RARE Daily

Harvard Awards First Round of Rare Cancer Research Grants

April 7, 2021

Rare Daily Staff

Harvard Medical School awarded the first round of grants worth in excess of $9 million to nine teams representing 19 lead and co-lead investigators across the school and its affiliated hospitals to better understand and combat rare cancers.

The Bertarelli Rare Cancers Fund was established at Harvard Medical School in 2019 by the Switzerland-based Bertarelli Foundation. It provides $15 million in support of research projects and community building around rare cancers.

The first grants span basic, translational, and clinical science while linking junior and senior faculty across the HMS community. The multidisciplinary collaborations promise to approach problems from different perspectives and produce stronger science.

“This exciting new program will advance our capacity to prevent, treat, and cure rare cancers, which, combined, affect many tens of thousands of patients and their loved ones in this country each year,” said Harvard Medical School Dean George Daley. “By building research capacity and cross-institutional collaboration, the fund helps us pursue our mission of generating new biological insights and treatment strategies that improve health for all.”

It can be hard to make research progress in a rare cancer. For instance, tissue samples are scarce and pharmaceutical companies have less incentive to develop drugs for small patient markets. Academic institutions such as HMS can be particularly helpful, Daley said.

With the fresh infusion from the Bertarelli fund, Harvard Medical School said it is able to build the infrastructure, generate the knowledge, and strengthen the research communities for rare cancers that more common cancers benefit from. The ultimate goal is to improve the detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of rare cancers.

Although rare cancers by definition each strike fewer than 40,000 U.S. residents in a given year, together they account for about one-quarter of all cancers and cancer deaths in this country, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“We have a shared ambition to conduct research and innovate for the good of society,” said Bertarelli Foundation co-chair Dona Bertarelli. “It’s clear that there is a need and an opportunity to accelerate transformative rare cancer research, and it is my hope that the fund will create a community of researchers who will, in collaboration with scientists around the world, transform the understanding, treatment, and care of rare cancers.”

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