Mary Bird Perkins CEO Jonas Fontenot with members of The Echo Alliance. Photo courtesy of The Echo Alliance

How The Echo Alliance is making an impact in Baton Rouge

It was just over a year ago that 20 local women came together with the goal of making a big difference in local cancer care. Establishing The Echo Alliance, an all-female organization raising funds for Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, the group has already grown to more than 170 members. And the impact of their contributions is being felt in a big way by cancer patients throughout the region.

Last year, members voted to pledge their individual $1,000 yearly donations—a total of at least $100,000—toward a unique tool used to treat cervical cancer patients. Now, the 2023 vote is in, and it comes with a bit of a growth spurt; over the course of two years, $400,000 will be allotted to accelerating cancer clinical trials in Louisiana through a dedicated clinical research pharmacist, a move that will fill the clinical trial void left by the lack of a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Center in the state.

“The American Cancer Society recently came out with their updated annual statistics and announced that since 1991, the U.S. cancer death rate has fallen by an astonishing third—33 percent, which is absolutely incredible,” said Dr. Victor Lin, a medical oncologist with Mary Bird Perkins and leader of clinical research and genetics programs, who explained the project in a webinar for Echo Alliance members. The reason, he said, is due to better treatments, earlier detection, prevention strategies and “the robust participation of patients in cancer clinical trials.” In Louisiana, however, cancer outcomes are still among the worst in the nation, though access to more clinical trials—which currently must be sought in Texas—has been documented to increase survival rates. 

Without the help of philanthropy from groups like The Echo Alliance, such an initiative would take several years to fund.

“Cancer research evolves literally every week, so we have to stay on that forefront,” said Lin in the same webinar. “This will allow us to open more and increasingly complex protocols.”

Mary Bird Perkins says that the position of the new dedicated clinical research pharmacist should become self-sustaining after the initial term of the gift, and will also support the standard of care upheld by current pharmacists.

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