Funding the new ideas that lead to breast cancer breakthroughs


It is nearly impossible for young researchers with novel theories to receive substantial funding to test and develop a track record. The Lynn Sage Foundation provides seed funding to early-career scientists because we believe new ideas lead to cancer breakthroughs. These brilliant researchers are dedicated to a world without breast cancer.

Current Lynn Sage Scholar, Dr. Dai Horiuchi, has an impressive biography, but his passion to improve the lives of breast cancer patients truly inspires us.

“I had an opportunity to give a “research-in-progress” talk at UCSF when I was completing my postdoctoral fellowship. A patient, probably in her late 20s or early 30s, and her mother asked me some questions after my presentation. They wanted to know how long it would take the targeted therapeutic strategy that I had just presented to be extended to patients as an experimental therapy. I said five to seven years if everything goes well. Her response was, ‘Well, I probably don’t have that time.’

How I felt on that day, which I still remember distinctly, is the primary reason I’ve stayed in breast cancer research.”

Patient relationships helped motivate Dr. Horiuchi to focus his lab on one of the most challenging sub-types of breast cancer, triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

“Clinicians still face a significant number of breast cancer patients who either do not respond well to existing therapies or eventually experience a recurrence of tumors resistant to therapies to which they previously responded. These are the cases reflected by a breast cancer-related mortality rate that has not substantially improved over the past decade. This is particularly true for patients with triple-negative breast cancer, one of the breast cancer subtypes with the poorest clinical outcome.

The primary goal of our research is to understand the biological mechanisms that differentiate those triple-negative tumors that can be cured or clinically managed from those that progress to fatality, and to identify life-saving therapeutic strategies specifically for patients with the deadly forms of TNBC. Our ultimate goal is to identify ways to reduce breast cancer-related mortality rates significantly.”

Unfortunately, knowing what to investigate and how to do it is not enough in today’s funding climate. Researchers like Dr. Horiuchi need someone to take a chance on their theories.

“Federal funding agencies strongly encourage us to stick to the specific field of study in which we were originally trained (i.e.: if you were trained as a chemist, you could not attempt to become a biologist). Support from The Lynn Sage Foundation has enabled me, who is not a trained immunologist, to recruit immunologist researchers and collaborators to my team to initiate an exciting brand new breast cancer immuno-oncology project. We hope to present compelling and impactful research data and build a track record of productivity in breast cancer immuno-oncology research. All of which will help us competitively secure federal funding.

Ten months into our grant, we now have a significantly refined set of questions under investigation along with a more precise plan to set our research apart from other immuno-oncology research. I will evaluate our effort based on whether our findings contribute to generating new therapeutic agents and help move novel therapeutic strategies into clinical testing. This is easier said than done. Ultimately, I will assess our contribution to breast cancer research based on how we contribute to the most critical goal of significantly lowering the mortality rates associated with TNBC.”

Keeping this ultimate goal in mind, the young woman who approached Dr. Horiuchi at UCSF is never far from his thoughts. He welcomes all opportunities to connect with both breast cancer patients and advocates and encourages his colleagues to do the same.

“I embrace the opportunity to interact with and give informal talks to breast cancer advocates and the patients they support. I would appreciate more of these opportunities, especially as our research program matures. Not only do advocates connect us with patients but they also support our efforts to compete for research funding and present research findings at national conferences. They are essential in educating us lab researchers on what it means to be diagnosed with breast cancer and to live with it as a patient.”

Dr. Horiuchi is an eager participant at Lynn Sage Foundation events for this very reason. But his connections at these functions haven’t been limited to advocates and sponsors. The Foundation also helped him develop relationships with fellow Lynn Sage Scholars Drs. Mendillo and Vassilopoulos.

Lynn Sage Foundation breast cancer research Dr. Dai Horiuchi

Dr. Dai Horiuchi with Laura and Halee Sage

“Translating laboratory findings into clinical testing requires a highly orchestrated team effort involving all the concerned parties. I am fortunate to have connected with the former and present Lynn Sage Scholars at Northwestern, Drs. Athanasios Vassilopoulos and Marc Mendillo, through the Lynn Sage Foundation events. This resulted not only in their participation in our lab’s efforts to understand biological mechanisms of drug action and resistance but also our recent securing of significant research funding from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program.”

The Department of Defense’s highly competitive grant of $1.185 million was only awarded to 6.5% of all applicants. This collaboration is the epitome of what the Lynn Sage Scholars program was designed to accomplish. And not surprisingly, it only fuels Dr. Horiuchi’s passion to continue his ground-breaking research.

“I am prepared to do whatever it takes to promote impactful discoveries at a rate that is currently unattainable!”

We need your support to continue funding the future discoveries for Lynn Sage Scholars like Dr. Horiuchi. Please give to The Lynn Sage Foundation or attend CHILL on Thursday, November 8th in support of all men and women facing a breast cancer diagnosis.