February 9, 2021

More Than 100 Cancer Research Leaders Call for Biden Administration to Not Make Cancer Research a Casualty of COVID

Below is the text of an open letter sent by a group of leaders from the nation’s top cancer research centers and philanthropic organizations to Xavier Becerra and Eric Lander, who have been nominated by President Biden to be Secretary of Health and Human Services and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, respectively. A PDF version of the letter is available here.

February 9, 2021

Dear Attorney General Becerra and Dr. Lander,

As leaders of the philanthropic and oncology community, we would like to warmly congratulate you on your forthcoming roles as members of President Biden’s cabinet. We are thrilled to have an administration that is committed to science along with the health and well-being of all Americans.

During his long career as a public servant, President Biden has shown an unrivaled commitment to accelerating progress in cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Now that he has assumed the highest office in the land, we write to you as a group of concerned cancer research leaders to warn that progress in the fight against cancer will be stunted for a generation unless swift action is taken.

The situation is grave. As an op-ed last month in the New York Daily News by the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research’s CEO Michele Cleary laid out, numerous devastating impacts to cancer care and research have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic (“Don’t sacrifice cancer care to COVID,” January 13). Treatments have been delayed (which can be a death sentence for cancer patients) and groundbreaking research has been pushed back years, as labs try to restart hobbled experiments, and talented young investigators ponder other career options in the face of hiring freezes at U.S. research institutions.

Those of us who have dedicated our lives to advancing pioneering cancer research have already started the conversation on the multiple steps that need to be taken to ensure that cancer patients today and in the future get access to timely and effective treatments as well as benefit from the exciting and promising innovations that our research community has produced or was poised to produce before the pandemic crippled us all one year ago. Some of those steps are laid out in a second op-ed by Dr. Cleary in The Hill (“Biden shouldn’t let defeating cancer take a backseat to COVID,” January 23), including:

  • Government and philanthropic funders of cancer research must align to provide more flexibility in awarding and managing grants with respect to deadlines and termination dates, as well as to offer extended and new funding mechanisms that empower investigators to overcome delays caused by hampered access to labs since March 2020.
  • Stringent requirements for extensive preliminary data in upcoming grant applications, which would be impossible to produce in this environment, should be temporarily eased.
  • To preserve the high caliber of academic research that the U.S. is known for, proactive programs for sustaining our current and future scientific talent pipeline that clear barriers and earmark funding need to be established so to incentivize and recruit the most innovative thinkers in the U.S. and across the globe as well as empower postdoctoral investigators who have been stuck in limbo due to visa issues and halted job searches.
  • Formal partnerships and incentives for biopharma companies to more vigorously invest in earlier stage, higher risk research and fast-track emerging academic diagnostic and drug development efforts that have experienced setbacks need to be created.

We must act now on these mandates and others, but we will only be successful if our conversation is heard and embraced by the scientific advisors of the new administration. We implore you to immediately convene a task force on cancer care and research so that the recommendations above can be expanded upon and implemented. And we raise our hands to be a significant part of that endeavor.

A full accounting of the destruction that has already taken place won’t be known for some time. According to data released last month by the American Cancer Society, nearly 2 million new cancer cases and over 600,000 cancer deaths would be projected to occur in 2021 without accounting for the disproportionately negative outcomes COVID-19 is having on cancer diagnoses and outcomes. Because of COVID-19, these numbers will be substantially worse than predicted, potentially reversing the steady decline in cancer mortality that has occurred since the early 1990s. That’s why we must act now.

We know the challenges facing our country are enormous. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every American deeply and has taken the lives of over 450,000 of our fellow citizens. We are thankful that successful commercial advancement of academic science has brought to the fore vaccines that will enable us to eventually put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror.

When that hopeful moment arrives, let’s make sure we don’t face a crisis in cancer. Together, we can stop it from happening.


1) Cory Abate-Shen, PhD
Michael and Stella Chernow Professor of Urologic Sciences
Director of Research in the Department of Urology
Associate Director of Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center
Columbia University Medical Center

2) Nduka Amankulor, MD
Director of Adult Medical Oncology
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

3) Daniel Anderson, PhD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

4) Scott Armstrong, MD, PhD
Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center
Chairman, Department of Pediatric Oncology
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Associate Chief, Division of Hematology/Oncology
Boston Children’s Hospital

5) Alan Ashworth, PhD
UCSF Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center

6) Alessia Baccarini, PhD
Assistant Professor
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

7) Alexander Baras, MD, PhD
Leon Troper, MD Professor in Computational Pathology
Johns Hopkins University

8) Steven Bernstein, MD
Senior Vice President of Clinical Development and Translational Medicine
Turnstone Biologics

9) Becky Bish, PhD
Senior Scientific Director
The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

10) Hans Bitter, PhD
Vice President, Data Sciences
bluebird bio

11) Catherine Bollard, MBChB, MD
Bosworth Chair for Cancer Biology
Director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research
Director of the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy
Children’s National Medical Center

12) Brian Brown, PhD
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

13) Mike Burgess, MBChB, PhD
President of Research and Development
Turnstone Biologics

14) Pamela Carroll, PhD
Chief Business Officer
Silicon Therapeutics

15) Hannah Carter, PhD
Associate Professor
University of California, San Diego

16) Milan Chheda, MD
Assistant Professor
Washington University School of Medicine

17) Curt Civin, MD
Associate Dean for Research
Director, Center for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine
Professor of Pediatrics and Physiology
University of Maryland

18) Michele Cleary, PhD
Chief Executive Officer
The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

19)Robert Copeland, PhD
Founder, President, and Chief Scientific Officer
Accent Therapeutics, Inc.

20) Arvin Dar, PhD
Associate Professor
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

21) Luis Diaz, MD
Head, Solid Tumor Oncology
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

22) Giulio Draetta, MD, PhD

23) Brian Druker, MD
Director, Knight Cancer Institute
Oregon Health & Science University

24) Ray Dubois, MD, PhD
Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center

25) Benjamin Ebert, MD, PhD
Chair of Medical Oncology
Dana-Farber Cancer Institue

26) Stephen Elledge, PhD
Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

27) Katrin Ericson, PhD
Executive Director
The RUNX1 Research Program

28) Mark Evers, MD, FACS
Director, Markey Cancer Center
University of Kentucky

29) Robert Ferris, MD, PhD
Director, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center
Hillman Professor of Oncology
Associate Vice-Chancellor for Cancer Research
University Pittsburgh School of Medicine

30) Eric Fischer, PhD
Associate Professor of BCMP; Co-Director Center for Protein Degradation
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

31) Stephen Friend, MD, PhD

32) Stanton Gerson, MD
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

33) Andrei Goga, MD, PhD
Professor and Co-Leader Breast Oncology Program
University of California, San Francisco

34) Pablo Gonzalez Camara, PhD
Assistant Professor of Genetics
University of Pennsylvania

35) George Golumbeski, PhD

36) Timothy Graubert, MD
Professor Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Massachusetts General Hospital

37) Daniel Haber, MD, PhD
Director, Cancer Center
Massachusetts General Hospital

38) William Hahn, MD, PhD
Chief Operating Officer
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

39) Dolores Hambardzumyan, PhD, MBA
Associate Professor
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

40) Dan Hicklin, PhD
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Werewolf Therapeutics

41) Curtis Henry, PhD
Assistant Professor
Emory University School of Medicine

42) Helen Heslop, MD, DSc (Hon)
Dan L Duncan Chair, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics
Director, Center for Cell and Gene Therapy
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital

43) Marc Hurlbert, PhD
Chief Science Officer
Melanoma Research Alliance

44) Roy Jensen, MD
The University of Kansas Cancer Center

45) Philip Jones, PhD

46) Cigall Kadoch, PhD
Associate Professor
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

47) John Kanki, PhD
Director of Research
Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation

48) Michael Kastan, MD, PhD
Executive Director
Duke Cancer Institute

49) Richard Klinghoffer, PhD
Presage Biosciences

50) Birgit Knoechel, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

51) Angela Koehler, PhD
Associate Professor
Koch Institute
Broad Institute

52) Dan Landau, MD, PhD
Associate Professor
Weill Cornell Medicine

53) Robert Langer, ScD
Institute Professor
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

54) Stephen Leach, MD
Dartmouth Norris Cotton Cancer Center

55) Kelvin Lee, MD
Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

56) Caryn Lerman, PhD
Director, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center
Associate Dean for Cancer Programs
Leslie and Elaine S. Hoffman Chair in Cancer Research
Keck Medicine of USC

57) Arnold Levine, PhD
Professor Emeritus
Institute for Advanced Study

58) Ross Levine, MD
Chief of the Molecular Cancer Medicine Service
Laurence Joseph Dineen Chair in Leukemia Research
Attending Physician
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

59) Rong Li, PhD
Johns Hopkins University

60) Yung Lie, PhD
President and Chief Executive Officer
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

61) Rebecca Liu, PhD
Director of Grants Administration
The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

62) Scott Lippman, MD
Director, Moores Cancer Center
University of California, San Diego

63) Edison Liu, MD
President and CEO
The Jackson Laboratory

64) Patrick Loehrer, MD
Associate Dean for Cancer Research
Director, Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center
Indiana University School of Medicine

65) Costas Lyssiotis, PhD
Assistant Professor of Physiology
University of Michigan

66) Andrea Maddox-Smith
Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network

67) Elaine Mardis, PhD
Co-Executive Director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine
Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Endowed Chair in Genomic Medicine
Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Immediate Past President
American Association for Cancer Research

68) Brad Margus
Chief Executive Officer

69) David McConkey, PhD
Professor and Director, Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute
Johns Hopkins University

70) Ruben Mesa, MD, FACP
Executive Director
Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson

71) Audra Moran
President and CEO
Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance

72) Benjamin Neel, MD, PhD
Director, Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center
NYU Langone Health

73) Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD
Head of Dermatology
UW Medicine

74) Stephen Nimer, MD
Director of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

75) Daniel Nomura, PhD
Professor of Chemistry
Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology
University of California, Berkeley

76) Tatiana Novobrantseva, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder
Verseau Therapeutics

77) Ramon Parsons, MD, PhD
Director, Tisch Cancer Institute
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

78) Mary Beth Pearlberg
Executive Director
Cancer Research UK
Director Global Philanthropy
Cancer Grand Challenges

79) Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD
Director and Executive Vice President for Research
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

80) Raphael Pollock, MD, PhD
The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center

81) Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD
Chief Executive Officer and Director of Scientific Affairs
Cancer Research Institute

82) Sung Poblete, RN, PhD
Chief Executive Officer
Stand Up To Cancer

83) Jennifer Ranieri
Executive Director
Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research

84) Markus Renschler, MD
President and Chief Executive Officer
Cyteir Therapeutics

85) Ze’ev Ronai, PhD
Director, NCI designated Cancer Center
Jeanne and Gary Herberger Leadership Chair in Cancer Research
Medical Discovery Institute

86) Jeroen Roose, PhD
Vice Chair of Anatomy
University of California, San Francisco

87) Steven Rosen, MD
Provost and Chief Scientific Officer
Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair
Morgan & Helen Chu Director’s Chair of the Beckman Research Institute
City of Hope

88) Anil Rustgi, MD
Columbia University Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center

89) Ryan Schoenfeld, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

90) Michael Shen, PhD
Co-Leader, Tumor Biology and Microenvironment, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center
Professor of Genetics & Development
Columbia University Medical Center

91) Kevan Shokat, PhD
University of California, San Francisco

92) Peter Sims, PhD
Associate Professor
Columbia University

93) Josh Sommer
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Chordoma Foundation

94) Jonathan Song, PhD
Associate Professor
The Ohio State University

95) David Sontag, PhD
Associate Professor

96) Bruce Stillman, PhD
President and Chief Executive Officer
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

97) Cullen Taniguchi, MD, PhD
Associate Professor
MD Anderson Cancer Center

98) Michael Teitell, MD, PhD
Director, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of California, Los Angeles

99) Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD
Professor of Surgery, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
PHASE ONE Foundation Distinguished Chair
Director, Cedars-Sinai CANCER
Director, Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute and Center
Cedars-Sinai Health System

100) Anna Turetsky, PhD
Principal, Venture Investments
The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

101) Eliezer Van Allen, MD
Associate Professor
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

102) Valerie Weaver, PhD
Professor & Director, Center for Bioengineering and Tissue
University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

103) Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital

104) Douglas Wheeler, MD, PhD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Broad Institute

105) E. John Wherry, PhD
Chair, Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics
Richard and Barbara Schiffrin President’s Distinguished Professor
Director, Institute for Immunology
University of Pennsylvania

106) Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD
Lloyd J. Old/Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Chair in Clinical Investigation
Chief, Immuno-Oncology Service
Director, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MSK
Associate Director, Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

107) Leonard Zon, MD
Professor of Pediatrics
Boston Children’s Hospital

Back to all news