Cancer foundation, Schubach partner as HPV research makes strides

Ralph Whitworth, left, who died of HPV cancer last year, and his wife, Fernanda, co-founded the Immunotherapy Foundation to fight against HPV-related cancers. Courtesy photo

CARLSBAD — A local foundation is making waves for its cancer research and drive for a cure.

The Immunotherapy Foundation, based in Solana Beach, is breaking down a preventable form of cancer, human papilloma virus, or HPV, and now pivoting to finding a cure. Additionally, the foundation is also the 2018 beneficiary of Schubach Aviation’s annual charitable drive, where the charter airline donates one penny for every mile flown. It is expected Schubach Aviation will donate about $12,000 to the foundation.

The 2018 selection was a personal one for Henry Schubach, owner of the charter operator, as he and the late Ralph Whitworth, co-founder of Immunotherapy Foundation, were close friends, according to Schubach Aviation Vice President Kim Herrell.

For 2017, Schubach Aviation is donating to Shelter to Soldier and Promises to Kids.

“We saw firsthand how the science he was investing in was extending his life,” Herrell said of Whitworth. “It’s just such a worthy cause. The research they’re doing and the progressing they’re making is exciting. We really do believe in their mission.”

Immunotherapy Foundation was founded in 2015 by Fernanda Whitworth and Ralph, who succumbed to HPV cancer in September 2016. Since then, Whitworth has taken the reins leading the foundation to secure collaboration efforts with the University of California San Diego, the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology and constructing a state-of-the-art lab for immunotherapy research relating to HPV.

Immunotherapy Foundation also raised $4.4 million for programs, which allowed their sponsored researchers from UCSD and La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology to procure $16.4 million in federal grants, Whitworth said. She added the goal is to harness the patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells and leave healthy cells unharmed.

“We have an extensive patient access and clinical trials,” Whitworth said. “Since Ralph passed, I’m trying to rebuild the foundation and focused on HPV-related cancers.”

One goal, she said, is to raise awareness and educate people about vaccinations. HPV is preventable, so it is important to vaccinate children.

She said it affects males more than females and is harder to detect in men versus women. Whitworth said pap smears can detect the disease early in women, but for men no such test exists and the cancer could spread into the lymph nodes.

“It lays dormant on the throat, usually at the base of the tongue,” she explained. “This is a campaign we would really, really like to raise awareness to. With the schools next fall, we would like to see this as a mandatory vaccine.”

Once her husband was diagnosed, he quit his job and started the foundation, Whitworth said. He was consumed with not only helping himself, but also with helping others diagnosed to find treatment and learn about preventable measures.

The lab, for cell processing, is just one of three on the West Coast. In the lab, she said, white blood cells are grown and injected into the patient so the patient’s own immune system can fight the cancer.

“We are going to treat our first patient in February at UCSD,” Whitworth said. “The treatment will be less painful and they won’t have to do chemo (therapy) and the chances of curing will be much higher.”

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