Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has received a $6.4 million gift from the family of Connor Boyle, a Central Bucks East High School graduate who died at age 18 from osteosarcoma. This three-year gift, named “The Connor Initiative: Precision Therapeutics for Osteosarcoma & Rare Cancers,” will support cutting-edge research in osteosarcoma and other rare cancers.
Following Connor’s diagnosis in 2019, his grandparents, David and Patricia Holveck, became deeply invested in advancing science that can better identify and treat patients affected by these cancers. Their support was instrumental in catalyzing the Mitochondria and Cancer Connections Research Program at CHOP, which investigates biological mechanisms behind cellular life and death and brings together key leaders from the hospital’s Mitochondrial Medicine Program and Division of Oncology.
Through the Connor Initiative, the Holveck family hopes to unlock novel therapies that will change the standard of care for osteosarcoma — a disease that has not seen significant change in treatment for more than 30 years.
“Our family has made this investment because we believe the time is now to bring together a talented, collaborative team from CHOP with promising new scientific models and methods,” said David Holveck.
Osteosarcoma, the most common malignant bone tumor in children and young adults, affects approximately 400 children every year in the United States. This cancer occurs during critical growth periods and is vexing to treat because tumors are unique for each patient. Osteosarcoma can also spread to other organs or tissues in the body, often beginning with the lungs. Despite surgery and some of the strongest chemotherapy given to patients with solid tumors, outcomes are poor in those whose cancer spreads or recurs.
Research to date has found that while osteosarcoma is defined by a consistent appearance under the microscope, these tumors are very complex with genetic drivers that vary from one patient to the next.
“While surgery and chemotherapy are effective in treating some patients with osteosarcoma, clinical trials testing new drugs have not identified new curative treatments for this rare and complex disease,” said pediatric oncologist Dr. Theodore W. Laetsch, who leads the Developmental Therapeutics Program and the Very Rare Malignant Tumors Program at CHOP. “Treatment and research of osteosarcoma need a true precision medicine approach.”
The Connor Initiative will support researchers and clinicians developing novel therapies using advanced models, state-of-the-art tumor profiling techniques, and real-time feedback from active patients. By translating discoveries made in the research lab back to the clinical bedside, Dr. Laetsch and his team endeavor to launch clinical trials with unprecedented speed. Importantly, the Connor Initiative includes a dedicated nurse navigator, so that patients and families have a trusted advocate and resource every step of the way.
“We are grateful to the Holvecks for making this commitment and helping us take some of the exciting research that has been happening recently and implement those findings in clinical practice,” said Dr. Laetsch.
Connor was a thoughtful and generous young man. Through more than 20 rounds of chemotherapy, 15 rounds of radiation, and 12 surgeries, he maintained a 4.0 grade point average. He was driven to restore normalcy in his life, working with a physical trainer for three years to play intramural basketball and compete on his high school baseball and football teams. Connor was slated to join the class of 2026 at Villanova University. His wish was that no other child would have to endure what he suffered, and CHOP’s initiative in his name is a vital step toward this goal.
“The Holvecks know firsthand what lies before us,” said Dr. Joseph St. Geme, CHOP’s Physician-in-Chief. “This gift to establish The Connor Initiative will provide the tools and resources to meet the challenges of treating osteosarcoma like never before.”
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