The Fletcher Scholars Award was established in 1988 with a gift from the estate of Eugene and Dorothy S. Fletcher. With this gift, the Cancer Research Foundation established the Fletcher Scholars Award, a $100,000 grant to be given to an individual scientist who is undertaking research in cancer science with particular importance. Since its start, the Fletcher gift has funded 17 pre-eminent scientists, allowing them to pursue research that would have been difficult to fund using government grants and other more traditional sources.
With the COVID 19 pandemic, cancer research funding has declined even as its necessity grows. Funding science and supporting research saves lives. As the CRF Board considered a handful of truly exceptional proposals, we felt it necessary to expand scope of this award this year. Therefore, instead of funding just one proposal, the CRF has chosen three scientists to receive the 2020 Fletcher Scholars Award: Dr. Olatoyosi Odenike, Dr. Peter Savage and Dr. Lev Becker.
All three researchers are attacking diverse cancer treatment issues and the three projects funded represent different ways that funding research science can have profound effects on cancer treatment and knowledge.
The Fletcher Award is intended to allow a researcher to “take a left turn” from the formerly established research their lab has pursued. This is particularly true with Dr. Savage’s work. Having identified a previously unclassified type of immune T cells which may be able to make immunotherapy more effective, Dr. Savage will use his Fletcher Award to fund the important “leg work” to prove that these new T cells are worth pursuing.
We also hope this award will allow researchers to pursue ideas that might not be attractive to larger or more traditional funding sources. Dr. Odenike, a clinician scientist who treats leukemia patients, will use her Fletcher Award to investigate a particular therapy combination on a rare but deadly type of AML. Because they are rare, diseases like “high risk” AML are not good targets for government or big pharma support. That lack of support in no way dims Dr. Odenike’s desire to find a better way to help some of her more imperiled patients. Her passion is one reason we feel funding clinician scientists is a great way to move science together.
Sometimes a significant impact in cancer science can be made in fields adjacent to cancer science. Dr. Becker works in cellular biology; his expertise and research in macrophage behavior have made him a successful cancer scientist, but he did not start his career with cancer in mind. This Fletcher Award will allow him to investigate a type of macrophage that may leverage already existing breast cancer treatment to help even more patients.
Finally, we are delighted to note that all three 2020 Fletcher Scholars Award winners are former CRF Young Investigators. It is extremely gratifying to know that the Young Investigator Award, designed to give early career researchers start funds to support data collection and proof of principle, helped all three of these scientists start fantastic careers. We congratulate the 2020 Fletcher Scholars and invite you to learn more about the work they are pursuing with their Fletcher Award:
Peter A. Savage, PhD – 2020 Fletcher Scholar
Olatoyosi Odenike, MD – 2020 Fletcher Scholar
Lev Becker, PhD – 2020 Fletcher Scholar