You know how it is. Small family foundations like the Sontag Foundation move slowly, and most of the time they don’t have a lot of news. But when they DO have news, it tends to be big and interesting. These are “fringe” guys, but we don’t mean that in a bad way. We just mean they’re small enough to be risk-takers, nimble and agile and ready to take on the kind of high reward projects fraught with uncertainty.
So it is with the Sontag Foundation. Founded in 2002, it’s clear from their website that Rick and Susan Sontag are the ones who pull the strings; their choice to focus solely on brain cancer and rheumatoid arthritis has everything to do with their family interests. In 1994 Susan Sontag was diagnosed with astrocytoma and given less than two years to live; Rick’s mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 35. Susan Sontag obviously was able to survive her brain cancer—against the odds—and now serves as co-director of the foundation.
Grants-wise, the Sontag Foundation makes awards for brain cancer research two ways: through its Distinguished Scientist program, which comes directly from the Foundation, and through the Brain Tumor Funders’ Collaborative, a group effort involving four other philanthropies. In 2012, SF awarded a Distinguished Scientist award to Rameen Beroukhim, M.D., Ph.D, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for his work identifying key genetic differences between glioma cells and normal cells—making the glioma cells more easily targeted for treatment. Dr. Beroukhim, widely regarded as one of the best and the brightest scientists working in brain cancer research today, says of the support he received from SF, “This Sontag Foundation award will play a central role in enabling me to capitalize on our genomic analyses of brain tumors to identify new approaches to therapy.”
And now they’re at it again, announcing their 2015 call for Distinguished Scientist nominations. “Inspire us,” says the RFP on their website. “We’re looking for early career scientists with the potential to create new waves across the brain cancer field. We’re looking for increased survival rates and improved recovery for patients. We're looking for a cure or at the very least, treatments to make brain cancer a manageable chronic disease.”
The award, which promises $600,000 over the course of four years—is only available to those with an independent full-time faculty appointment at the level of assistant professor, independent researcher, or the equivalent, and that appointment must have been made no earlier than March 1, 2012. In this way, it’s more a career development award than a research award, but no matter which way you slice it, it’s good to see an outfit sticking its neck out in this grantspace.