The 2023 UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge raises $1 million for critical cancer research

Funds will support groundbreaking studies aimed at preventing, treating and curing cancer


December 14, 2023
A woman is elated as she nears the finish line of the 2023 UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge.
A record 3,800 participants in the 2023 UCI Ant-Cancer Challenge helped raise $1 million to support breakthrough cancer research. Photos by Carlos Puma for UCI Health


Orange, Calif. — A record 3,800 participants who turned out for the seventh annual UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge raised more than $1 million to support cancer research at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and its pediatric affiliate, Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).

The Oct. 7 event surpassed the million-dollar mark for a second consecutive year, thanks to the unwavering support of patients, their loved ones, caregivers, scientists and community members who came together to ride bikes, run and walk to fight cancer.

The UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge community previously had raised more than $3.7 million, funding a remarkable 100 groundbreaking pilot projects and early phase clinical trials with the potential to revolutionize the future of cancer diagnosis, treatment and care.

In turn, these innovative research efforts have attracted $33.3 million in federal grants and other external support.

‘Significant milestone’

"Reaching 100 funded projects is a significant milestone in our ongoing battle against cancer," said Richard A. Van Etten, MD, PhD, director of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive center based in Orange County, and founder of the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge.

“With the substantial funds raised this year, we aim to amplify our impact and drive innovation further in cancer prevention, treatment and cures for individuals in Orange County and beyond.”

Participants in the 2023 UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge cheer as they near the finish line.
Whether walking, running or cycling, throngs of people young and old show their dedication to supporting research to defeat cancer.

Van Etten, UCI Health CEO Chad T. Lefteris and UCI School of Medicine Dean Michael J. Stamos, MD, helped kick-off race-day festivities in Aldrich Park at the heart of the University of California, Irvine campus. Activities included 5K and 10K runs and walks, bicycle routes ranging from 14 to 100 miles, and the event’s first mountain bike ride traversing Crystal Cove State Park.

Other offerings included a wellness festival and a UCI Health pavilion offering community health education. Entertainment was provided by the Anaheim Ducks Street Team as well as live musical performances.

KTLA Orange County Bureau Chief Chip Yost returned for a second year to host the opening ceremony, setting an upbeat tone for a memorable day of inspiration and dedication. Highlights included the 2023 Patient and Physician awards ceremony.

Honorees celebrated

Melanoma specialist Dr. James Jakowatz, left, skin cancer patient James Madrid, center, pose with UCI Anti-Cancer Challenger founder Dr. Richard Van Etten.
Melanoma specialist Dr. James Jakowatz, left, and skin cancer survivor Jim Madrid, center, receive awards from anti-cancer challenge found Dr. Richard Van Etten.

Patient honoree Jim Madrid, executive vice president of McCarthy Building Companies Inc., was recognized for his advocacy for skin cancer awareness. He spoke to the world-class care he received at UCI Health and the critical importance of early detection in saving lives.

Physician honoree James G. Jakowatz, MD, was celebrated for his notable 38-year career at UCI Health. Under his leadership, the UCI Health Melanoma Center has become one of the leading centers for melanoma diagnosis and treatment on the West Coast.

Since its inception in 2017, the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge has been possible because of the unwavering support of corporate sponsors, who generously underwrite event costs, ensuring that 100% of participant contributions go directly toward groundbreaking research.

The 2023 corporate sponsors include Club Studio, LA Fitness, the Kay Family Foundation, the Anaheim Ducks, the Honda Center and Pacific Rim Mechanical. Another major sponsor is Hensel Phelps, general contractor for UCI Health — Irvine, a medical complex under construction in Irvine that includes the new Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory building, which will open to patients in summer 2024.

Praise for participants

Bile duct cancer patient Neusha Raffijandi, in chair, gets a push from husband Anka in the race to defeat cancer.
Bile duct cancer patient Neusha Raffijandi gets a push from husband Anka during the 5k walk on Oct. 7 to raise funds for cancer research.

Partners in Research — individuals, teams and corporations that raise or donate $50,000 or more to the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge — also played a vital role in the event’s success. The 2023 Partners in Research include Team Answer for Cancer, Monster Energy Cares, Hensel Phelps, Lynn Capouya Inc. and Team Michelle.

Ronit Benjamin, the event's executive council chair and top fundraising team co-captain, praised all who made the 2023 challenge a resounding success.

“Being a part of the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge for the last six years has touched my heart deeply,” said Benjamin. “I hope everyone understands the importance of the impact we are making for all those battling cancer in our community. Every contribution, big or small, influences our shared future.”

Fundraising efforts continued throughout the end of October. Interested donors can still support cancer research at anti-cancerchallenge.org as well as learn how to participate in the eighth annual UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge on Oct. 5, 2024.

Learn more about the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge ›

About UCI Health

UCI Health is the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine, and the only academic health system in Orange County. Patients can access UCI Health at primary and specialty care offices across Orange County and at its main campus, UCI Medical Center in Orange, Calif. The 459-bed, acute care hospital, listed among America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report for 23 consecutive years, provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation services. UCI Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program and American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center, gold level 1 geriatric emergency department and regional burn center. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About UCI Health — Irvine

UCI Health — Irvine, a new medical complex under construction at the north end of the UCI campus, will bring unparalleled expertise and the finest evidence-based care that only an academic medical system can offer to the communities of coastal and south Orange County.

As part of UCI Health — which includes the flagship UCI Medical Center in Orange, Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and multiple outpatient care locations — the new 1.2 million-square-foot campus will offer key clinical programs in oncology, digestive health, neurology, neurosurgery, orthopedics and spine surgery.

The nation’s first all-electric, carbon-neutral medical center, UCI Health — Irvine will be home to:

  • The Joe C. Wen & Family UCI Health Center for Advanced Care, a five-story, 168,000-square-foot medical facility offering the full range of multidisciplinary specialty care for children and adults under a single roof, urgent care services, the Center for Children’s Health and the UCI Health Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders — Opening spring 2024
  • The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building, a five-story, 193,000-square-foot tower with 52 private exam rooms, 26 infusion bays and eight outpatient operating rooms — Opening 2024
  • A seven-story, 350,000-square-foot, acute care hospital with 144 inpatient beds, 10 operating suites and a 24-hour emergency department with 20 treatment rooms — Opening 2025