Making progress – Brodeur Foundation reviews grant applications

Brodeur Foundation seeking best in cancer research

By KATHLEEN EDGECOMB

The Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation has raised nearly $5 million dollars in its 14-year history, with all the money going directly to researchers who are looking for a cure for breast cancer and better ways to treat the disease.

The New London-based foundation raises the money from its annual marathon walk held every October, and from fundraisers put on by individuals. The foundation, which is made up mostly of volunteers, considers 20 to 25 grant requests each year and awards three or four $100,000 grants.

Just this month, researchers who were funded in part by the Brodeur Foundation reported in the Nov. 26, 2019 issue of “Cell Reports” that they have identified a gene editor, known as a splicing factor, that could lead to a treatment for triple negative breast cancer. Click here to read the UConn Today report.

This year, the organization’s scientific advisory board is reviewing 23 “excellent” proposals from 12 of the leading cancer research organizations in the northeast, including Dana Farber, which leads with five proposals, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Yale, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Harvard Medical School, according to John LaMattina, president of the foundation’s board of directors.

“While we are grateful that we will be able to fund four grants in 2020, it would be wonderful if we could fund ten,” he said.

The scientific advisory board is expected to recommend the top four proposals next month to the Board of Directors

The advisory board includes Chairman Nicholas Saccomano, PhD, chief scientific officer at Array Bio-Pharma Inc.; Co-chair John LaMattina, PhD, former president of Pfizer Global Research and Development; Michael Garabedian, PhD, professor and course director at New York University Medical Center; Susan Logan, PhD, associate professor at New York University Medical Center; and Michael Morin, PhD, chief executive officer of Immunome Inc. All are founding members of TBBCF.

The advisory board looks for research on novel therapies and people who might unravel the mysteries of breast cancer, promoting therapies to combat the disease. Over the years, the board has reviewed more than 150 formal proposals and interviewed numerous candidates. Their strategy is to continue to build name recognition in the area and build outward slowly. The board uses a 1-6 rating system on relevance, quality, technical feasibility, institute/lab, and candidate interview.

While applications are submitted from across the globe, the group tries to find researchers who are working in the New York and New England areas. The focus is on young people starting out in their careers who are not established enough to get grants from other sources. Some have gone on to head departments and now their students are seeking the research grants.

Stacey Gualtieri, a certified public accountant and treasurer of the Brodeur Foundation, said the grants may fund an individual researcher but the benefits go far beyond.

“We provide seed money for something much bigger,” she said. “We fund research that is potentially bigger than us.”

Gualtieri said she has seen progress in the treatment of breast cancer since joining TBBCF. She remembers that at one time, if a patient needed chemotherapy before surgery to remove a tumor, it signaled a serious and aggressive form of breast cancer. But researchers have discovered that reducing the size of the tumor first leads to less invasive surgeries, few complications, less toxic chemotherapy and better outcomes.

“There’s been progress,” she said. “It’s not fast moving but it’s moving. People are living longer and that’s hopeful.”

Norma Logan founded TBBCF with Sandy Maniscalco in 2005 and named it after a young mother of three, Terri Brodeur of Old Saybrook, who died from breast cancer in 2005.

Logan called on her friends and coworkers at Pfizer Inc. to help start the organization that would dedicate 100 percent of its fundraising dollars to research. TBBCF runs on in-kind services donations and receives money for operating expenses from supporters who know their money is being used for operations. Board members also contribute substantially to cover costs.

Logan died in 2006, but lived long enough to see her idea become a reality and receive official non-profit status. Gualtieri, who was Norman Logan’s accountant in 2005, offered to help the fledgling group become a nonprofit. She said Logan was an inspiration to many people.

“She said it was too late for her but it wasn’t too late for someone else,” Gualtieri said.