Komen's Push to Ensure Talented Young Researchers Don't Ignore Breast Cancer

Try to look past the Susan G. Komen Foundation's turbulent recent past. What matters for medical researchers is that it remains the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research. It’s contributed more than $847 million to the cause since 1982. And once again, it recently stepped up to the plate with another big give, committing $34.7 million.

That’s a big chunk of money, considering Komen’s annual grantmaking totaled just under $50 million in 2013 (down from $71.6 million the year prior—before the Planned Parenthood “scandal”). Yeah, it’s pretty obvious that its usual annual grantmaking has dipped somewhat to accommodate a drop in contributions revenue (from $159.7 million in 2012 to $118.6 milion in 2013). But Komen, for its own part, isn’t going anywhere. It’s still doing what it’s always done, albeit with less money. And this latest gift is no different.

The $34.7 million includes fifty grants to early-career breast cancer researchers, comprising almost half of the total give. Komen contributed to dropping the breast cancer death rate by 34 percent in 1990, and with a sliding mortality rate, the urgency ebbs. This means fewer young scientists are setting their sights on the problem—and of course, without regular influxes of new talent, breast cancer research will stagnate.

Komen gets this, and is doing something about it. “Our 2014 grants are intended to ensure continuity in breast cancer research for years to come,” said Komen President and CEO Judith A. Salerno, M.D., M.S. “With federal research dollars tightening, we’re deeply concerned that a generation of promising breast cancer researchers will be lost to other fields.”

The remaining funding is going to established players who’ve already made significant contributions to the field, and have plenty of spark left in their careers. So, for example, in 2014, this includes a gift of $450,000 to Nicole Steinmetz, Ph.D, who will work to develop a vaccine to prevent HER2-positive breast cancer from occurring in high-risk individuals at Case Western Reserve University, and a gift of $180,000 to Rebecca Marquez, Ph.D, to develop novel therapies for metastatic breast cancer using mRNAs at the University of Kansas Center for Research.

“Our ability to continue to save lives, and ultimately eliminate this disease, relies on our continued commitment to funding research,” says Salerno. “That’s why Komen is preparing to increase funding to early-career investigators by 30 percent over the next year.”