For Nicholas Saccomano, the best part of his involvement with the Terri Brodeur Foundation during the past 15 years has been talking to the scientists who apply for TBBCF research grants.
“The proposals are absolutely fascinating,” he said, adding that most of the researchers who have received TBBCF grants have remained in the field of breast cancer, either researching or caring for patients. They have written 31 peer-reviewed articles for various cancer research publications and several have become experts on breast cancer.
Saccomano, senior vice president and chief scientific officer at Pfizer Boulder Research and Development Group in Colorado, was the keynote speaker at the 15th annual meeting July 13, which this year was held virtually.
That first year when his friend Norma Logan, the co-founder of the foundation, tasked him with finding a way to cure cancer, Saccomano thought, how am I going to make this work? After much thought, Saccomano came up with a plan.
“It was pretty straight forward. You find young, energetic, very intelligent people who would bite through steel to find a cure for cancer,” said Saccomano, a member of the foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, which looks for researchers early in their careers who are likely going to commit their careers to cancer research.
Saccomano and his colleagues on the advisory board — John LaMattina, Michael Garabedian, Susan Logan and Michael Morin — read and assess 25-30 applications each year. They look for projects that focus on expanding early detection, improving the standard of care, and discovering new medicines to cure breast cancer. An important part is also understanding the biology of the disease.
Grant recipients who are doing outstanding research, according to Saccomano, include the four 2021 grant recipients, Daniel Abravanel, MD and PhD at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Douglas Micalizzi, MD and PhD at Mass General Hospital; Rachna Malani, MD at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and Jennifer Rosenbluth, MD and PhD at Dana-Farber.
“It’s not going to happen overnight but it will happen in the hands of people who we fund young, and who are growing laboratories and careers, dedicating their lives to giving us a blueprint of exactly how breast cancer, the many kinds of breast cancer, are impacting people and taking lives,” he said.
He estimates the board has screened more than 700 proposals during the last decade and a half, reviewed more than 350 of them and awarded 48 grants to 48 researchers. For 2021, the number has climbed to 52 research grants.
The meeting also included a thank you video from Dr. Olga Anczukow, a molecular biologist, who was awarded a TBBCF grant in 2013 while she was a postdoc researcher at Cold Springs Laboratory in New York. She is now an assistant professor at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine at the University of Connecticut where she is doing breast cancer research.
Stacey Gualtieri, a board member and its treasurer, explained how the foundation came up with $400,000 to fund four 2021 research grants despite the cancellation of last year’s in-person annual walk, which was held the first Saturday in October. It was replaced with a virtual walk, and supporters from 17 states participated and raised $287,000. There was $40,000 carried over from previous walks and another $44,000 that had been returned from various researchers who did not use all their funds, she said. Because of Covid-19 and the cancellation of the in-person walk, annual expenses were reduced so the Board of Directors decided to add $29,000 in sponsorship money toward the grants.
Patti Burmahl, president of the board, also thanked the many sponsors and individuals who continued to support the foundation during a year that was challenging for most.
A list of the top 2020 fundraisers can be found at https://tbbcf.org/top-fundraisers/
The 16th annual walk, the TBBCF Walk for a Cure, will take place Oct 2 in southeastern Connecticut. People can sign up for various distances, from a full marathon to a 5K. There will also be a virtual walk. To date, 58 people have signed up for the walk from seven different states.
For information on the foundation and to sign up for the TBBCF Walk for a Cure, go to www.TBBCF.org.
The complete Annual Meeting video is available to watch here or on the TBBCF website.