FROM CANCER TO COVID-19: TGen’s Research Continues to Change Lives

Credit: Original article published by Barrett-Jackson.

Written by Barbara Toombs and Steve Yozwiak, TGen Senior Science Editor


For many, the highlights of any Barrett-Jackson auction are the exciting and often emotional moments when vehicles come up on the auction block with a noble purpose: to help others. The charitable element of Barrett-Jackson has been woven into the very fabric of the company from day one, when the very first Scottsdale event benefited the local library. “I’m proud we’ve kept alive the legacy of charitable giving my father Russ Jackson and his business partner Tom Barrett started nearly half a century ago,” says Barrett-Jackson Chairman and CEO Craig Jackson.

To date, more than 130 different charitable organizations – large and small, local and national – have benefited from this unique fundraising effort, made possible largely through the generous consignors and bidders in the collector car community. One organization in particular has a special significance to Barrett-Jackson and Craig Jackson: TGen – the Translational Genomics Research Institute in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, an affiliate of City of Hope in Southern California.

After their winning bid of $200,000 on a 1965 Superformance MKIII Custom Roadster to benefit TGen at the 2020 Scottsdale Auction, Carolyn and Craig Jackson (center) celebrate the sale with TGen representatives.

After Jackson lost both his father and brother to colon cancer, he established the Barrett-Jackson Cancer Research Fund at TGen in Memory of Russ and Brian Jackson in 2010. Beginning with the 2011 Scottsdale Auction, many cars have rolled across the block to raise funds for this worthy cause – the most recent of which was an amazing 1965 Superformance MKIII Custom Roadster generously donated by longtime Barrett-Jackson supporters Ron and Pam Evans to sell at the 2020 Scottsdale Auction. The licensed Shelby “Cobra,” upgraded to include a new crate 435hp Ford Racing 5.0-liter V8 engine and finished in stunning LumiLor electroluminescent paint, became the newest resident of Carolyn and Craig and Jackson’s garage when the final gavel dropped on their winning bid of $200,000, bringing the total raised for TGen over the years to more than $1.7 million.

The concept for TGen began to come to life on February 7, 2002, when an assembly of more than 50 leaders and visionaries in science, medicine, government and business gathered at the Arizona state capitol to discuss the possibility of establishing Arizona as a player in the new economy of the biotechnology industry. Their goal was to set up a one-of-a-kind genomics research institute where many of the world’s leading scientists would turn breakthroughs in genetic research into medical advances benefiting patients and their families.

Less than a year after that initial gathering, TGen began operations. The institute is supported by the TGen Foundation, a non-profit that secures and stewards private support to fuel TGen’s biomedical discoveries.

TGen’s Dr. Sunil Sharma is one of the senior authors of a just-published colon cancer study paper in a premier science journal.

The funds raised by the specially designated vehicles sold on the Barrett-Jackson auction block to benefit TGen have allowed the institute to make tremendous inroads into colon cancer research and therapies. Some of the latest developments were revealed as recently as June 2020. Dr. Sunil Sharma, TGen Deputy Director for Clinical Sciences and Professor and Director of TGen’s Applied Cancer Research and Drug Discovery, is one of the senior authors of a new colon cancer study paper published on June 22, 2020, in the premier science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

According to Dr. Sharma, “This study is a translational investigation of a new immune therapy for colon cancer. Patients were treated with a combination of chemotherapy and immune therapy. The study showed that there was a subset of immune cells in the blood that segregated the patients who responded to the therapy. So, the body’s own innate immune response and its activation was correlated with higher response to therapy.”

In addition to discovering these life-changing therapies for colon cancer, TGen is at the forefront of efforts to test for, track and eradicate COVID-19 infections.

TGen coordinates with local, state, national and international public health officials, as well as collaborating scientists, government public health agencies and healthcare providers. This work includes those responsible for some of the most vulnerable among us and for those suffering the worst ravages of this still mysterious disease.

Over nearly two decades, TGen has positioned itself ‒ through advancements in knowledge, expertise, technologies and an ever-present commitment to the needs of the patients TGen serves ‒ to be among the world’s Genomic First Responders to this pandemic.

In record time, TGen stood up a CLIA-level (federally allowed) diagnostics lab, initiated use of its new Bio Safety Lab for interrogating live coronavirus received from the National Institutes of Health, and received Emergency Use Authorization for their activities from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As a result, TGen developed an extremely accurate test to diagnose those who are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. TGen is also a co-founder ‒ along with Arizona’s three major public universities (NAU, ASU and UA) ‒ of the Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union (ACGU). The ACGU is composed of Arizona’s premier genomic epidemiologists, working to track the virus, see where infections are coming from and how the contagion is circulating in communities, by using Whole Genome Sequencing to eventually examine at the molecular level all of Arizona’s positive samples of COVID-19.

In addition, TGen ‒ along with City of Hope, HonorHealth and others ‒ is pursuing potential anti-viral and antibody drug treatments and vaccines. TGen also developed a blood-plasma test that looks for COVID-19 antibodies, and can thereby identify individuals who have been exposed to the virus and have potentially built up an immunity. Findings from these tests also could assist in identifying the best candidates from among those who have recovered from COVID-19, who could donate antibodies in their plasma to assist in the recovery of other COVID-19 patients.

In April 2020, TGen initiated a “citizen science” project ‒ The COVID Immunity Study ‒ in which patients who have tested positive for the disease, and have recovered, can volunteer to sign up at and send TGen self-collected blood-drop samples that could help guide research in ways we can’t as yet even imagine.

Barrett-Jackson is grateful for the generosity of our bidders and consignors who have played a role in furthering the important work of TGen, and we are honored to continue our commitment to this invaluable institution in the years ahead.