Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation: Grants for Disease

OVERVIEW: This funder's niche is getting behind the best and brightest early career cancer researchers.

IP TAKE: To DRCRF, risk equals reward. It funds some really speculative stuff, and doesn't want anyone to be shy about putting unconventional ideas out there for consideration.

PROFILE: The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation dates back to 1946. Damon Runyon was a journalist and short story writer, and he passed away from cancer that year. But he had a friend with a radio station, who went on the air to solicit contributions for research. Celebrities like Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and Marilyn Monroe joined in, and so it’s through a combination of generosity and seriously shrewd money management that the foundation is still around today.

The foundation is all about funding unproven, risky stuff—research pursuits that government agencies might shy away from but which have the potential to make a transformative impact in the field of cancer research.

Grants go out through six award programs, and while the sums aren't huge, this is solid, prestigious money that allows younger scientists to take risks. These awards include:

When asked for one piece of advice for potential grantees, DRCRF communications manager Meghan McCurdy said, “Applicants shouldn’t hold themselves back out of fears that their proposed research is too risky. We believe investing in new ideas can reap tremendous breakthroughs, and we are willing to take risks on projects that hold great promise.”

Lately, the DRCRF seems to be on an upward trajectory, with increases in its grantmaking programs. It's going so far as to add a fourth year to its popular DRCRF Fellowship Award, which basically provides early career scientists with enough funding to guarantee “investigative independence”—i.e. they don’t need to be carrying on important research in the pocket of some drug company.

The foundation is also changing the way it checks up on the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Awardees, to ensure the highest potential for transformative change. And it's also creating a new award for physician-scientists, to encourage doctors to go into research.

As for the many other details about how DRCF operates and makes grants, check out its website, which is comprehensive and super useful to grantseekers. 

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