The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center has received a $750,000 bequest that will enable it to fund an endowed chair dedicated to developing new cancer drugs, center officials announced Wednesday.
The gift from the Estate of Dana C. Wood and the Dana C. Wood Revocable Trust is being matched by money from the New Mexico Higher Education Endowment Fund to create an endowed chair held by Olivier Rixe, MD, PhD, an internationally renowned expert in early phase clinical trials.
“Endowed chairs support highly accomplished physicians or scientists who have made significant contributions,” says Cheryl Willman, MD, the cancer center’s director and CEO. “They are a tremendous asset for successfully recruiting world-class physicians and scientists to New Mexico. We are deeply grateful for the Wood family’s gift and the state’s matching funds. And we are thrilled to count Dr. Rixe among our preeminent faculty. All New Mexicans benefit.”
Dana Wood was a successful software entrepreneur. The Gallup, N.M., native loved computers, flying, animals and almost any pursuit that challenged him, according to his brother Doug Wood and sister Dolly Delaunay. “People enjoyed being around him,” Dolly says.
Dana learned to program computers with punch cards in high school. “He was at the top of his class and got hooked on programming,” Doug says.
Dana earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from UNM, where he became a lifelong Lobo basketball fan. He worked for Bohannon Huston Engineering after graduation, but his fascination with computers drew him to Bohannon Huston’s spin-off company, Diginetics.
Thanks to his skills as a “codie,” or software programmer, Dana eventually led Diginetics. He later launched Leadertech, a software firm that managed product registrations. The business started in Albuquerque and expanded to Los Angeles.
In 2008, Dana sought treatment for a persistent pain in his back. The diagnosis was kidney cancer. He was treated at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center and in Pittsburgh, but lost his battle in April 2013. He left gifts to UNM’s School of Engineering and the cancer center to support engineering scholarships and cancer research.
The cancer center gift will support a broad range of research and treatment activities. Established to provide funds in perpetuity, the gift may be used to develop research programs, translate discoveries into treatments for cancer patients and endow faculty. The cancer center plans to use the funds for several activities, including the faculty endowment.
Rixe will be invested as the Dana C. Wood Endowed Chair in Cancer Therapeutics and Early Phase Clinical Research in July. Rixe is an expert in new cancer drug development who joined UNM in June 2014.
He has extensive experience in “early phase” clinical trials research – the crucial link between research and treatment. Early phase trials test new cancer drugs in people for the first time. Managing such trials requires the highest levels of medical, scientific and ethical training, along with extensive experience in clinical research.