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July 16, 2018

Damon Runyon and The Sohn Conference Foundations Combine Efforts to Tackle Cancers in Children and Young Adults 

New York, NY (July 16, 2018) – The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has named five outstanding young scientists as recipients of the prestigious Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award, committing over $1.15 million to help address a critical shortage of funding for pediatric cancer research. 

The Fellowship Award provides funding to basic scientists and clinicians who conduct research with the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of one or more pediatric cancers. Each recipient receives a four-year award totaling $231,000. Since 2012, this award has supported twenty-seven innovative pediatric cancer researchers who were selected through a highly competitive process that includes evaluation by a prestigious committee of pediatric oncologists from the leading cancer centers in the U.S. 

“The program provides critically needed support for high quality young investigators working on high impact pediatric cancer research. We need their brilliant minds focused on curing childhood cancers. That is why this award is so important,” says Andrew L. Kung, MD, PhD, Chair of the Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award Committee, and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 

Because cancer occurs less frequently in children and young adults than in the adult population, pediatric cancer research does not receive significant funding from either the National Cancer Institute (only four percent of its budget) or the biopharmaceutical industry. To help fill this gap, in 2012, The Sohn Conference Foundation, dedicated to curing pediatric cancers, partnered with the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the leading charity supporting innovative young cancer researchers, to establish the award. The Sohn Conference Foundation has committed over $3.16 million to the program to date. The award program continues to receive additional funding and recognition within the philanthropic community. 

“Our Damon Runyon-Sohn fellows are committed to making daring discoveries in pediatric cancer pathology,” says Evan Sohn of The Sohn Conference Foundation. “We place our bets on funding bold and innovative ideas from emerging scientists, as they hold the promise of advancing treatment and cures for children with cancer.” 

2018 Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellows 

Srinjoy Chakraborti, PhD, with his sponsor Jonathan R. Lai, PhD, at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, is developing technologies to facilitate the rapid identification of individual, specific, safely targetable tumor antigens, and to engineer tumor chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to specifically recognize and kill cancer cells within a clinically relevant timeline. Dr. Chakraborti also plans to use these technologies to investigate the role of helper T cells in enhancing the activity of anti-cancer killer T cells. These technologies, although applicable to adult cancers as well, will focus on antigens derived from pediatric cancer tissues because conventional therapies (such as chemotherapy and radiation) hold long-term health risks. 

Adam D. Durbin, MD, PhD, with his sponsor A. Thomas Look, MD, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, is developing new ways to target neuroblastoma, using chemical inhibitors and genetic techniques to disrupt small RNA species and enzymes that neuroblastoma cells require for survival. These new factors will also be inhibited in animal models of human neuroblastoma, alone and in combination with drugs similar to those entering clinical trials. These studies aim to identify new levels of gene regulation and methods to inhibit the genes involved in formation of neuroblastoma, with minimal side effects. 

Sarah Naomi Olsen, PhD, with her sponsor Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, is investigating new therapeutic options to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of childhood cancer. One subtype of AML is characterized by a chromosomal translocation involving the MLL (KMT2A) and the AF9 gene, resulting in an abnormal MLL-AF9 fusion protein. Dr. Olsen is targeting the MLL-AF9 fusion protein using a newly developed protein degradation approach. Characterizing the consequences of direct MLL-AF9 degradation will provide important mechanistic insight into how this mutant protein modulates leukemia and help guide the development of combination therapeutic approaches for long-term responses in pediatric AML patients. 

Maxim Pimkin, MD, PhD, with his sponsor Stuart Orkin, MD, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, is identifying and characterizing the most critical transcription factors (proteins that regulate the function of genes), called core regulatory circuitries (CRCs), in various types of AML. This will provide new insights into the most critical mechanisms of AML survival and identify new targets for drug development. Preliminary data show that CRCs can accurately and reliably predict critical genes necessary for AML cancer cell survival, suggesting a practical way of identifying potential therapeutic targets. Dr. Pimkin hopes to create a unified understanding of the common and different ways in which AML subtypes arise, as well as create an unprecedented way of predicting common and subtype-specific AML vulnerabilities. 

Jay F. Sarthy, MD, PhD, with his sponsor Steven Henikoff, PhD, at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, is developing new easy-to-use and affordable methods for studying DNA packaging and epigenetics (modification of gene expression) in pediatric cancers with a special focus on diffuse midline gliomas and neuroblastoma. These methods may help explain the drivers of pediatric malignancies and allow clinicians to better monitor response to treatment with the goal of developing new drugs that restore the cell’s ability to package DNA correctly. 


About The Sohn Conference Foundation 

The Sohn Conference Foundation is dedicated to the treatment and cure of pediatric cancer. The Foundation supports cutting-edge medical research, state-of-the-art research equipment, and innovative programs to ensure that children with cancer survive and thrive. The Foundation raises its funds through premier investment conferences, including the renowned annual New York Sohn Investment Conference. The Conference honors the memory of Ira Sohn, a Wall Street Professional who lost his battle with cancer at age 29. His friends and family founded the New York Sohn Investment Conference in 1995. Since then, investment leaders from across the globe have been inspired to launch partner Sohn Conferences to bring the financial community together for charitable causes. Sohn Conferences include, Sohn Australia, Sohn Brazil, Sohn Canada, Sohn Geneva, Sohn Hong Kong, Sohn India, Sohn London, Sohn Monaco, Sohn San Francisco, and Sohn Tel Aviv. To date, the Foundation has raised more than $85 million. More information on the Sohn Investment Conference is available at

About the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation 

To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today’s best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research. Twelve scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, seven have received National Medals of Science, and 74 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the science “Hall of Fame.” 

Since its founding in 1946, Damon Runyon has invested nearly $355 million and funded nearly 3,700 young scientists. 100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support cutting-edge scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets and its endowment. For more information, visit