Believe in Progress: an AACR Foundation Podcast

Believe in Progress: an AACR Foundation Podcast

006: Rob Butcher + Matt Vossler - Swim Across America for Cancer Research

August 23, 2023

On this episode, we are speaking with Rob Butcher and Matt Vossler,

Both of these gentlemen are champions in awarding high risk-high reward cancer research grants, which helps provide funds for innovative early stage cancer research.

In 1987, Matt Vossler co-founded Swim Across America Inc., a nonprofit organization that raises funds for cancer research, treatment, and survivorship programs through a series of open-water swimming events. He currently serves on the Board of Directors and oversees Safety and Risk Management for 20+ open water events. To date, Swim Across America has raised more than $100 million, primarily benefiting Memorial Sloan Kettering, UCSF, Massachusetts General, Johns Hopkins University, Fred Hutch, Moffit, and MD Anderson.

Rob Butcher was the CEO of U.S. Master Swimming which is a membership association for adult swimmers and triathletes, Prior to joining Swim Across America.

Before that, Rob was a senior marketing executive with NASCAR where he lead business development and media partnerships.

Rob swam in college and competed in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Here is some information on their organization, Swim Across America:

“Swim Across America awards high risk-high reward cancer research grants with precision and accountability. Our goal is to provide funds for innovative early stage research that doesn't receive funding from traditional sources.”


In the 1980s, a small circle of oncologists sought funding for a revolutionary concept—that the immune system could fight cancer. This concept was considered speculative and dismissed by most of the medical community. The belief was that surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were the best treatment options, despite their negative effects on the quality of life for patients and families (physical, emotional, and financial). Organization and commercial companies weren’t willing to provide seed funding for new research and to take a risk on new ideas.


Swim Across America (SAA) was willing to take the risk by making high risk-high reward research grants. Since our first grant in 1987, SAA has awarded $100M to cancer centers such as Memorial Sloan Kettering, Johns Hopkins, MD Anderson, Fred Hutch, and Dana-Farber so that their teams could innovate and develop breakthroughs in immunotherapy, cell gene therapy, personalized medicine, detection, and survivorship.


Swim Across America’s decades of identifying and funding high risk-high reward research grants were rewarded when the FDA approved immunotherapy treatments that SAA had been helping to fund; ipilimumab (Yervoy), nivolumab (Opdivo), atezolizumab (Tecentriq), and pembrolizumab (Keytruda).


Additionally, a recent high-risk grant is showing promise. In 2017, we identified and awarded seed funding to the research team that had an idea to treat rectal cancer with a novel immunotherapy. In 2023, the FDA Advisory Committee recommended support for the immunotherapy clinical trial which demonstrated a complete response to Phase 1 patients. All the patients (100%) responded to the immunotherapy and did not need chemo or radiation, offering a better quality of life for survivors. It is likely this immunotherapy will be expanded to other cancer types.

This is the Believe in Progress podcast hosted by the AACR Foundation and featuring Rob Butcher and Matt Vossler.

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