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UPenn Awards $6.9M in Research Grants to Advance Treatment of BRCA-related Cancers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The University of Pennsylvania's Basser Research Center for BRCA said it will award $6.9 million in research grants to its own investigators and those at other US institutions working on projects to advance cancer treatments for patients harboring BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations

The Basser External Research Grant Program is a new funding mechanism to support "high-impact translational cancer research projects with the potential to advance rapidly into clinical practice," the institution said in a statement. The recipients of the external grant program include teams at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Johns Hopkins University; Fox Chase Cancer Center; Columbia University; and Drexel University College of Medicine. All of the research teams are working on projects to improve the care of patients with BRCA1/2-related cancers.

For example, one of the grant recipients is a team led by Junjie Chen at MD Anderson where the investigators are focused on developing new kinds of chemotherapy for BRCA1/2-associated cancers. Meanwhile, Columbia University researchers are planning to conduct a community outreach effort to bolster genetic counseling among minority women.

A $5 million donation by UPenn alumni Mindy and Jon Gray earlier this year made the External Grants Program possible, according to the university. "Their latest gift brings their total giving to Penn to $30 million, following a $25 million gift, which established the Basser Center in 2012," UPenn said in a statement. The Basser Center was founded in the memory of Faith Baser, Mindy Gray's sister, who died of BRCA-associated ovarian cancer when she was 44 years old.

UPenn also awarded four grants to its own researchers, including a project led by Robert Vonderheide to develop a vaccine to prevent BRCA1/2-driven cancers in healthy carriers of mutations; an effort led by Roger Greenberg to identify strategies to overcome resistance mechanisms of BRCA mutant cancers to chemotherapies; a study led by Eric Brown to gauge if drugs targeting the ATR/CHK1 pathway can treat BRCA-deficient ovarian and pancreatic cancers in the first line or following resistance to PARP inhibitors; and a project led by Timothy Rebbeck to bolster access to genetics services for patients in geographic locales that lack such resources.