Breast cancer researchers at Duke have been awarded more than $1.6 million through the Susan G. Komen Foundation to help both early-career and veteran researchers and fund an innovative workshop dealing with treatment therapies.
The Komen Foundation, a nonprofit leader in funding breast cancer research, has awarded grants to Duke faculty through Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast. Along with recent Ph.D. graduates, Duke’s awards also support three Komen Scholars, investigators considered international leaders in breast cancer research and advocacy. The annual grants also partially finance the Accelerating Anticancer Agent Development and Validation Workshop—a joint effort by Duke and the Food and Drug Administration to create a collaborative environment that stimulates discussions about breast cancer treatment, diagnosis and prevention.
“I think that Duke... has been very successful at garnering money from Komen to conduct breast cancer research,” said Dr. Neil Spector, Sandra P. Coates associate professor of cancer research and a Komen scholar. “The Komen support has been invaluable because a lot of these projects are in early stages where we need to generate data in order to compete effectively to secure [National Institutes of Health] funding.”
Spector is one of the five Komen grant recipients at Duke and serves as the director of the Developmental Therapeutics Program at the Duke Cancer Institute, an effort to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies in patients.
“One of the key objectives of the [Duke] Cancer Institute is to try to harness the great research going on here into some clinical application,” explained Spector. “Otherwise, it just remains great research in the lab but doesn’t improve the life of a single person.”
He is joined as a Komen Scholar at Duke by Dr. Kimberly Blackwell and Dr. Gerard Blobe, faculty chosen for their contributions to translational, clinical and basic breast cancer research, respectively. Members of the Scholars program are provided with steady funding from the Komen Foundation and are also involved in outreach with Komen affiliates, Spector explained.
Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast, a local organization which funded part of the grant, places a large emphasis on outreach, allocating 25 percent of its funds raised to national cancer research and 75 percent to outreach programs such as community breast health education, screening and treatment.
“It’s been a great experience networking with people from across the country that I wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise and getting that experience to help educate people about the cutting edge research in breast cancer that’s going on,” he added.
The Komen Foundation has also allocated $45,000 to support the Accelerating Anticancer Agent Development and Validation Workshop, an annual event started almost 13 years ago by Professor of Surgery Dr. Herbert Kim Lyerly and Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology Oncology Products at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The workshop has trained more than 2,000 researchers, health advocates and drug developers through discussions about bringing oncology therapies to the market in a cost-efficient and timely manner, Lyerly explained.
He emphasized the importance of having conversations that address the feasibility of bringing clinical research to the market.
“If you have a new medicine and it’s really effective, but your study was designed poorly and thus got rejected by the FDA... that would be a tragic outcome,” Lyerly said. “This workshop tries to create an environment where this would never happen. In the world of drug development, it’s very rare to have these types of discussions.”
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