Cancer Care

With largest donation of its kind, Beilinson Hospital’s Samueli Institute takes holistic approach to cancer treatment

Susan and Henry Samueli, who co-founded the Broadcom semiconductor firm, provide $25 million to create the research institute

Henry and Susan Samueli donated $25 million to Israel’s Beilinson Medical Center, which was matched with an additional $9 million from Clalit Health Services, to create a holistic cancer treatment institute, which is meant to both treat patients and perform research, the incoming chairman of the institute told eJewishPhilanthropy.

The $34 million donation is the largest one of its kind in Israel’s history, both in terms of its size and its purpose. Unlike most philanthropic donations to hospitals, which tend to focus on funding new buildings or equipment, the Samuelis donation to create the Samueli Integrative Cancer Pioneering Institute will go primarily to funding research, with the goal that the findings will be shared around the world. 

Beilinson Medical Center is located in the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva, is one of the country’s top-rated hospitals and is home to the Davidoff Center, which functions as a cancer hospital within a hospital. The Davidoff Center, which recently doubled its capacity, currently treats one out of every seven cancer patients in Israel, according to its director, Dr. Gal Markel, who now also serves as the chairman of the newly formed Samueli Institute.

According to Markel, the goal of the new institute is to develop new, more holistic cancer treatment methods and practices. The institute’s research will look at everything “from the level of the molecule to the full person, along the full course of treatment, asking questions that are important not just from the investigator’s perspective, but from the patient’s perspective and from the community’s perspective.”

Markel, who is something of a wunderkind having become the youngest person to become a professor of medicine in Israel at the age of 35, said the institute, which began initial operations in January, strives to take a comprehensive approach to cancer.

“We are not treating cancer, we’re treating patients who have cancer. And therefore we must meet all of their needs, not just giving the chemotherapy or whatever treatment. We need to integrate everything in a very holistic way,” he said.

Markel noted that since Beilinson is owned by Clalit Health Services, the largest of the country’s four health care providers, it is particularly capable of considering the full patient, as it will often have ready access to their entire medical history as well as direct contact with their primary care physicians and other medical personnel they interact with outside the hospital. (Patients who are not members of Clalit can also be treated at Beilinson; it is just a bit more complicated for the hospital to coordinate with their outside doctors and medical professionals.)

Markel said the donation and the formation of the new institute were more than five years in the making. Henry Samueli, a co-founder of the Broadcom Inc. semiconductor company, and his wife, Susan, made multiple donations over those years to the Davidoff Center to fund a number of different studies, specifically focused on melanoma and immunology. While significant, Markel said those donations were on a far smaller scale.

Building on that existing relationship, Markel said the hospital approached the couple and their family foundation about the institute.

“It was a process with the foundation and then directly with Henry and Susan. We had to create a presentation, to create a plan. Since this is a very big operation and very ambitious one, it couldn’t just be some high-level slogans or vision. It had to be built from the bottom up. So we created a thorough bottom-up plan, which was a combination of a scientific, medical-based plan and an operational ‘business-like’ plan,” he said.

Markel explained that while the institute would not be a business per se, they developed the plan laying out specific goals and benchmarks that would demonstrate the success of the institute, just not necessarily financial ones. 

“We have very aggressive KPIs [key performance indicators]. We set the bar high because we don’t have time. There are too many patients,” he said. “Once we are in motion, we expect pretty quickly to create new opportunities for partnerships, to fast track research, to find better solutions for as many patients as possible and for the different types of problems that patients and their families experience throughout this journey,” he said.

In order to achieve those goals, Markel said the institute has laid out a “a very aggressive timeline for the next three years,” with plans to roll out a “clinical intervention with a new technology by mid-2024.”

He said, around the same time, the institute also intended to launch “one or two pivotal interventional programs [focused on] engagement with the patient to significantly improve the patient journey and patient experience.” In addition, Markel said within the coming year the institute planned to have in place the basic foundations for a so-called “data lake,” a mass repository of data about patients that can be plumbed for useful information.

“We are building upon unique and immense clinical databases, and we’re going to add multiple new levels of information from digital pathology, imaging, psychosocial, nutrition, genomics, proteomics, everything, in order to create a data lake that will enable us to look from the populations level all the way to the personal level and to create the optimal cancer map for each patient and for entire patient populations,” he said. “We expect the data lake to be ready for investigations and collaborations in about two years.”

Markel stressed that a major area of interest for the institute will be international collaborations, “with academic institutions, clinical institutions, industry, philanthropic foundations, every group or organization that can bring value and that we can contribute value to.”

To encourage the institute’s holistic approach, the top positions have been filled not only by medical doctors, like oncologist Dr. Salomon Stemmer, but also experts in other fields – some directly related to medicine and some not.

The institute’s CEO, Avner Paz Tsuk, for instance, served in the Israel Defense Forces for nearly three decades, first in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and then in a variety of technology and intelligence unites over the course of 20 years before becoming the military’s chief education officer from 2013 to 2017. 

“This is a guy who brings management, technology, education and values. It was very important for us that the CEO of the institute come from a different world, meaning not a physician, not a biologist, someone who comes with a different perspective, bringing in new values.”

According to the Samuelis, the “true measure of success” for the institute will be how many of the new techniques, procedures and guidelines that it develops are implemented at “leading institutes throughout the world.”

“We expect the Institute, under Dr. Markel’s leadership, to challenge existing care paradigms and create a better future for cancer patients inside of Israel and beyond,” the Samuelis said in a statement.