Five MIT Researchers in Teams Shortlisted for Cancer Grand Challenges Funding

Mosaic of portraits: Michael Birnbaum, Regina Barzilay, Omer Yilmaz, Brandon DeKosky

Koch Institute faculty members (clockwise from top left) Michael Birnbaum, Regina Barzilay, Omer Yilmaz, and Brandon DeKosky.

Koch Institute faculty members Michael Birnbaum, Ömer Yilmaz, Brandon DeKosky and Regina Barzilay, along with their MIT colleague Seychelle Vos, have been selected for the final stages of Cancer Grand Challenges as part of teams MATCHMAKERS, PROSPECT and KOODAC. If selected,  these interdisciplinary, global teams may receive up to $25m to make radical progress against some of cancer’s toughest challenges.

In March 2023, Cancer Grand Challenges announced nine new challenges, with 178 interdisciplinary, world-class global teams submitting bold ideas to take them on. Team MATCHMAKERS (led by Michael Birnbaum and including Regina Barzilay and Brandon DeKosky as co-investigators), PROSPECT (Ömer Yilmaz, co-investigator) and KOODAC (Seychelle Vos, co-investigator) are among the 12 of those shortlisted. The teams draw together a unique set of expertise and unite researchers from multiple countries.

"Each of the challenges addresses compelling questions in cancer research, and the talent being brought to bear to address them is immense. Our team believes that the collaborative work that could be enabled by this grant will directly translate to impact for people with cancer," says Michael Birnbaum, MATCHMAKERS Team Lead.

They will now receive seed funding to draft their full research proposal and compete for up to $25m in funding, empowering them to rise above the traditional boundaries of geography and discipline to ultimately change outcomes for people with cancer.

If successful, the MIT researchers as part of their teams would seek to tackle the challenges of T-cell receptors with team MATCHMAKERS, early-onset cancers with team PROSPECT and solid tumours in children with team KOODAC. Funded teams will be announced in March 2024.

"We had a fantastic response from the global research community who rose to the task and submitted bold and innovative ideas to take on our new challenges. We are pleased to have a shortlist of 12 teams whose proposed research approaches we believe hold the greatest potential to make the progress against these cancer challenges that we urgently need. I'm looking forward to seeing how the teams develop their approaches further in their full applications," says Dr David Scott, Director, Cancer Grand Challenges.

About Cancer Grand Challenges

  • Cancer Grand Challenges, a funding initiative co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US, brings together a community of world-class researchers to make the progress against cancer we urgently need.   
  • Through a series of funding awards (up to £20m, c. $25m), we give global teams of researchers the freedom to think differently, act creatively and take on some of the toughest challenges in cancer.  
  • Cancer Grand Challenges supports a global community of interdisciplinary, world-class research teams to come together, think differently and take on some of cancer’s toughest challenges.
  • These are the obstacles that continue to impede progress and no one scientist, institution or country will be able to solve them alone. Cancer Grand Challenges teams are empowered to rise above the traditional boundaries of geography and discipline to ultimately change outcomes for people with cancer.
  • The initiative currently supports 11 interdisciplinary teams across 10 countries, uniting over 700 investigators and collaborators.