jerking. So, to be a part of that was very special this year.”

When Ride Day finally arrived, they were prepared to take on their 34-mile trek — a goal they had been working toward for months. Their photos from the finish line tell a story of teamwork and triumph in the face of adversity.

“It was just wonderful. It was absolutely wonderful just to feel that sense of accomplishment.”

Dr. O’Leary’s message

Already, Dr. O’Leary is planning to return to the Ride in 2024. Her message to others who are considering getting involved:

“Everybody’s looking for the cure to cancer. And the cure doesn’t come without money for research. You don’t have to be a pro cyclist to be in the Ride. There is a distance for everybody.”

Dr. Kathleen O'Leary and her husband Mike Collins at Ride for Roswell.

For now, Dr. O’Leary says she’s constantly working hard to get stronger and regain function in her left arm, but if her experience with Ride for Roswell has taught her anything, it’s that she won’t let her stroke get the best of her. With her husband and family by her side, the milestones of her recovery are becoming more within reach, one pedal at a time.

Get the new MyRFR Fundraising App

Get the new MyRFR Fundraising App

My RFR app

Enhance your fundraising with the new Ride for Roswell app, MyRFR.

When you Ride for Roswell, you’re committing to raising funds for critical cancer research and patient care programs at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Your efforts can not only change lives today but also shape the future of cancer care. Learn more about your impact.

Let the MyRFR app supercharge your fundraising and get you ready for the most impactful summer tradition.

Here are some of the great things you can do with the app!

  • Personalize your fundraiser and track your fundraising progress.
  • Coming soon! Accept in-person check donations with state-of-the-art scanning technology and bank-grade security features.
  • Receive a personalized QR code to share your fundraising page with friends and family.
MyRFR fundraising app
  • Connect the app to your activity tracker (ex. Fitbit and Apple Watch).
  • Send emails or SMS messages to your contacts asking for support and donations.
  • Integrate with your Ride for Roswell fundraising dashboard and Facebook fundraiser.
  • Share your page on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • And much more!
My RFR fundraising app

How to get started.

The MyRFR app is free to download in the App Store or Google Play. Search for “My RFR” wherever you download apps.

Use the username and password that you set up to log into your Fundraising Dashboard. After your first login, you can also use facial recognition to get into your account.

If you have any questions about the fundraising app, please contact us!

Email: RideforRoswell@RoswellPark.org  

Phone: 716-843-7433

For more fundraising tips, check out our tools here.

The Story Behind Team AnnaLynn

The Story Behind Team AnnaLynn

Team AnnaLynn has been a staple of the Ride Community since it was formed in 2010. Their story is one of resilience and hope and the power of community. 14 years later, we’re taking a look back at how this team got started, and what’s next for the woman who inspired its creation.

Meet AnnaLynn Williams, Ph.D.

When you ask AnnaLynn Williams about Ride for Roswell, her passion is contagious. Her smile as she describes the energy of Ride Weekend is a reminder of why we come together each summer to fight for cancer cures.

The mission is personal for AnnaLynn. In 2008, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The news came shortly after she finished her undergraduate degree and had just started her master’s degree in epidemiology. She had moved back home to Buffalo, and Roswell Park was the natural choice as to where she would seek care. Immediately, her life changed.

“I was admitted the same day I was diagnosed,” said AnnaLynn. “I went through about a month of inpatient treatment where I was very lucky to achieve remission. Then we did about a year and a half of outpatient treatments before I unfortunately relapsed.”

That’s when she knew she would need a bone marrow transplant.

“I was very lucky. I had a donor in the registry. Her name is Jesse. She’s my guardian angel.”

She received her transplant in March of 2010.

“I’ll be forever grateful to Roswell Park and the physicians and nurses and everyone there who took such amazing care of me.”

That same year, she was even able to be a part of the Ride.

AnnaLynn Williams at Niagara Falls for Ride for Roswell.
AnnaLynn's 100-day party

AnnaLynn’s First Ride

The summer after AnnaLynn’s transplant, her family wanted to get involved and give back. They signed up for Ride for Roswell and formed a team. At the time, AnnaLynn wasn’t sure if she would be able ride, but, eventually, her doctors gave her the okay — so long as she took necessary precautions like wearing a mask.

“I was very, very weak though. So, I rode my bike for about a mile and then they put me in a little tow-behind trailer and my brother-in-law towed me the rest of the way. It was such an amazing day and it was so nice for my family to be there and be around all those people and see the positive energy and the hope.”

That incredible Ride Day feeling has kept her coming back each year, and growing Team AnnaLynn along the way.

“It’s so moving and inspiring. You walk in and you realize this is so much bigger than me. We’re all fighting for the same thing.”

AnnaLynn's parents at Ride for Roswell.
Group photo of Team AnnaLynn.

The Evolution of Team AnnaLynn

AnnaLynn’s mother Debbie is co-captain of the team, and AnnaLynn says in many ways Debbie leads the charge on organizing and fundraising.

“My mom and I are really close. My mom was a nurse for 35 years, so I think when I got sick, her instincts just took over and she jumped in. I was so thankful and lucky to have her as this kind of medical liaison and advocate,” said AnnaLynn. “Over time, with the shift from me needing less of her medical advocation, she’s turned her attention to research and patient-care advocation. She’s taken all of that energy and funneled it into supporting the organizations that helped support us when I was sick. Fundraising for Ride for Roswell is a huge, huge part of that.”

While family has been a core part of Team AnnaLynn, its roster includes friends, colleagues and more.

“You name it, we’ve recruited them to be part of Team AnnaLynn,” she laughed.

AnnaLynn has suggested changing the name many times over the years, since several members of the team are riding for someone they love who has fought this disease or is currently fighting.

What keeps this team motivated is knowing there is still work to be done for cancer patients everywhere.

Fundraising Guidance

In 2023 alone, Team AnnaLynn raised more than $17,000. They lean on methods like posting on Facebook and Instagram or sending out traditional emails or letters.

“I think you’ll be really surprised at how many people are willing to give and those $5, $10 donations add up.”

However, they also aren’t afraid to think out of the box a little with their fundraising ideas. For example, AnnaLynn’s husband Mark came up with the idea to opt out of sending Christmas cards this year, and instead send New Year’s cards once registration opened. On the card, they included a QR code that linked to their fundraising dashboard.

AnnaLynn credits their fundraising success largely to their loyal network of supporters, who were by her side both when she was sick and now as she works to help others facing cancer.

“I think it just speaks to this larger presence in the Buffalo community where we all do this. We all hold each other up and support each other and what’s important.”

Paying it Forward

Ride for Roswell isn’t the only way AnnaLynn is making a difference for cancer patients. She recently started a faculty position at the University of Rochester. As an epidemiologist, she is doing clinical cancer research that focuses on trying to understand and prevent different symptoms and side effects that patients may experience, even decades after they’ve received care.

“It’s important to me to help patients make it through their treatment as comfortably as possible, but then also go on to live as healthy of a life as possible. You know, the life that they should have if they never had cancer in the first place.”

She wants to have a direct impact and change care for patients, something she understands all too well from her own experiences with the disease.

On a personal note, she is looking forward to continuing to enjoy life and all the moments that come with it. With that same contagious smile, she chuckled and said of the things she’s looking most forward to, fundraising for the Ride is up there on the list.

AnnaLynn and her family at her PHD graduation.