The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance Awards $4.2M to Seven Rising Leaders in Cancer Research

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NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance today announced the seven winners of the 2020 Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research, awarded annually to cancer research scientists and physician-scientists based in the greater New York-area. The Prize, totaling $4.2 million in funding awarded, emboldens early-career investigators to pursue research projects at a stage when traditional funding is lacking. Recipients receive $200,000 per year for up to three years.

Over the past seven years, over $27 million in funds have been awarded to 46 scientists. With this funding, provided at the early stage of their promising careers, the recipients are contributing to New York’s growing biomedical research hub. In addition to funding, the Alliance provides Prize winners with opportunities to present their work to scientific and business audiences, helping to bridge the gap between academia and industry and across application domains.

With COVID-19 disrupting lives, especially for those dealing with cancer, enabling early-stage research remains key to the health and wellbeing of patients and their families,” said Pershing Square Foundation Trustee Neri Oxman. “This year’s winners, when viewed as a whole, embody research characterized by boldness and interdisciplinarity. We are honored to support our scientists, and the novel work they lead.”

The winners of the 2020 Pershing Square Sohn Prize are:

  • Vinod Balachandran, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Dr. Balachandran’s laboratory is focused on identifying effective immunotherapies to treat pancreatic cancer. Specifically, his project will develop new immunotherapies to activate a recently discovered immune cell called group 2 innate lymphoid cells to kill pancreatic cancers and treat patients.
  • Tal Danino, PhD, Columbia University: Dr. Danino’s work combines bioengineering and synthetic biology approaches to build innovative drug delivery platforms. His lab will engineer probiotic bacteria to target tumors and controllably deliver lung cancer therapeutics.
  • Mohamed Abou Donia, PhD, Princeton University: Dr. Donia’s project will employ novel computational and experimental approaches to systematically characterize gut microbiome-derived small molecules that play a role in the etiology of colorectal cancer. Increased understanding of the collection of microbes that live in the human gut and the biologically active chemicals they produce will help inform future endeavors to diagnose, treat, or prevent this disease.
  • Lydia Finley, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Dr. Finley focuses on pediatric cancer and how cancer cell metabolism affects pediatric malignancies. Through her work, she hopes to find potentially targetable vulnerabilities in pediatric sarcomas by studying the metabolic pathways that sustain their growth and progression.
  • Shixin Liu, PhD, The Rockefeller University: Dr. Liu is working to understand how specific gene mutations in particular histones and histone-modifying enzymes cause undesirable epigenetic changes that can lead to a variety of diseases, including cancer. Using cutting-edge biophysical tools, he will record the individual activity of these molecules, which will add a new dimension to our understanding of the relationship between chromatin regulation and cancer biology.
  • Andrea Schietinger, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: The laboratory of Dr. Schietinger is looking to decode and reprogram cancer-specific T cells for immunotherapy. The goal of the project is to understand how DNA remodeling prevents T cells from finding and destroying cancer cells, and how this process can be prevented or reversed.
  • Britta Will, PhD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine / Montefiore Medical Center: Dr. Will examines the role of iron homeostasis regulatory pathways in defective blood stem cells, called leukemic stem cells (LSC). She hypothesizes that LSC are negatively affected by the limited availability of cellular iron, which could provide new avenues for cancer therapy and detection.

We remain committed to cancer research even during this global pandemic. We are extremely impressed by the superb quality of the proposals we received as well as the exceptionally talented researchers that are working in the greater New York area institutions,” said Olivia Tournay Flatto, PhD, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance and President of The Pershing Square Foundation. “It is our goal to build a community of innovative and talented individuals, and to connect them with a ‘family’ of funders and collaborators in pursuit of novel ideas, therapies, technologies, and, ultimately, knowledge that can further our understanding of disease and fundamental human biology.”

The work to find new treatments and cures for cancer continues to be an urgent global health priority so we are heartened by the research approaches of this year’s Prize winners,” said Evan Sohn, Vice President of the Sohn Conference Foundation. “We are confident that with the passion, creativity, and insights we’ve seen from this group of scientists, they will make discoveries that will have a lasting impact for the patients for whom our Foundation fights.”

As part of the selection process, the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance relied on the guidance of a highly accomplished advisory board.

Prize Advisory Board members include: Jeanne B. Ackman, MD, Director, Thoracic MRI, Radiologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School; Mikael Dolsten, MD, PhD, President, Worldwide Research and Development, Pfizer, Inc.; Allan Goodman, PhD, President and CEO, The Institute of International Education; Pablo Legorreta, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Royalty Pharma; Richard P. Lifton, MD, PhD, President, The Rockefeller University; Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Oncology, Columbia University Medical Center, and Author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer and The Gene: An Intimate History; James E. Rothman, PhD, Fergus F. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Sciences, Yale University and 2013 Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine; Bruce Stillman, PhD, President and CEO, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Craig Thompson, MD, President and CEO, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and George D. Yancopoulos, MD, PhD, President and Chief Scientific Officer, Regeneron.

Additional details about the Prize winners can be found on the PSSCRA website at https://psscra.org/.

About The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance

The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance was formed in 2013 through a $25 million commitment by The Pershing Square Foundation, which partnered with The Sohn Conference Foundation. The Alliance is dedicated to playing a catalytic role in accelerating cures for cancer by supporting innovative cancer research and by facilitating collaborations between academia and industry. Annually, the Alliance awards the Pershing Square Sohn Prize to young New York area-based scientists who are engaged in cutting-edge cancer research. For more information, visit http://psscra.org/.