$6 million gift to benefit thyroid cancer research

Jim Wigginton has given $6 million to support the Punya Thyroid Cancer Endowed Fund and establish the Nancy Wigginton Professorships of Thyroid Cancer.

Wigginton had previously established the Punya Thyroid Cancer Endowed Fund for the benefit of thyroid cancer clinical research at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in August 2013 with a gift of $1 million. Since then, he has donated another $5 million to establish two endowed professorships in memory of Nancy Wigginton. The combined $6 million is the largest gift to thyroid cancer research at the University of Michigan.

Wigginton is making the gift in honor of his late wife, Nancy Punya Wigginton, who was cared for by Frank Worden, M.D., and Megan Haymart, M.D. This gift recognizes their advances in thyroid cancer research and their outstanding patient care.

“The incidence of thyroid cancer has tripled over the past 30 years,” Haymart notes. “Today, thyroid cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the United States and the fifth most common cancer in women. While most patients have an excellent prognosis, some patients with distant metastases, do poorly, especially if over age 45.”

Despite being an increasingly common cancer, a lack of funding has led to a scarcity in high quality clinical research in thyroid cancer. Worden and Haymart agree there is a great need for thyroid cancer research in order to advance the field to improve patient care.

“In addition to being an increasingly common cancer, a diagnosis of thyroid cancer is often associated with a worsening quality of life, increased patient costs, and occasionally treatment complications,” Worden says.

Worden and Haymart envision the Punya Thyroid Cancer Endowed Fund as a comprehensive, collaborative clinical research program that will incorporate both health services research and clinical trials.

Haymart is an endocrinologist and lead for thyroid cancer health services research at the University of Michigan. For the past several years, Haymart and colleagues have been actively exploring the implications of the thyroid cancer epidemic.

“Thyroid cancer remains understudied. Research exploring the rise in thyroid cancer incidence and the implications of a thyroid cancer diagnosis, including survival and treatment complications, will benefit future thyroid cancer patients. Through collaborations among endocrinologists, oncologists, surgeons, biostatisticians, health economists, epidemiologists and survey methodologists, we hope to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the current standard of care for thyroid cancer patients with goals for improved care and better communication,” Haymart says.

Worden, the leader of clinical trials for thyroid cancer at the University of Michigan, has conducted clinical trials for thyroid cancers for over a decade. He is interested in developing treatment protocols with novel therapeutics in patients with advanced thyroid cancers in the metastatic setting.

“It is important for patients with advanced thyroid cancer to have treatment options readily available to them and to have a team of caregivers who are trained to manage these complex patients. Only through trials with novel agents can we improve survival. Support from the Punya Thyroid Cancer Endowed Fund will allow the University of Michigan to become a leader in both thyroid cancer health services research and thyroid cancer clinical trials,” he says.

Wigginton’s desire is for the Punya Fund to be the most influential thyroid cancer fund in the world, and through this fund to substantially lengthen the time and quality of life for patients with advanced thyroid cancer. He hopes to raise a total of $10 million with additional gifts and fundraising events.

Wigginton is a native of Crittenden County, Ky., and current resident of Belleville. He is a managing partner in True North Equity, LLC, a private equity firm in Birmingham. He and his late wife have three children and nine grandchildren.