The Covert Program Doing Big Things for Biomedical Research

The Rita Allen Foundation Scholars program has been around since 1976, but I bet you’ve never heard of it. Some programs are like that—kind of under the radar, even though they’re doing big, ambitious things. This one’s covert because the foundation that spawned it isn’t solely or even mostly about medical research. It’s a civic engagement foundation, first and foremost, but it also has a thriving program looking for young leaders in biomedical research. You know, the ones who just might be interested in $110,000 annually for up to five years.

The foundation started out awarding just a few grants through the Scholars program each year, starting with three cancer researchers in 1976. It’s given awards through this program almost every year since, steadily increasing its average number of awards, all the way up to seven in 2014. We’re betting that trend will continue in the current year.

The focus here is on supporting basic biomedical research in the fields of cancer, immunology, and neuroscience. There also is currently a joint award for scholars in pain research, which the Rita Allen Foundation supports in partnership with the American Pain Society. The program embraces innovative research with above-average risk and groundbreaking possibilities. Scholars have gone on to win the Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Medicine and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Not a bad track record, right? 

This is just one foundation that's getting projects out of the lab and into the clinic. Last week, we reported on the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation and how it was taking on the Valley of Death; this time, the Rita Allen Foundation is focusing on those bright up-and-comers, banking on their brilliance to find novel workarounds for persistent medical challenges.

Under the Foundation Scholars program, grant funds can only be used for direct project expenses, including up to 50 percent of the Scholar’s compensation. Proposals are welcome from invited institutions only. For more information, see the website