Tragically Hip: How all the money being raised at pre-concert parties will benefit brain cancer research

Gord Downie's doctor says money raised from fan fundraisers, such as the one happening at Cowboys in Calgary on Wednesday, will help researchers investigate new drugs, surgical techniques and genetic therapies for glioblastoma.

‘It’s going to be our ice bucket moment,’ says Gord Downie’s neuro-oncologist

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie has glioblastoma — an aggressive tumour that starts in the brain. (David Bastedo)

Gord Downie's doctor suspects fundraisers being organized by fans in conjunction with the Tragically Hip's summer tour are going to raise a "significant" amount for brain cancer research.

"We don't have a final estimate of what the magnitude of the money will be, but my suspicion is it's going to be our ice bucket moment — as it was for ALS in the past," said Dr. James Perry, referring to a campaign that raised $220 million US worldwide for ALS research after challenging people to pour ice-cold water over their heads, and posting the video to social media.

"And I think we'll have a significant amount of money," said Perry, a neuro-oncologist at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto. "This brings a spectacular opportunity, sadly, to bring awareness across Canada."

Pre-concert parties

Across Canada, pre-concert parties have been raising money for the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research at the Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

In advance of the Wednesday concert, Calgary fans are holding a second fundraiser at Cowboys Nightclub, starting at 4 p.m.

"They just go to a local pub and people come before the actual concert ... and people can make donations there and then they all get funnelled to us," said Erin Houston, an event coordinator at the Sunnybrook Foundation.

Dr. James Perry, head of neurology at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says Gord Downie's sad news is 'a spectacular opportunity' for further research into new treatments for glioblastoma. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

She said the foundation leaves it to individual Canadians to throw the pre-concert parties, but provide logos and endorsement letters so that those who make donations know that it's all "legitimate."  

"They co-ordinate it and we just provide them with the logistical guideline that they would need to follow just for the CRA, making sure that donations are actually tax receipted."

A portion of ticket sales for the Tragically Hip summer concert will also go to the Downie fund, but the Sunnybrook Foundation would not confirm that amount.

Raising profile of glioblastoma

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie has glioblastoma — an aggressive tumour that starts in the brain.

Dr. Perry says every year, between 1000 to 1,500 people in Canada are diagnosed with this type of brain cancer.

"It's always been a struggle because it is relatively rare and unfortunately, our treatment advances have been slow. The combination of those things makes it very difficult to attract funding."

Fan fundraisers and a portion of ticket sales to the Tragically Hip summer concert tour will go to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research at the Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. (Canadian Press)

"Also, the huge unmet need for effective therapies make it a gamble for ... pharmaceutical companies or biotech companies who are developing novel treatments because things have not been moving along so it isn't necessarily a place where you want to make a major investment," he said.

Dr. Perry said all the money raised this summer from fan fundraisers and ticket sales will be held in trust and the foundation will meet with the band after their tour to determine how they want to spend it.

"I'm sure they're going to tell us that they want this exclusively used for brain tumour research and the type of tumour that Gord has."

Dr. Perry's current glioblastoma research includes investigating new drugs, surgical techniques and genetic therapies.

We speak with Gord Downie's doctor about where all the money being raised by Tragically Hip fans is going to. 7:17

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener