Damon Runyon News

June 11, 2020

Damon Runyon prides itself on having an accomplished Board of Directors comprised of individuals who passionately believe that supporting the best young minds in cancer research will lead to a cure. We welcome Nat Turner and Judy Swanson to our Board this year. Learn about what motivated them to step up their involvement with Damon Runyon.

Nat Turner, Founder and CEO, Flatiron Health

Why is funding cancer research important to you?

Despite all the progress that has been made, cancer is still one of the leading causes of death in the US and the world. My family, as too many others, has had several run-ins with cancer, including a highly aggressive acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis in a young cousin of mine (whose fight ultimately inspired my company, Flatiron Health). Funding cancer research, especially at the early stage in the lab, is the best way to bring the most ideas to the table that can ultimately lead to clinical trials. Even if just one of those ideas ends up being the next game-changing therapy, it will be worth it.

What appeals to you about Damon Runyon’s strategy of funding cancer research?

I'm a big fan of a meritocracy when it comes to funding research. In my opinion, the current government and academic grant system often overlooks the young scientist at the beginning of his or her career with great ideas but not the necessary initial findings to take it to the next level. Damon Runyon fills this gap, allowing those scientists to follow their ideas and often accelerate cancer research. I also love how Damon Runyon brings some of the smartest minds (excluding me) to the table to attract talented scientists, vet their ideas and stay involved as mentors after awards are granted.

How do you see cancer research evolving in the near future?

I think we'll see more cancer research involving software and data analysis, especially as more data (both clinical and genomic) is made available to all researchers. This will open up many opportunities for biomarker discovery, understanding cancer biology, development of tumor mutations in response to therapies, treatment expansion, etc. Unique approaches involving gene therapy and harnessing the immune system will continue to grow and become more broadly applicable. I hope this will result in the ultimate availability of more targeted therapies that provide better outcomes to patients with minimal toxicity. 


Judy Swanson 

You have been a member of the Bay Area Committee for three years. What motivated you to make a bigger commitment to Damon Runyon and join our Board of Directors?

I believe in the Damon Runyon approach: identify and support the most creative science.  As a donor, the ability to learn about current research and interact with scientists is truly inspiring, informative and stimulating. And that was before I became a member of the Board! Now, I’m excited to learn more about how decisions are made in finding, funding and supporting our scientific community.

Why is funding cancer research important to you?

When the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation was founded over 70 years ago, we believed cures for cancer were within reach, but now we realize how elusive breakthroughs are. After having invested almost $400 million dollars in nearly 4,000 scientists, we have made progress but must continue to push forward. Like Damon Runyon, my late husband, Bob Swanson, supported, encouraged and empowered the best science and scientists because he wanted to change the world for the better and help people lead healthier and happier lives. At age 28, Bob cofounded Genentech…creating the first biotech company in the world seeking to treat and cure disease. Bob died 20 years ago at age 52 of brain cancer, but his legacy lives on. I think Bob is a perfect example of Damon Runyon’s “Brave and Bold” approach and the resulting scientific successes.

You are involved with many philanthropic endeavors—how has your experience with Damon Runyon been?

I believe in funding research and science that can ultimately affect people’s lives. When you realize that just one person’s life has changed for the better, it is very meaningful. Damon Runyon uniquely provides me every opportunity to become personally involved in all aspects of support. The fact that 100% of my donation goes directly to the scientists encourages my giving and makes me proud of my support---because, I, too, want to change the world for the better.