With Its Fellowship Awards, What's Damon Runyon Really Looking For?

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation seeks to accelerate breakthroughs in cancer research by providing the best young scientists… blah, blah, blah. What are they really after? When the esteemed DRCRF steps up and announces the RFP for its incredibly sought-after four-year, $200K+ Fellowship Awards, what is it really looking for? What’s the magic formula that will turn their heads and make them say, woo hoo, we have a winner!?

I wish we could tell you it was complicated—some mysterious algorithm favoring high-risk research, first-born scientists, and Volvo drivers, perhaps, or something equally impressive—but it just isn’t. The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation is an open book, priorities-wise, and when it gives away millions, it doesn’t play games.

In last year's fellowship round, proteins loomed large. Seven of the sixteen 2014 fellows sought to answer questions about the roles of specific proteins in different cancers: There’s mediator and its connection to mixed-lineage leukemia; histones and their link to chondroblastoma; Sonic Hedgehog, BET-bromodomain, and MeCP2, and their connections to multiple cancers.

At the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco (the sole outlier in 2014’s crop of scientists from big research institutions), Casey A. Gifford, Ph.D., is digging into DNA-binding proteins to understand how the lack or erroneous expression of said proteins can lead to cancer. At Harvard University, Sungwook Woo, Ph.D., is delving deeply into the mechanistic and structural nature of proteins, using his findings to help inform the development of tailored therapies for cancer.

The work of Gifford and Woo is representative in its high-risk nature, as well: It isn’t about developing a drug to solve a problem, it’s about the basic research that could, over time, lead to the discovery of a whole new line of treatments for cancers. It’s the bold stuff DRCRF likes, and in 2014, that’s what it went for. We think 2015 is likely to be more of the same.

And now, for the nitty-gritty:

The award provides a stipend of $50,000 a year for three years for Level I funding, and $60,000 a year for three years for Level II funding. (Physician-scientists who have completed their residencies, clinical training, and are board eligible will receive Level II funding. The award may not be used for institutional overhead or indirect costs. Fellows also receive an annual $2,000 allowance for educational and scientific expenses. Applicants must have completed one or more of the following degrees or their equivalent: M.D., Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D., D.D.S., and D.V.M. View complete RFP here.