From Health Pulse Newsletter in Crain’s New York Business (08/11/2023)

The Gray Foundation, a Midtown-based nonprofit that aims to expand BRCA-related cancer research, announced Thursday that it has awarded $25 million for seven research teams to study gene mutations that increase risk of cancer.

Women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are at increased risk of developing breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancers, and men with mutations are at higher risk of getting pancreatic, breast and prostate cancers. When the genes work properly, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, they suppress cancer development–but mutations create heightened risk of developing cancer.

According to the foundation, the seven teams awarded were selected from 55 applications for the funding. Most teams are based at Massachusetts institutions including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. One team will work in New York, led by Kenneth Olive at Columbia University.

The teams, which are part of the Gray Foundations’ ongoing Team Science program, will work to discover new approaches for prevention, early detection and intervention for cancers related to BRCA mutations.

Dana Zucker, chief executive of the Gray Foundation, said a panel evaluated all of the applications in a first selection period and then independent reviewers assessed 12 applications to select seven winners. The goal of Kenneth Olive’s work is to determine whether BRCA2 mutations can impact inflammation of certain tissues and potentially induce cancer development, she said.

These grants bring the Gray Foundation’s total amount of BRCA-related funding to $187 million. The nonprofit’s funding has also supported research at Weill Cornell and Memorial Sloan Kettering.

“What’s so interesting about studying BRCA mutations is that you know, with certainty that a high percentage of people will end up developing cancer. So it’s just ripe for research,” said foundation co-founder Mindy Gray, adding that the research could have broad implications for other types of cancer.

In addition to research funding, the foundation works to expand access to education and health care for young New Yorkers with lower income by providing scholarships and financial literacy initiatives. The foundation has committed a total of $375 million between its cancer research funding and youth programs. —J.N.