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June 23, 2015

New York, NY (June 23, 2015) - The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation named four new Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators at its spring 2015 Clinical Investigator Award Committee review. The recipients of this prestigious three-year award are outstanding early career physician-scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research at major research centers under the mentorship of the nation’s leading scientists and clinicians. Each will receive $450,000 to support the development of his/her cancer research program.

The Foundation also awarded Continuation Grants to three Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators. Each award will provide an additional two years of funding totaling $300,000. The Continuation Grant is designed to support Clinical Investigators who are approaching the end of their original awards and need extra time and funding to complete a promising avenue of research or initiate/continue a clinical trial. This program is possible through the generous support of the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, and Connie and Robert Lurie.

The Clinical Investigator Award program is specifically intended to help address the shortage of physicians capable of translating scientific discovery into new breakthroughs for cancer patients. In partnerships with industry sponsors and through its new Accelerating Cancer Cures initiative, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has committed nearly $52 million to support the careers of 81 physician-scientists across the United States since 2000.

2015 Clinical Investigator Awardees

Priscilla K. Brastianos, MD

Brain metastases are the most common tumor in the brain, most frequently originating from melanoma and carcinomas of the lung and breast. Of patients who develop brain metastases, approximately half succumb to the cancer in their brain. Unfortunately, treatment options are limited, and most current clinical trials in the US exclude patients with brain metastases. Dr. Brastianos recently completed a large study to understand the genetic changes that occur in brain metastases. She identified genetic alterations in brain metastases that predict sensitivity to targeted therapies. She will conduct a biomarker-driven Phase 2 study to evaluate targeted therapy in patients with brain metastases harboring specific genetic alterations. Her research will incorporate cutting-edge genomic technology and animal models to understand predictors of response, as well as resistance to targeted therapies. As most genomically guided trials in cancer have excluded patients with active brain metastases, this represents a potential paradigm shift in the management of patients with brain metastases. Dr. Brastianos works under the mentorship of Keith T. Flaherty, MD, and Tracy Batchelor, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Aude G. Chapuis, MD

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a particularly aggressive type of lung cancer, and mesothelioma is an equally aggressive cancer of the lining of the lung. Despite recent therapeutic advances, approximately 190,000 and 3,000 Americans respectively succumb to these cancers each year, emphasizing the urgent need for more effective treatments. Therapies that use cancer-recognizing immune T cells are especially promising. T cells specifically bind particular tumor-associated molecules (antigens) and kill bound cancer cells through proteins called "T cell receptors" (TCRs). Once an appropriate tumor antigen-specific TCR has been identified, genetic engineering can be used to add that TCR to a patient's T cells, thus educating them to recognize the cancer. The educated immune cells are then infused into patients, where they can seek out and destroy cancer without damaging normal tissues. Dr Chapuis' studies will target Wilms' tumor antigen 1 (WT1), found not only on NSCLC and mesothelioma cancer cells but also on leukemia cells. She previously led studies of this approach for leukemia, which is now showing promise in the clinic for patients. Her new studies aim to develop a similar safe and effective immunotherapy for patients with deadly lung cancers, with the ultimate goal to entirely bypass the current need for toxic drug and radiation treatments. Dr. Chapuis works under the mentorship of Philip D. Greenberg, MD, at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington.

Marco L. Davila, MD, PhD

The goal of cancer immunotherapy is to adapt the natural components of the immune system to eradicate cancer. T cells are a type of immune cell highly evolved to detect and eradicate diseased cells. Dr. Davila is developing a novel treatment approach that involves genetic engineering of T cells as a safe and effective immunotherapy for blood cancers such as B cell lymphoma. This research has great potential because by genetically targeting T cells to a cancer, the T cell can be forced to recognize a cancer as diseased and initiate direct tumor killing, as well as activate a widespread and long-lived immune response against the cancer. Dr. Davila works under the mentorship of Michel Sadelain, MD, PhD, and Claudio Anasetti, MD, at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida. 

Eliezer M. Van Allen, MD

Many cancers are treated with chemotherapies that affect DNA repair, such as platinum chemotherapy, and some patients derive significant benefit from these agents. However, the underlying genomic features that drive selective response to these treatments is incompletely characterized. Dr. Van Allen aims to blend precision cancer medicine principles with DNA repair treatments and enhance cancer care. He will do so by studying the genomics of response to existing and emerging DNA repair therapies in preclinical models as well as patients across different tumor types. Dr. Van Allen works under the mentorship of Levi A. Garraway, MD, PhD, and Philip W. Kantoff, MD, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts.

2015 Clinical Investigator Continuation Grants

Oren J. Becher, MD

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, is an incurable brain cancer that mostly strikes young children. The median survival rate is less than one year after diagnosis. To date, there are no chemotherapeutic or targeted agents that have proven to be beneficial for treatment of these cancers. Dr. Becher leads one of very few laboratories around the world that focus exclusively on this type of deadly brain cancer. He has identified EZH2-mediated epigenetic mechanisms that underlie the development of DIPG. He is uniquely positioned to ask important scientific questions about DIPG that have the potential to impact clinical care in the future. The Continuation Grant will be applied to studies that first define the mechanisms of gliomagenesis using genetic mouse models, then develop preclinical models of the disease. His goal is to identify the most effective drugs against this type of brain cancer and then translate these findings by testing the drugs in clinical trials for children afflicted with this type of brain cancer. Dr. Becher works under the mentorship of Darell D. Bigner, MD, PhD, Katherine E. Warren, MD (NCI), and Michael B. Kastan, MD, PhD, at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina.

Sarat Chandarlapaty, MD, PhD [Patterson Trust Clinical Investigator]

The PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway normally conveys cues from the cell's environment into programs that promote cellular growth, division, and motility. Components of the PI3K signaling pathway are mutated in greater than 70% of all breast cancers and promote the persistent and exaggerated cell growth that is necessary for tumor formation and survival. This pathway is therefore a promising target for treating breast cancers; however, drugs designed to target the PI3K signaling pathway are initially effective but resistance rapidly develops. Dr. Chandarlapaty seeks to understand how tumor cells rapidly adapt to PI3K inhibitor drugs. His initial studies indicate that cancer cells use a cellular mechanism called "negative feedback" to either activate alternative signaling pathways not blocked by the drug or reactivate the PI3K pathway. His goal is to identify other targets that can be blocked in combination with the PI3K pathway to more effectively kill cancer cells but not normal cells. These combinations will be tested in clinical trials in breast cancer patients with mutations in the PI3K pathway. In addition, the Continuation Grant will enable him to pursue studies examining the effects of ER and androgen receptor (AR) activation and signaling in breast and prostate cancers. Dr. Chandarlapaty works under the mentorship of Neal Rosen, MD, PhD, and Clifford A. Hudis, MD, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York.

Ryan B. Corcoran, MD, PhD

Mutations in the BRAF gene occur in 10-15% of colorectal cancers and predict poor outcome. Drugs that block the action of mutant BRAF are under active clinical development, and one drug that blocks BRAF was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of metastatic melanoma. However, these BRAF inhibitor drugs alone have not been effective in BRAF mutant colorectal cancer patients, suggesting that improved approaches are needed. Dr. Corcoran's goal is to develop new treatment strategies for BRAF mutant colorectal cancer. Through a combination of laboratory studies and clinical trials, he plans to identify other key survival signals in BRAF mutant colorectal cancers that can be targeted, in combination with BRAF inhibitors, to improve treatment response in BRAF mutant colorectal cancer patients. His Continuation Grant will be used to continue his important translational studies to develop and evaluate novel therapeutic strategies for treatment of colorectal cancer. Dr. Corcoran works under the mentorship of Jeffrey A. Engelman, MD, PhD, and Keith T. Flaherty, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.


To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today’s best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research.  The Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists.  Twelve scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, and others are heads of cancer centers and leaders of renowned research programs.  Each of its award programs is extremely competitive, with less than 10% of applications funded.  Since its founding in 1946, the Foundation has invested $294 million and funded more than 3,500 young scientists.  This year it will commit almost $15 million in new awards to brilliant young investigators.

100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support scientific research.  Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from its Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets Service and endowment. 


Yung S. Lie, PhD

Deputy Director and Chief Scientific Officer

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation