From the fall 2017 issue of The Spirit of Washington University
When St. Louis native Rodger Riney learned in September 2015 that he had multiple myeloma, he was stunned. Age 69 at the time, he always had been healthy, and his father had lived to be 101.
Mr. Riney, founder of discount brokerage firm Scottrade, says the diagnosis didn’t hit home right away. “It was business as usual for me. I thought, ‘I’ve always been lucky, and things have worked out for me.’ I didn’t understand the consequences.”
The gravity of the situation began to sink in, he says, several months after he began treatment at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine and learned more about multiple myeloma, a blood cancer diagnosed in about 30,000 Americans each year. While treatment options and survival rates have increased over the past decade, therapy rarely is curative.
It wasn’t long before Mr. Riney began thinking about ways he could help change the odds. “Within two or three visits with me, he began asking about multiple myeloma research,” says Ravi Vij, MD, Mr. Riney’s physician and a professor of medicine at Washington University. “He wanted to know if he could help advance our work.”
After meeting with David H. Perlmutter, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, Mr. Riney and his wife, Paula, made a $5 million gift to support multiple myeloma research at Siteman. The gift provided seed funding for three pilot studies that have the potential to transform treatment for the disease.
The studies include efforts to refine a promising immunotherapy technique called CAR-T cell therapy for multiple myeloma; to comprehensively characterize the genomes and proteomes—the collection of proteins—of multiple myeloma patients and mine the data to identify new treatment options; and to use a unique 3-D tissue-engineered bone marrow created from individual patient cells to screen medications for personalized treatment.
“When we learned there was not a lot of money going to multiple myeloma research, Paula and I decided to get more involved,” Mr. Riney says. “This is cutting-edge work, and our initial investment may move the needle by opening the door for additional grant funding.”
Mr. Riney, who started Scottrade in 1980 and led the company until it was sold to TD Ameritrade, has become a dedicated advocate for multiple myeloma research and treatment. He is a member of the board of directors for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. He also has participated in clinical trials at Siteman, including a study comparing the efficacy of two drug regimens in halting progression of the disease.
“I think it’s important for patients to be involved in these trials,” he says. “If it contributes to more effective treatment or a cure down the road, it’s a home run.”
Dr. Vij, a principal investigator for the three pilot projects funded by the Rineys, says the couple’s gift provides a significant boost for multiple myeloma research at Siteman. “It allows us to focus the university’s tremendous expertise in genomics, immunology, and other key areas on this disease so we can improve outcomes for patients and families.”
The Rineys, who also support Alzheimer’s disease research at Washington University, are optimistic that goal can be achieved. “I certainly hope our children and grandchildren won’t have to worry about this disease,” Mrs. Riney says.
“With the research that is being done, we are getting so close,” Mr. Riney adds. “The future looks brighter than ever before.”
—By Mary Lee