Damon Runyon Physician-Scientist Training Award Overview

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Program Description

Physician-scientists who are both clinically trained and expert researchers are essential to the successful translation of scientific discovery into more effective patient therapies. They have the unique capacity to blend their insights from treating patients and working in the laboratory in a way that enables and accelerates medical advances. However, the pipeline of physician-scientists is dwindling. The decline in this vital cadre of cancer researchers is occurring at a time when cancer research holds the greatest promise of improving survival and quality of life among cancer patients. A growing shortage of physician-scientists means that major laboratory research discoveries will progress to patient application ever more slowly. If the shortage continues unabated, some may not reach patient application at all, thus presenting a crisis in cancer research.

There are two major obstacles to recruiting more physicians into research careers:

Financial: By the time physicians have completed medical school and their clinical training, they are in their late 20s or early 30s. They are buying homes and starting families. Many also finish medical school with significant educational debt (averaging >$150,000). If they go into private practice, they can immediately begin earning several hundred thousand dollars a year. If they choose research careers, they will earn considerably less, more in the range of $70,000-$100,000. Therefore, many physicians who are interested in research feel they cannot afford that career.

Opportunity: Unless a physician is enrolled in a joint MD/PhD program upon entering medical school, it is very difficult to obtain the extensive research training necessary to perform cutting-edge cancer research after medical school. Physicians who decide later in medical school or during their clinical fellowship that they are drawn to research (“late bloomers”) find themselves at a disadvantage, because they lack sufficient research experience to be competitive with MD/PhD scientists for existing funding opportunities.

In an effort to confront the crisis arising from a growing dearth of physician-scientists, Damon Runyon wishes to encourage more physicians to pursue research careers. To do so, the Foundation established a program designed to recruit outstanding U.S. Specialty Board eligible physicians into cancer research careers by providing them with the opportunity for a protected research training experience under the mentorship of a highly qualified and gifted mentor after they have completed all of their clinical training. The goals are a) to transform these individuals into the highest quality physician-scientists, capable of conducting research that has the potential to transform the diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention of cancer and b) to eliminate the financial disincentive to entering this career path.

This award will provide a funding source that will enable these individuals to pursue research intensively (at least 80% effort) for up to four years, while, if they wish to maintain their clinical skills, continuing to be clinically active (no more than 20% effort). With the recognition that very few other funding sources (if any) exist to support these developing physician-scientists, this award is structured to provide recipients with significant salary support and necessary research expenses, with the expectation that their institutions will provide an environment and additional support (such as benefits and institutional overhead) to ensure their success. In addition, the Foundation will retire up to $100,000 of any medical school debt still owed by an award recipient.

Selection and Review

The Physician-Scientist Training Award Committee will review applications and select awardees for approval by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s Board of Directors. The primary criteria used to evaluate applicants are:

  • The quality of the applicant, their commitment to pursuing a research career, and potential to excel in cancer research.
  • The capacity of the Mentor to provide a robust training experience that will accelerate the development of the applicant’s scientific skills and prepare them to independently conduct high quality, innovative cancer-related research. The Mentor must have generated a proven track record in the successful training of other MDs in research careers.
  • The quality of a formal research proposal written by the applicant in a process that is overseen by their Mentor (importance of the problem, originality and feasibility of the proposed approach, appropriateness of technical aspects of the research plan, and clarity of presentation).
  • The commitment of the institution to the development and training of future physician-scientists, including providing the necessary protected time for research.
  • The importance of the proposed research to the understanding of cancer and/or prevention, diagnosis or treatment of cancer.


The award will be for a period of four years. Funding will be allocated to the awardee’s institution each year for the support of the scientist. Funds are to be used for stipend and/or research expenses. No part of this grant can be used for indirect costs or institutional overhead.

Year 1 - $100,000
Year 2 - $110,000
Year 3 - $120,000
Year 4 - $130,000
(Total $460,000)

Debt Repayment Program

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation will retire up to $100,000 of any qualifying medical school debt still owed by the awardee. Payment will be made annually over the course of the award.
Note: Qualified candidates must first apply to the NIH Loan Repayment Program in order to be eligible for loan repayment from Damon Runyon.

Other Funding

Awardees may receive funding from other sources to support their research. However, no other physician-scientist career development award from a private source or federal government (e.g., K08 or K23) may be held concurrently with this award.


Physician-scientist applicants (MDs only) must have completed their residencies and clinical training, be U.S. Specialty Board eligible prior to the award start date, and be able to devote at least 80% of their time and effort to Damon Runyon-supported research. MD/PhDs are not eligible to apply.

The candidate may not have had more than three years of postdoctoral laboratory research experience.

Applicants may apply at any time prior to their initial assistant professorship appointment (or equivalent). Postdoctoral fellows, clinical fellows, and clinical instructors are eligible to apply. If the awardee transitions to a fully independent assistant professorship appointment (or equivalent) during the award term, they must terminate the award (see Terms of the Award below).

Candidates holding or awarded NIH K awards at the time of application are not eligible to apply. (Candidates holding institutional K12 awards may apply, but must return their K12 funding to the U.S. Government/NIH if they are awarded a Damon Runyon Physician-Scientist Training Award.)

Candidates must apply with a Mentor. The Mentor’s role is to foster the development of the applicant’s knowledge, technical and analytical skills, and capacity for scientific inquiry in the field of basic or translational research chosen by the candidate and in which the Mentor is an outstanding figure. The Mentor will also serve as an advocate for the applicant at departmental, institutional, and other relevant professional levels.

  • Only one Physician-Scientist Training Award application will be accepted from a Mentor per review session; there is no limit, however, to the number of applications from an institution.
  • No more than two awardees will be funded to work with the same Mentor at any given time.
  • Eligible candidates may apply up to two times.

Letter of Commitment from Institution/Department

A letter endorsed by both the Dean or Center Director, and the Head/Chair of the Department, should (1) confirm the applicant’s and Mentor’s academic appointments, (2) state the institution’s commitment to support the applicant’s research efforts, the nature of the support that will be provided, and guarantee a minimum of 80% protected time for the applicant’s research to fulfill the terms of the award. The Foundation will monitor the awardee’s protected time during the course of the award to ensure that this commitment is being met.

Terms of the Award

All awardees must adhere to the terms of both our award statement and our invention policy.

Please note: The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation will not modify the terms of its policies at the request of individual institutions. Policies have been approved by our Board of Directors, and we do not have the resources to negotiate separately with the many institutions that receive our support.

All awards are made to the sponsoring institution for support of the designated awardee. An award does not constitute an employer-employee relationship between the Foundation and the recipient.

Physician-Scientists must devote their principal time and effort (at least 80%) to Damon Runyon-supported research activities.

The Damon Runyon Foundation will allow up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for birth/adoptive parents consistent with their institution’s policy. The Foundation must be notified in advance of the leave.

If the awardee transitions to a fully independent assistant professorship appointment (or equivalent) during the award term, they must terminate the award.

If the awardee's title changes to Assistant Professor (or equivalent), Damon Runyon will only continue their funding if the institution supplies a written statement confirming that:

  • The Physician-Scientist, as Assistant Professor, will not be receiving their own independent laboratory space and/or start-up package (indicators of a fully independent faculty position),
  • the Physician-Scientist is remaining in their Mentor’s lab in a training position equivalent to a postdoctoral position, and
  • the Physician-Scientist will continue to dedicate at least 80% of their time to Damon Runyon-supported research.

*Please note that the purpose of this policy is not to delay promotion to independent faculty positions, but to ensure that our funding is used to help early career physician-scientists become qualified and eligible to obtain those positions.

Should the Awardee and/or Mentor wish to discontinue the project, leave the designated institution, or modify any aspect of the award, they must seek approval from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation in advance. Failure to comply with this requirement may jeopardize any future awards to the institution and/or Mentor by the Foundation.

Key Dates

Application Deadline: December 3, 2018
Review Panel Meeting: March 5, 2019
Funding Begins: July 1, 2019

Contact Information

Award Programs | 212.455.0520 | awards@damonrunyon.org

See Application Guidelines