If you enjoy amazing, inspirational, “one-in-a-gazillion” stories – then this one’s for you.
Stephen Grand and his wife Nancy, from San Francisco, are among Israel’s greatest friends, providing exceptionally generous support to the Technion, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and other worthy causes. Steve is a respected leader of the Bay Area Jewish community.
As a small boy growing up in Detroit in the 1950s, Steve’s father was president of the local chapter of the American Technion Society, and would, as Steve recalls, “drag me around to Technion events.” Both of his parents loved Israel, and Technion held a special place in their hearts. “As I grew up,” he says, “I came to understand the crucial role that Technion has played in the survival and success of Israel.”
Later, when he and Nancy became philanthropically active, they naturally supported the Technion, providing generous funding for (among others) the Grand Water Research Institute and later, the Grand Technion Energy Program.
So far, so good.
It is at this point that the story careens off its conventional track, and becomes, well….amazing. Here’s how Steve told it when he received a Technion honorary doctorate in 2010: “Five years ago, I was diagnosed with a fatal blood cancer, multiple myeloma. The doctors were not optimistic and gave me under two years to live. At the same time, a new drug had just been approved, and I started taking it. In a few months, I was in complete remission, and have remained so for almost five years.”
“That drug is called Velcade,” Steve continued, “and it was developed from Technion research by Drs. Ciechanover and Hershko….I have the Technion to thank for me being here tonight.”
“Drs. Ciechanover and Hershko”, are, of course, Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, Technion professors of medicine whose discovery of the process by which cell proteins are broken down and degraded earned them the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and was of foundational importance to the development of Velcade, the drug that saved Steve Grand’s life, and that of tens of thousands of others.
“I have the Technion to thank for me being here tonight.”
Steve was in Israel last week for the dedication of the ambitious new Nancy and Stephen Grand National Center for Personalized Medicine based at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, and he took the time, as he always does on his frequent trips to Israel, to visit the Technion. Observing him on campus, and his encounters with professors and students, his love for the Technion was palpable. He took particular delight in meeting a group of young students who designed and built the Technion’s Student Formula Race Car, a project supported by the Grand Energy Program.
Steve was clearly “energized” by his encounter with these students, and just as obviously knows cars (after all, he did grow up in Detroit…). If it had been possible, I am sure he would have loved to take the sleek ruby red race car out for a spin around campus.
In fact, to my eyes, he bore no resemblance whatsoever to a man who had been given an imminent death sentence nine years ago, and he confirmed this perception by telling us that he was still in full remission, and may have actually been cured of his cancer.
Like most great achievements, the story of the drug that saved Steve Grand has multiple heroes. First and foremost, Profs. Hershko and Ciechanover, whose breakthrough sent them to Stockholm, exactly one decade ago, to receive Israel’s first Nobel Prize in the natural sciences; the numerous Technion donors who supported their work over many years, together with such key research funders as the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the Israel Cancer Research Fund; and of course the team that actually created Velcade, led by Dr. Julian Adams, working at that time for Millennium Pharmaceuticals.
(As if there were not enough serendipity in this story, it turns out that Dr. Adams, like Steve Grand, hails from a great Zionist family – the Adams family from Montreal, headed by his father Marcel, whose decades of support for Israeli higher education reached its pinnacle in 2005 when he established the Adams Fellowship at the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities, annually providing generous four-year scholarships to the nation’s brightest graduate students.)
At lunch, one of the young researchers, hearing Steve’s story for the first time, observed that Steve was the ultimate “Technion lifer” — in more ways than one — and wondered aloud: “What are the odds?”
Steve smiled, and replied: “one-in-a-gazillion”.