Cancer Grand Challenges awards $25 million for cancer genetics research

“We’re thrilled to be involved with Cancer Grand Challenges. With this award, we’re working to unravel [a] riddle and match cancer types to therapies most likely to benefit each patient.”

Stephen Elledge, PhD, a researcher in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Genetics, has received a five-year $25 million award to address some of the biggest questions facing cancer research.

Cancer Research UK and The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research provided this funding through Cancer Grand Challenges, a global research platform fueling world-class, multidisciplinary teams to make radical progress against cancer.

Elledge is the principal investigator leading a global research team—SPECIFICANCER—to investigate why specific genetic defects cause cancer in some tissue types but not others. For example, carrying the well-known BRCA gene mutation dramatically increases a person’s risk of breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers, but the defect does not increase cancer risk in other tissues despite its existence in every cell in the body. SPECIFICANCER is framing a new approach to better understand faulty genes and identify ways to prevent or treat cancer under Elledge’s direction alongside Karen Cichowski, PhD, co-leader of the project and codirector of the Brigham’s Cancer Cell Biology Program.

“We’re thrilled to be involved with Cancer Grand Challenges,” says Elledge. “We think the reason specific genetic defects cause certain types of cancer comes down to the way different cell types are ‘wired.’ With this award, we’re working to unravel this riddle and match cancer types to therapies most likely to benefit each patient.”

Michele Cleary, CEO of The Mark Foundation, says, “We were intrigued by SPECIFICANCER’s thoughtful approach to addressing tissue specificity. The strong collegial dynamic among team members, coupled with Dr. Elledge’s expert leadership, gave us confidence the project will be successful.”

Cancer Research UK CEO Michelle Mitchell notes how vital it is to support research of this caliber. “These international teams are among the best in the world in their respective fields,” she says. “Cancer Grand Challenges is enabling them to establish new and exciting collaborations.”

SPECIFICANCER is poised to make a transformative difference, observes Professor Rene Bernards, PhD, of the Cancer Grand Challenges Scientific Committee. “Headed by a principal investigator at the cutting edge of his field, this team is setting out to answer a question that has puzzled the cancer community for years,” he says. “If successful, this could revolutionize our understanding of what drives cancer and change the way we choose treatment for patients.”

About Cancer Grand Challenges

Cancer Grand Challenges is a global funding platform founded in 2020 by the two largest funders of cancer research: Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. The partnership between Cancer Research UK and the U.S. National Cancer Institute builds on the success of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge, launched in 2015. With collective support from global funders, partners, and philanthropists who share the aspirations of Cancer Grand Challenges, the initiative is funding seven teams across nine countries.

Follow Cancer Grand Challenges on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading independent cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. Headquartered in London, England, the organization funds scientists, doctors, and nurses to help beat cancer sooner, provides cancer information to the public, and develops policy to inform government decisions related to cancer and research.

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About The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research (MFCR) actively partners with scientists to accelerate research that will transform the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. The Mark Foundation fulfills its mission by supporting groundbreaking science carried out by individual investigators, multi-disciplinary teams, and inter-institutional collaborations in the United States and across the globe. Recognizing the obstacles that prevent scientific advances from improving patient outcomes, The Mark Foundation maintains a nimble, high-impact approach to funding basic and translational cancer research that bridges the gap between bench and bedside through grants and venture investments.

Since 2017, MFCR has awarded more than $100 million in grants to enable innovative basic, translational, and clinical cancer research, including early-stage drug discovery. MFCR also has a growing investment portfolio.

Follow MFCR on Twitter @TheMarkFdn.