By Patrick Szabo
Speaking of cancer is one thing, but when it comes to cancer that affects children and man’s best friend, the conversation resonates a bit differently.
The Canines-N-Kids Foundation is one of Loudoun County’s newest charitable nonprofits aimed at comparative oncology research in children and dogs. Last month, CNK received a $250,000 grant from the Petco Foundation to help its mission. The money will be used to fund a mission video and help charity representatives attend the Paws for a Cure Summit in June.
Founded in September by Ulrike Szalay, CNK is committed to finding a cure to cancers that affect both children and dogs. Initially reaching out to the pediatric cancer advocacy community, the South Riding-based foundation quickly gained significant attention.
“We needed [pediatric cancer researchers] to understand that there’s a promising new model,” Ulrike said. “They’re very excited about this and getting behind some hope.”
The idea for the charity began several years ago when Szalay was working for a small biotech company that was evaluating the effects of cancer therapies on humans and canines.
“I was also the person on the other end of the phone at that company who would get phone calls from parents of children who were dying of cancer and who were kind of out of options,” Szalay said. “They would call and say, ‘Can you enroll us in a clinical trial with this novel therapy?’”
These parents and their children, however, were always denied because the trials were available only to patients aged 18 and older.
It was when Szalay woke up one morning last March that she decided to piece her ideas together and start forming the charity.
According to Szalay, the market for childhood cancer is small, which is one of the reasons why it isn’t studied in such progressive ways as those that CNK promotes.
“You have basically no money behind kids’ cancers from the pharmaceutical industry…it’s a disconnect in the market,” Szalay said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be pursuing it.”
CNK applied for the Petco Foundation grant after starting conversations with the organization last May. “We believed this was not only a worthwhile investment, but that it was absolutely necessary to help change the future for children and canines with cancer,” Foundation Executive Director Susanne Kogut said. “We feel privileged to support talented and dedicated people and organizations committed to creating the change needed to do so.”
“We have to work this on the national level and we have to work this locally,” Szalay said. “The long-term plan is to fund some really transformational, translational and clinical work that kind of cuts across the various disciplines we’re talking about.”
CNK is looking to partner with other local organizations with similar missions. It plans to organize a race for pediatric cancer in October in collaboration with Smashing Walnuts, another Loudoun charity working to find a cure for childhood brain cancer.
For more information, go to caninesnkids.org.