Two years ago, San Diego-native Hanna Gleiberman walked into her doctor’s office with a sore in her mouth. She walked out with a diagnosis of an advanced, life-threatening form of tongue cancer. Soon, she would endure a 13-hour surgery to remove part of her tongue and jaw, subsequent complex reconstruction using bone from her leg and tissue from her arm, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. She was told she would have speech and swallowing difficulties for the rest of her life.
“What she was facing was daunting,” said Hanna’s husband, Mark Gleiberman, founder and CEO of San Diego-based real estate investment firm MG Properties Group. “We were so lucky to have one of the world’s top head and neck cancer centers right here in our own backyard to help Hanna make an amazing recovery.”
Treatment of head and neck cancers is highly complex. It requires teams of specialists who provide life-saving treatments tailored to preserve or recover the ability to speak, taste and swallow, as well as prevent or reduce disfigurement.
“It was extremely scary to be told I would never sound the same again and no guarantees were given on how well I would swallow and speak,” said Hanna.
For patients like Hanna, recovery involves working through multiple types of treatments to improve and optimize speech and swallowing. Hanna credits her healing and recovery, not just to the skill of individual practitioners, but also to the coordination of complex therapies and the team-based care led by Joseph A. Califano, III, MD, director of the newly named Hanna and Mark Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health.
Hanna and Mark recognize that this team-based integration of clinical care, research and supportive care makes Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health one of the best in the country, and San Diego’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. This collective expertise and Califano’s knowledge, experience, accessibility and desire to help motivated Hanna and Mark to make an extraordinary gift.
“Partners such as Hanna and Mark are central to what makes Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health the quality place it is for cancer research and care. I am so grateful for their gift and honored by their partnership,” said Scott M. Lippman, MD, Chugai Pharmaceutical Chair and director of Moores Cancer Center.
One of the strongest indicators of a program’s success is the number of people who entrust it with their care. With more than 90 staff dedicated to head and neck cancer treatment and research, the Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center cared for more than 13,000 patients in 2020, nearly double the number of patients just five years earlier.
In addition to providing unique personalized care to each patient, Moores Cancer Center continues to lead in advancing the understanding of cancer through seminal, groundbreaking research.
“While we have an incredible base in translational science, and leverage molecular and immunologic knowledge to treat patients and move discoveries into clinical trials, this gift will allow us to really focus on how to improve functional outcomes, quality of life and improve recovery after treatment,” said Califano, physician-in-chief at Moores Cancer Center.
In 2021, head and neck cancer research at Moores Cancer Center received $14 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and $40 million in future committed funding from foundations and private philanthropy.
The Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center offers more than 20 active clinical trials, including advanced therapies developed by UC San Diego Health physician-scientists. This complements an integrative, multidisciplinary treatment approach that features minimally invasive surgery, reconstruction and rehabilitation, proton and other forms of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, molecular targeted therapies and personalized immunotherapy.
“If I had this diagnosis 15 years ago, the prognosis would have been very different,” said Hanna. “We have learned that research offers a chance for cures and funding can help make great strides towards new, less invasive and less toxic therapies.”
Hanna and Mark’s $12 million gift will support many areas within the Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center, including:
- Supporting innovative clinical trials for head and neck cancer treatment
- Training the next generation of head and neck cancer experts by building and growing a fellowship program
- Investing in junior faculty by creating start-up and retention packages and funding pilot projects
- Creating an endowed fund to provide seed support for research projects, equip physicians and physician-scientists with resources to develop life-changing tools and therapies, initiate clinical trials, pursue additional grant funds for head and neck cancer exploration and discovery, and provide matching funds to augment extramural grants
- Enhancing patient experience through patient-centered, caregiver supported programs and care navigation services
- Providing services not covered by health insurance to those who cannot afford them
Philanthropy is an enduring family value for the Gleibermans. “We have a responsibility to give back with the intention of leaving the world a better place,” said Hanna.
Both Hanna and Mark have embraced philanthropic endeavors supporting UC San Diego and the San Diego community. Mark is a trustee of the UC San Diego Foundation Board and a founding board member of the UC San Diego Real Estate and Development program, and previously served as a member of the UC San Diego Athletic Board. Hanna serves on the board of trustees for the La Jolla Playhouse.
Together, the couple initiated and funded an innovative UC San Diego class on homelessness. The entire Gleiberman family is deeply committed to improving the lives of members of the San Diego community and are major supporters of numerous San Diego causes.
Hanna and Mark are confident their transformational gift will empower the team at the Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center to advance medicine and improve treatments to affect change for patients.
“We believe that our support will help advance leading-edge research, education and care of people throughout San Diego County, as well as have an impact globally,” said Mark.
Awards Cancer Care Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Care