• Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research

    Claudia Adams Barr 

    For centuries, the basic causes of cancer were mysterious, and treatments were only partly effective.

    Recently, this unhappy state has undergone a fundamental change. Our knowledge about the precise molecular and genetic abnormalities that underlie cancer is expanding at an unbelievably rapid pace, and this has led to new treatments based on that new understanding.

    Because the new treatments are specifically targeted at cancer's molecular derangements, they are more effective and have many fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy.

    How did this happen? The answer lies in groundbreaking basic research into the molecular genetics, biology, biochemistry, and epidemiology of cancer.

    Basic research has made the difference between business-as-usual in cancer treatment and the new era of targeted, less toxic therapy. Since its inception, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has been at the center of this process and the Barr Program has been an essential component of that success.

    How have the dedicated runners and friends of the Barr Program been able to make such an enormous impact on cancer research? The dollars donated to the Barr Program are directed entirely to basic research projects led by Dana-Farber scientists.

    Dana-Farber is in the enviable position of being able to recruit the most talented and brilliant cancer scientists in the world, who are attracted by the Institute's nearly 60-year track record of innovative scientific discovery and the opportunity to see their discoveries develop into new cancer treatments.

    Kwok-Kin Wong, MD, PhDBarr Investigator Kwok-Kin Wong, MD, PhD 

    But it is neither easy nor cheap for new, fledgling faculty members to see their brilliant ideas translated into real experiments with real results. Most financial support for cancer science comes from the government, specifically the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    Dana-Farber does quite well in that regard, attracting $140 million per year from NIH, the third-highest amount among independent research hospitals. But, like most government agencies, NIH is conservative and only dispenses its money to sure-fire projects or to experienced investigators with good track records in their fields.

    What can a new investigator do to get started? Or how can an investigator experienced in one area test his or her brilliant idea in a new area in which they have no track record? How can an investigator access a spectacularly useful new technology that NIH won't pay for?

    The answer to all of these questions is the Barr Program. When someone donates to the Barr Program, those funds get a brilliant young investigator started on his or her career, or they give an accomplished investigator the opportunity to lend his or her intellect to another field or gain access to an enabling technology. The output of this process is new basic science discoveries that can lead to new cancer treatments.

    But those new discoveries also give investigators a chance to request NIH funding based on a real track record. Nearly all Barr Investigators have been able to turn their early support into ongoing NIH support. This is tremendous leverage.

    Barr supporters should always remember that every dollar they raise for cancer research will turn into many more dollars for cancer research from NIH or other sources. These funds allow even bigger projects to be performed and the result is an ever shorter time to cancer cures.

    Since its inception in 1987, the Barr Program has played a central role in the life of Dana-Farber. By funding basic research in its earliest stages, the Program allows brilliant scientists to test their new ideas earlier and faster than they could anywhere else.

    We have begun to see the fruits of this endeavor in new, less toxic cancer treatments. This is only the beginning. With continued dedication and support, we can keep using the unmatched power of basic scientific research to develop even better therapies that will reduce and eventually eliminate the suffering caused by cancer.

    Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge dollars in action

    The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge directs 100 percent of funds raised to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research. The program enables scientists at the leading edge of discovery to achieve better cure rates and to enhance patients' quality of life.

    Barr Investigators pursue high-impact work needed to obtain federal funding from the National Institutes of Health, which, for many, will foster their transition to an independent research career.

    For more experienced investigators, this funding offers the opportunity to pursue another field or gain access to critical technology. All are driven by their passionate dedication to cancer research. Some of the accomplishments enabled by the Barr Program since 1987 have brought us to this exciting time in medical history, setting the stage for future breakthroughs as mankind continues to turn the tide against cancer.

    Learn more about individual Barr Investigators and their groundbreaking work and discoveries in basic science:


    Impact on cancer research worldwide

    The Barr Program has had tremendous impact because of its size. From 1987 through spring 2008, the Barr Program has distributed over $38 million in research funding to 139 investigators.

    The Barr Program's effects are felt throughout the world of cancer research

    • Several Barr Investigators who were supported early in their careers have already gone on to become tenured professors or department heads or division chiefs. These are the positions of greatest influence in cancer research and they show how the Barr Program continues to have a significant and ongoing impact in this area.
    • Barr Investigators are now senior faculty members at some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the U.S.
    • Alumni include:
      • Michael Brenner, MD, Chief of Rheumatology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School
      • Myles Brown, MD, Chief of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Oncology, Professor of Medicine, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School
      • Michael Caliguri, MD, Director of the James Cancer Center at Ohio State University
      • James Ferrara, MD, Director Bone Marrow Transplant, University of Michigan Caner Center
      • David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School
      • Dana Gabuzda, MD, Professor of Neurology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School
      • James Griffin, MD, Chief of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
      • Massimo Loda, MD, Professor of Pathology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School
      • Barrett Rollins, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
      • David Rowitch, MD, PhD, Chief of Neonatology, University of California San Francisco
      • Pamela Silver, PhD, Professor of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School
      • Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, Professor of Cell Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, member of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Barr Investigators have international influence:
      • Christopher Rudd, PhD, Chief of Hematology, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College, London, U.K.
      • Thomas Wileman, PhD, Head of Immunology and Pathology, Institute for Animal Health, Surrey, U.K.
    • Barr Investigators also lead cancer research programs in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies:
      • Hans Reiser, MD, VP for Biology, Gilead Sciences
      • William Sellers, MD, Global Head Oncology, Novartis

    Scientific impact

    Projects supported by the Barr Program have had an enormous impact on our understanding of cancer and our ability to treat it. Here are some highlights:

    Cancer genetics

    • Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD, and William Sellers, MD, completed a catalog of cancer-related mutations in a family of genes called kinases that can be targeted by new drugs. An important and practical consequence was the discovery of a mutation in lung cancer which, when present, makes the disease respond to a pill called gefitinib.
    • David Fisher, MD, PhD, identified some of the genetic mutations that cause melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, and ways to protect against these changes.
    • Myles Brown, MD, developed a complete map of all of the genes controlled by estrogen, which will provide new ways of treating breast and ovarian cancers.

    New cancer therapies

    • Kim Stegmaier, MD, developed an innovative method for discovering drugs that are effective against a variety of cancers. Her work has led to the initiation of several new clinical trials.
    • Glenn Dranoff, MD, developed a new and highly effective way to stimulate the body's immune cells to reject cancer. His discoveries are now being tested in several clinical trials.


    Barr Program support has provided a platform from which investigators can obtain much larger levels of financial support for their projects. Examples of leverage include:

    • Most Barr Investigators have followed their Barr Awards with so-called "R01" awards from the National Institutes of Health. These are typically awards for $200,000 - $400,000 per year for 3-5 years.
    • Work performed by David Rowitch, MD, PhD, on his Barr project served as the basis for a large, multi-investigator grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate neuroscience and brain cancer. The award brought $1.7 million per year for five years to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists.
    • A project led by Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD, and William Sellers, MD, to catalog cancer mutations in a family of genes called kinases was supported by $2 million from the Barr Program. Based on this work, Dr. Meyerson and his colleagues successfully competed for a $7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a Cancer Genome Characterization Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute. They also received a $2.5 million grant from Genentech. This 5-fold return on the Barr investment is a spectacular example of the way Barr dollars are leveraged to bring new and more effective treatments to cancer patients.

    Barr investigator selected profiles 

    Barr Investigator awards - July 2008, January 2009 

    The Barr Program's History of Discovery: Past, Present and Future Impact 

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