Episode 141: Movember – Past, Present and Future

Sam Gledhill describes Movember and its work.

 

Tom:
We’re joined here today by Sam Gledhill from Movember. He’s the… For digital health for the Movember organization. Sam. Welcome. Do you want to just maybe introduce yourself and talk a little bit about how you first got involved in Movember and where you feel it’s going at the moment?

Sam Gledhill:
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me on the show. I’m delighted to be in highly esteemed company on The Uromigos podcast.

Tom:
That’d be such irony.

Sam Gledhill:
Don’t…

Tom:
Only Australians could nail that irony.

Sam Gledhill:
So my semi-role at the moment is Global Director for Digital Health, which means I have a group of people who are building all of the websites and the apps that are pointing towards people, men who have testicular cancer or prostate cancer, or even men who have mental health issues and the apps that we’ve got that help those men directly. But I have, throughout my course at Movember, spent a fair bit of time in the prostate cancer world and in the medical research world where I started. So I joined Movember about 10 years ago on a project that was a prostate cancer imaging project. For those in the urology community that are familiar with the GAP2 project, that was my first part of the Movember journey. And then since then have built a career around just sniffing around opportunities that were coming up in the office and looking at new things to do and new ways to get involved in new and exciting initiatives.

Tom:
Sam.

Sam Gledhill:
And landed myself in testis cancer land, which was an interesting place to be.

Tom:
Sam. Can you talk about those GAP projects? What does a GAP project mean? How much funding comes with them and how do you as an organization choose which funding streams you go with? I know, for example, you are raising some, is it a hundred million a year or something along those lines?

Sam Gledhill:
So in Australian dollars we, yeah, we raise on an average year around a hundred million and we really, we take the investment of that funding really quite seriously. But one of the advantages we’ve got of being a global organization is we could create something like the GAP project and the GAP project started way back in 2011. And it was, the concept behind it was to really ramp up the capacity for individuals and individual institutions to collaborate with their international colleagues. Because we felt like we were in a unique position where we had this global footprint that was raising a reasonable amount of money. But what we found was that typically, in many research institutes, say for example, here in Australia, Australian money was spent researching on Australian men and going to Australian institutions and the same thing in Canada, same thing in the UK, and the US.

Sam Gledhill:
So we saw a real opportunity to bring together the research community and for, and make that collaboration an element of the consortium that we pull together. And so in terms of how it’s funded, those projects are, we identify problem areas and we set up a committee of well esteemed experts in the field and ask them, what’s the biggest problem that needs solving immediately and then construct a team around that problem rather than funding individual projects, construct a team to come together and build collaborative projects around a problem space.

Brian:
Sam, how’d you guys get such a global reach? I mean, that’s I think a massive amount of money. I don’t know the space well in terms of quantity, but can you speak to the origins of and how you built it into such a global organization?

Sam Gledhill:
It’s funny. So Trav Garone, who’s one of the four founding fathers of Movember. He his mate Lucky were sitting in a pub here in Melbourne way back in 2003. And as a bit of a lark said, wouldn’t it be funny if you know, we encourage people to grow mustaches. We haven’t seen a mustache in 30 years. It’d be funny to see men growing mustaches. And at the time ,around the turn of the century, there was a massive push from women focusing on raising awareness and funds for breast cancer. So everything was being painted pink for breast cancer around the world. And these guys thought, this is, it’s crazy. There’s nothing for men. And yet they were surprised to find that in Australia that year more men died of prostate cancer than women did of breast cancer.

Sam Gledhill:
And they said, we’ve got to do something about this. And so they created the concept of Movember back in 2003 and then Trav often jokes that this is a joke that got wildly out of control. The next thing we know in 2007, suddenly his brother’s taken off to set up an office in Los Angeles. And then we’ve got an office in Toronto and it all stems from people around the world joining this grassroots movement. So it’s just mates of mates and family members and friends and colleagues come together and want to do some good and do it in a collaborative way using Movember as an avenue.

Tom:
I remember the Aus… Year pitching up with mustache. They always tour Europe in November and they all had these mustaches. And I thought, personally, I thought, oh, that’s a bit unusual. And then suddenly the word went round, they were doing this in some charity. And of course, no one wants to get into a fight with a whole group of Australian rugby players. So it just took off from there. And that was my recollection of my first involvement.

Tom:
My second involvement with Movember was in a testis ca… GAP projects, which actually ended up supporting the high dose versus conventional dose randomized phase III, the TIGER study, and Darren Feldman leads that trial. A number of people had been involved in trying to get it over the line. Movember has been absolutely instrumental in donating millions of dollars of funding towards getting a randomized trial, working the N… The EORTC Australia, a global trial that wouldn’t be able without your support. So that’s one example of something this wouldn’t be here without you. Any other examples, Sam, of the major things that you are investing in or have invested in that have been really big flagmark projects?

Sam Gledhill:
Yeah. So I think the TIGER trial is something I’m, and I’m very close to, I manage that project for several years, and it’s a really, really, really critical success story in how you can come together and you can galvanize a community and you can start to make things happen. And you’re right. We are really proud that it’s thanks to the efforts of mustache growing and donations from hundreds of millions of people around the world that have made this possible. So we are really, really grateful and thankful to those.

Sam Gledhill:
I think some of the other examples, I’ll pick one maybe from each of our cause areas. In prostate cancer, we’ve been funding another GAP project it’s called the GAP4 project, which is an exercise in advanced prostate cancer trial. So thinking of exercise as a therapy. And I think one of the powerful parts about the GAP4 story is that it even, it’s because of the global nature, because we can bring people together, no one institution or no one country could really build the numbers and the infrastructure that you need to be able to support a trial like this.

Sam Gledhill:
And so to find 800 men around the world to participate in an exercise program with advanced cancer and then measure life expectancy and measure outcomes in those men is a really, really difficult thing to do. But we were able to do that because we had the collection of resources from UCSF, from over in the Netherlands, we had research from all over the world, coming together to collaborate on this project. And maybe another one, if you’ll indulge me for a second, [crosstalk 00:07:37] one of the great things we’ve got going on in the mental health space is a thing called the Social Innovations Challenge. And the Social Innovations Challenge is a really beautiful project, a program of multiple projects from around the world that have got community-based interventions. So one of them in the UK, for example, is a thing called Pie Club, where men get together and make pies.

Sam Gledhill:
And you’d think that’s a pretty straightforward, pretty straightforward schtick. How do you make that work? But surprisingly, when you get men together and you put them side by side in a room and ask them to make a pie together, suddenly they start having really meaningful conversations. They start to really build quite a rapport with each other and start to really open up about things that are going on. And so we’ve been able to support Pie Club to really scale and grow their things along with dozens of other of these similar initiatives, both in the UK, the US, and also here in Australia. So that’s probably another initiative we’re particularly proud of.

Brian:
Sam, that’s amazing. I don’t think I realized before this podcast, how much you guys were involved in the mental health and even testis cancer, I assumed it was prostate cancer predominant, but it’s great to see. I have a question around the clinical trials. I mean, it’s hard. Tom and I run trials for a living and it’s hard to get outside funding for trials, right, aside from pharma, aside from industry. So first of all, kudos for doing that. How much of your portfolio, so to speak, is supporting trials? What are you supporting exactly? How does that work?

Sam Gledhill:
So most of the trials that we support are investigator initiated trials or investigator initiated type trials. We, for a long time, had focused on translational research. So we weren’t… We figured there was a lot of government money and there was a lot of investment already in the discovery side of the fence. So people were doing new discoveries and building capacity fairly readily. And then when you get into the pharma land, obviously that growth and scaling is the piece where obviously pharma takes over. There’s much more big incentives for commercialization, but there’s this big gap in the middle of translational research where we wanted to try and escort really promising initiatives out of the valley of death and in towards the bedside rather than the benchtop.

Sam Gledhill:
So really, for a long time, we focused a lot on the translational research end. Having said that, we have, over the course of the journey, invested in some big scale clinical trials like TIGER, like the GAP4 initiative. And we’ve also done some discovery work, particularly an area like testis cancer, where there isn’t a lot of funding around, you do have to, as a charity, we do take ownership of funding things from start to finish as well because there’s not many other people doing it.

Tom:
Sam, one of my… I mean I’m not going to pitch any ideas to you here today.

Sam Gledhill:
Let me just get my checkbook out, Tom.

Tom:
But one of the things that I’m continually concerned about is the pharmaceutical industry will take things only so far. And then they, so for example, issues like duration of therapy is not something they’re interested in for obvious reasons. They’ve got to move on and develop the next drug, not necessarily refine that. And the role of, dare I say it, things like radiation therapy and the global clinical trial investigator initiative structure is really creaking at the moment. I don’t think COVID has helped very much as it were. How does a big organization that can make a difference like Movember, how do you keep your ear to the ground in terms of what’s needed? Because in an ever changing landscape, and where are you now going to put your resources moving forward?

Sam Gledhill:
Yeah, I think there’s a couple of really important points in there. I think the first is obviously around how do we decide and how do we keep our ear to the ground? How do we learn what’s going on? We’ve got a pretty strong governance model. And so we make sure that we rely very heavily on, as it relates to prostate cancer and testicular cancer and the biomedical research field, we rely very heavily on our global scientific committee which is a subcommittee of our board of directors. And this is a collection of world recognized experts in urology and oncology to help us to that exact point, keep an eye on what’s the latest and greatest, and what’s the emerging data telling us and what’s the emerging information. The other question around how else [crosstalk 00:12:12] build ideas about what’s coming is, we are very fortunate that we’ve now been in this game for about…

Sam Gledhill:
So funding projects, so the organization is in its 18th year this year, we’ve been funding independent research now, outside of just handing over big novelty checks to third parties, for about a dozen or more years. And one thing that we’ve developed over those dozen years is a really, really strong network of individuals who are acting in the space. So we feel like we are reasonably well connected to the people who are doing the work around the world, and we do have pretty good ears on the ground for what’s happening, but also as we think about what that means, that’s a good leverage point for Movember to say, actually, if we’ve got these networks of people in really big institutions in all parts of the world, how can we start to leverage that knowledge and how can we start to liberate that knowledge out of the big, in big academic institutions?

Sam Gledhill:
So that, to quote one of our research advisory members, so Dr. Jones on High Street can also have the same level of information and tools and resources available to him or her to be able to treat patients with the same level of effect as someone sitting in an academic institution. So I think if I was to pull out a crystal ball and predict where things were headed, I think it’s pretty clear that as we start to democratize knowledge, we can start to be able to influence how we can share that knowledge and how we can build knowledge transfer systems that allow community-based care to be to match.

Sam Gledhill:
And a lot of this is based on registries. So we’ve funded a bunch of registries around the world in prostate cancer. So having people participate in registry opens the doorway for you to be able to say, well, we can share knowledge and resources and information between… Not patient information but treatment information to tell us what’s effective, what’s working, what the latest research is telling us, and how we can make that effective across all forms of treatment. Not just those that are sitting in large academic institutions.

Tom:
Sam, after quoting Tennyson earlier today, let’s go to Turkey and suggest there is a talented Turkish individual who’s not a million miles from the valley of death, the hospital around there, with a terrific idea. And something that’s cutting edge. And how do they come to Movember with their idea and get that supported? Or is it too closed book? Is the organization too closed? How easy is it for people… Ideas and my, yeah…

Sam Gledhill:
No, I…

Tom:
Go with that first.

Sam Gledhill:
So I think, so if you go to the Movember website, there is a form you can fill in to say, hey, I’m interested in learning about where you’ve got requests for funding. So typically our funding cycle looks like we will identify problem space, we’ll identify where we’ve got opportunities and requests for funding. And then we will distribute that to anyone who’s expressed an interest to us in the past to our known networks throughout the world. We’ll advertise in places to say, if you’re interested in participating in this program of work, please send us your details. So I think for anyone who’s sitting anywhere in the world, who’s interested in participating, has a great idea, I think the first thing to do is just keep a close eye out on what we are doing. Register your details on the Movember website, it’s under the program section of the Movember website, because we will then send out any request for fund or any expressions of interest will be sent throughout through that distribution database.

Sam Gledhill:
But also like I say, we’re reasonably well connected through the networks that exist in the urology world so if you’ve got a good idea, feel free to tell us about it. People can email me if they’re interested. I’m at [email protected] I’m lucky to have been at the organization long enough that my email address has just a one name…

Brian:
Amazing.

Sam Gledhill:
Title at the front. So yeah, happy to receive, no promises that we’ll fund every application that comes. But if people do have good ideas, of course, we’re always open to hearing about them.

Brian:
And Sam, is there a vision to fund out? Is it just prostate and testis cancer now? Is it just the male only cancers or is there, aside from the mental health initiatives, is there other vision to fund outside those specific cancers?

Sam Gledhill:
So we are a men’s health organization. So we do spend most of our effort funding, from a cancer perspective, the male only cancers, prostate and testicular. I think COVID has taught us that, from a mental health perspective, we know that three out of four suicides in the developed world are in men. And we know that, around the world, we lose one man every minute of every hour of the day to suicide and that’s got to stop. So from a mental health perspective, there’s a lot of work that we need to do to really halt that crisis. But we also spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a man. So a lot of the campaigns that we run are about identifying when someone might be struggling, how to have good health conversations, how to recognize the signs that someone might not be doing so well, how to know what good health looks like. So from a general health awareness and education perspective, there’s also education and awareness campaigns that help drive towards a world where men can live happier, healthier, and ultimately longer lives.

Tom:
Sam. One of my first interactions was, with Movember, was at the Prostate Cancer Foundation meeting. I think it was in San Diego many years ago. You have a big footprint at that meeting. How much of your work is on training and education and what are your collaborations like with existing bodies? I know, for example, Prostate Cancer Foundation, EORTC, other organizations you’re linked in with, how do those links work?

Sam Gledhill:
Yeah, we’re very fortunate that we’ve got some amazing men’s health partners in both the prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and also the mental health world. For a long time, when we first started as an organization back in the early turn of the century, we were exclusively funding those organizations. So we would go about a fundraising campaign and then hand over the big novelty check at the end of the month. And we would hand over. In fact, interesting story, in our very first year, we raised 54,000 Australian dollars and we, this is before my time, but the boys at the time that were running the show got the big novelty check, went down to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia headquarters, and handed over this novelty check and took a few photos. And we later learned out that that was the single biggest individual donation that the PCFA had received at the time.

Sam Gledhill:
So we’re pretty pleased with that stat, but we relied very heavily on partnering with good organizations like the PCFA, Prostate Cancer Canada before it was absorbed up into the Canadian Cancer Society, PCUK in the UK have been great partners of ours, as well as in the mental health, the Prevention Institute. There’s a bunch of a bunch of partners that have, for a long time, worked on programs that are striving towards the same aims that we are. More recently, we’ve spent a lot more time doing things like the GAP projects ourselves. And so we’ve necessarily invested slightly less than we had historically, but those partners are still very much with us on this journey as we go towards trying to affect the lives of men.

Brian:
Hey Sam, this is great. First of all, congratulations on the organization. I mean, you guys are doing great work. I just have one last question. Is there some prize for best mustache grown during Movember? My facial hair hear growing ability is poor to say the least, so I’ll do my best, but it won’t be great, but what are the prizes?

Sam Gledhill:
So I’ll tell you, Brian, there’s a couple of prizes you could line up for. Obviously, every year we have a Man of Movember and a Miss Movember competition. But I think the prize that’s most sought after, if you can grow what we call a Lame Mo, the really stingy mustache that looks like it’s got about three hairs and needs a bit of mascara to help it along, when it comes to us trying to get our cause and get our name out there, those Lame Mos actually do more for us than anything else because if you want to spend a month sporting a lame mustache and have people ask you what it’s all about, and then you can start a few conversations, mate, that’s absolutely incredible as far as we are concerned. [crosstalk 00:20:28] The other highly sought after Mo is the Ginger Mo. So the redheaded Mo, the redheaded Mo, they are a really sought after and highly regarded mustache amongst the world, let me tell you.

Brian:
I love it.

Tom:
Sam. My last question, what are you like at making pies?

Sam Gledhill:
I wish I lived in the UK because I would be at Pie Club learning more because I’m not very good at it at all. It’s always soggy pastry, not a good filling. I need to get into a Pie club and I need to learn a few things.

Tom:
I’ve got a great feeling that Brian and I are going to be good at making pies. Brian, we should sign up for that next time you’re in London. Listen, Sam, this has been terrific. We’ve really enjoyed chatting today. I’ve always looked at Movember as an organization with great fondness… Always been really positive. I’ve always also felt that the money that you raise is extraordinary. So congratulations, and I hope this month goes extremely well for you.

Sam Gledhill:
Oh, thank you very much. And, to be clear, you don’t need to thank me or don’t congratulate me. It is literally the sum effort of hundreds of millions of people from around the world or hundreds of thousands of people around the world who’ve grown a mustache, taken a Move challenge, asked their friends for money. They’re the real rock stars. We are just the roadies in this great big band. But if people do want to participate, if people want to get involved, please head over to movember.com, register your details. And you never know, maybe you’ll be Man of Movember or Miss Movember for this year.

Brian:
Awesome, Sam. Thanks so much.

Tom:
Yes, Sam, bye.

Sam Gledhill:
No worries at all. Thanks a lot. It’s my pleasure.

Tom:
Cheers.

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