Unlocking the Genetics of Cancer

For more than 30 years, Ken and Carol Weg have been on the front lines of cancer treatment and prevention, both personally and professionally. That commitment has taken many forms, one being their recent gift to support cancer genetics research at Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Focus article photo

Ken and Carol Weg, supporters of cancer research. (Photo by Jon Gilbert Fox)

And it's largely due to that commitment that Ken Weg has, in Carol's words, "failed retirement." In early 2001, he retired from his position as vice chairman at Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, where his 33-year career was marked by a major commitment to the pharmaceutical company's oncology business. But his passion for advancing cancer research, prevention, and treatment has not diminished, and Carol is equally committed to this cause.

Now, Ken Weg is actively involved with two companies he has cofounded—AVEO Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company working to develop new, targeted cancer therapeutics, and Metamark Genetics, a molecular diagnostics company focused on identifying which tumors will be aggressive and metastasize. "This has broad implications for determining what treatment strategies would be best for patients, based on the genetic signature of their individual tumors," he explains.

The Wegs' gift to the Cancer Center is inspired by both their respect for its director, Dr. Mark Israel, and their loyalty to their respective alma maters—Ken Weg is a 1960 Dartmouth alumnus and Carol is a graduate of Skidmore, where she also gives generously. Ken Weg has close ties to the Cancer Center as a member of its board of advisors. "Ken has been an invaluable advisor and sounding board for me as the Cancer Center has faced a rapidly changing and ever more challenging environment," says Israel. "The Wegs' generous support of our cancer genetics research demonstrates a keen understanding of the opportunities we have to understand and impact on this difficult disease."

Ken Weg expresses satisfaction at the progress in cancer treatment but describes it as "a slow grind." The future, he says, is in "personalized medicine, where specific genetic mutations in a tumor will determine the treatment of choice. That's why Carol's and my interest is in cancer genetics," he adds. "It's important that research in this area be properly funded. Genetics is the key to it all."

Because cancer has touched their family, the Wegs have also supported Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where Ken has twice been treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Like Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Fox-Chase is one of only 40 centers nationwide designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center. Ken Weg has served on Fox-Chase's board since 1998 and chaired its recent Centennial Campaign.

Despite these many commitments, the Wegs make time to relax with their children and grandchildren at their home on Mt. Desert Island in Maine and enjoy their 42-foot Morris sailboat when the breeze is up. They also indulge their passion for adventure travel, with recent destinations including Antarctica, the Galapagos, Machu Picchu, Asia, and Newfoundland.

It's probably not fair to say that the Wegs have "failed retirement" completely, but if they don't get an A, it's more than compensated by the rewards of making a difference in the fight against cancer.

By Kate Villars

This article is reprinted from the Fall 2010 issue of Dartmouth Medicine.

August 31, 2010