Melanoma Research Alliance: Grants for Disease

OVERVIEW: The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) brings together other foundations, academic institutions, and biopharma companies to leverage funding for research. The MRA is mighty and well-connected, and that goes a long way in the realm of “barrier busting” research.

IP TAKE: This accessible funder is open to supporting different kinds of researchers as long as they can help achieve its mission. 

PROFILE: Founded in 2007 by Broadway producer Debra Black and her husband Leon, CEO of Apollo Management, the Melanoma Research Alliance devotes itself to “barrier busting” melanoma therapy research.

In MRA’s crosshairs: new avenues of treatment for metastatic melanoma. There just aren’t enough different courses of action for patients with this disease, the most serious type of skin cancer. “Given the importance that research in the areas of immunotherapy and molecular targeted therapy is playing in melanoma, a large proportion of MRA funding is supporting these studies,” says Jennifer Engel, MRA Development Manager. “Beyond treatment science, the remainder of the MRA portfolio supports research to form the basis for better preventative and diagnostic approaches.”

The MRA has a unique funding structure. It’s incredibly well-connected progenitors have a notable Wall Street edge, to be sure. But also fueling MRA’s rise to prominence is its collaborative model, wherein it invites pharmaceutical corporations to stake a claim in their success as a philanthropy—by sitting on the board, for example.

Much of MRA’s mission involves bringing corporate interests into the realm of philanthropy under its Academic-Industry Partnership Awards, as attested by the many players from GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Bristol-Myers Squibb who sit on the alliance's board and advisory councils. On one hand, drug company money undoubtedly allows MRA to support even more cutting-edge research. On the other hand, these drug companies have a stake in what drugs become popular for fighting melanoma given the huge amounts of money spent annually on drugs to treat the potentially fatal cancer.

MRA offers several types of research awards:

  • Young Investigator Awards - Up to $75,000 per year for three years for early career scientists.
  • Established Investigator Awards - Up to $125,000 per year for up to three years for established scientists.
  • Pilot Awards - Up to $50,000 per year for two years for pilot projects with strong hypotheses and translational goals undertaken by established scientists.
  • Academic-Industry Partnership Awards - Up to $100,000 per year for up to three years as well as support in-kind from an industry partner.
  • Team Science Award - Grants for collaboration between multiple investigators.

All MRA grantees must hold a faculty appointment at an academic research institution at the level of assistant professor or higher. It's interested primarily in translational science, focusing on prevention, detection and treatment.

While applicants need not be trained specifically in melanoma research, they do need to have access to an environment where they can conduct melanoma research. MRA puts out one request for proposals annually that describes the awards it has available for a particular cycle. 

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