At the height of his business career, Ralph Whitworth oversaw $6 billion through his firm, Relational Investors, which purchased stakes in companies and pushed for management changes that made them more profitable for investors.
In 2015, the year before he died from human papillomavirus-related head and neck cancer, he added to his legacy by starting the nonprofit Immunotherapy Foundation with his wife, Fernanda. Their goal was to cure cancer.
She and their son Doug have since championed the cause.
“He was just the best dad in the world,” said Doug, 12, who has a younger sister, Ava, and is a seventh-grader at R. Roger Rowe Middle School in Rancho Santa Fe.
He added that his father was a “hard worker” who “never gave up on anything.” Whatever the task, Ralph put off eating and sleeping until he found a solution. Now Doug wants to bring that level of tenacity to supporting cancer research, education and advocacy for ways to reduce the risks.
The Immunotherapy Foundation has provided funding for immunotherapy research, with a specific focus on HPV-driven cancers, according to the organization’s website. The foundation has worked with UC San Diego and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology on human papillomavirus (HPV)-related research.
The nonprofit’s current efforts include supporting advancements in adoptive cell therapies, which are used to bolster the immune system; personalized vaccines, which can provide a more targeted assistance to the body’s immune system; and novel drugs, which can help patients by fulfilling unmet medical needs.
Approximately 44,000 new cases of cancer every year are found in areas of the body where HPV is found, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 35,000 of those are caused by HPV.
One of the preventative measures the Immunotherapy Foundation promotes is the HPV vaccine, which the CDC recommends to everyone through age 26. In some cases, adults through age 45 can also benefit from the vaccination, although it’s more likely that they’ve already been exposed to HPV. HPV types categorized as “low-risk” can cause warts, “high-risk” types can cause cancer. The body’s immune system is typically able to eliminate HPV infection.
Doug was 8 around the time his parents launched the foundation, but he said it was a little later before he started to understand the work they were doing, and when he learned of his father’s diagnosis.
“Cancer is a terrible disease,” Doug said, adding that he’s passionate about educating people about how they can minimize their risks of contracting certain types of cancer. “I think that you should take the shot.”
For more information, visit theimmunotherapyfoundation.org.