News Release

The Mark Foundation for cancer research announces 2021 ASPIRE awards

ASPIRE grants double over previous year; Mark Foundation’s global outreach expands to Australia, Sweden, and Spain

Grant and Award Announcement

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research has selected twenty-five outstanding scientific research projects to receive 2021 ASPIRE Awards. Grantees leading these ASPIRE projects, from top academic institutions in seven countries including Australia, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, UK, and USA, were awarded a total of nearly $9 million for their innovative and bold ideas across a spectrum of cancer research disciplines. These are the first Mark Foundation grants in Australia, Sweden, and Spain, as the organization continues to expand its global outreach. 

The ASPIRE (Accelerating Scientific Platforms and Innovative Research) program enables innovative approaches to solving impactful problems in cancer research. These awards support high-risk, high-reward projects that aim to answer key feasibility and proof-of-concept questions in an accelerated timeframe, typically one year. Projects that successfully demonstrate feasibility may be selected to apply for additional funding in a second phase.

Ryan Schoenfeld, The Mark Foundation Chief Scientific Officer and Interim CEO, said, “As The Mark Foundation increases our financial commitment to tackling the greatest challenges in cancer, we are excited to expand the reach of our ASPIRE awards program in both number of grants and global outreach. Congratulations to all the ASPIRE grantees.”

The Mark Foundation’s new class of ASPIRE Awards are:

Steven Altschuler, PhD, Lani Wu, PhD, and Xiaoxiao Sun, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, USA, A platform for identification of druggable targets of cancer persisters to mitigate tumor recurrence

Jessica Blackburn, PhD, University of Kentucky, USA, Characterization of a novel endothelial network in normal and cancerous tissues

Arvin Dar, PhD, and Ernesto Guccione, PhD, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, USA, Target and Anti-Target Identification of Novel Lead Compounds from a Chemical Genetic Organoid Platform

Kara Davis, DO, Stanford University, USA, Deep Neural Network Prediction of Relapse in Pediatric Acute Leukemia

Ross Dickins, PhD, Monash University, Australia, Preventing relapse following acute myeloid leukemia differentiation therapy

Ronald Evans, PhD and Dannielle Engle, PhD, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, USA, Aberrant glycosylation and altered FXR activity converge to drive PDA progression

Shom Goel, PhD, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, University of Melbourne, Australia, Novel mouse models to accelerate the development of tailored senotherapeutics

Hani Goodarzi, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, Leveraging oncRNAs to derive blood-accessible QR codes for human cancers

Benjamin Greenbaum, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA, Bridging predictive models and precision immunotherapies

Stephen Jackson, PhD, Wellcome/ Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, UK, CRISPR screens for new cancer targets and therapeutic opportunities

Guido Kroemer, MD, PhD, Inserm, Université de Paris, Sorbonne Université, Centre de Recherche des Cordeliers, Paris, France, Impact of formyl peptide receptor 1 (FPR1) on anticancer immunosurveillance    

Pia Kvistborg, PhD, and William Faller, PhD, The Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI), Netherlands, The role of ribosomal heterogeneity in T cell recognition of tumor cells

Bennie Lemmens, PhD, and Jiri Bartek, MD, PhD, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, Direct visualization and control of DNA replication kinetics in single cells and cancer tissues by X-MARK

Arnold Levine, PhD, Institute for Advanced Study, USA, The Adaptive and innate Immune Responses to Inherited Tp53 breast cancers in Li-Fraumeni

Nuria Lopez-Bigas, PhD, IRB Barcelona, Spain, Discovering the mechanisms of tumorigenesis by driver mutations across tissues

Ignacio Melero, MD, PhD, Clínica Universidad de Navarra, Spain, Interleukin-8 and neutrophil extracellular traps as actionable target and biomarkers for cancer immunotherapy

Justin Perry, PhD, and Kayvan Keshari, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA, Development and implementation of spatial MALDI MS imaging-based methods for in situ single cell metabolomics analysis of the tumor microenvironment

Claire Roddie, MD, PhD, and Tariq Enver, PhD, University College London, UK, T-cell reprogramming: a strategy to ‘super-charge’ TIL therapy for cancer

Davide Ruggero, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, USA, The role of estrogen receptor alpha in a novel post-transcriptional program underlying breast cancer

Erik Sahai, PhD, Francis Crick Institute, UK, Development and implementation of multiparameter topological data analysis to study extracellular matrix patterning and its relationship to the cellular tumor environment in lung cancer

Kirsty Spalding, PhD, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, Targeting fat cells to reduce breast cancer progression and metastasis in humans

Brendon Stiles, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Health System, USA, Targeting the ART1-P2X7R-CD38 axis for cancer immunotherapy

Charles Swanton, MD, PhD, Francis Crick Institute, UK, Environmental Exposures and Normal Tissue Somatic Evolution (EXPANSE)

Manuel Valiente, PhD, Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO), Spain, Deconstructing the biology of local relapse post-surgery to develop novel preventive strategies in brain metastasis

Jun Wang, PhD, NYU Grossman School of Medicine, USA, Targeting Antigen Presentation Inhibitors for Immunotherapy of Cancer

The ASPIRE Awards program is one of The Mark Foundation’s various funding programs, both independent and in collaboration with partner organizations. All grant submissions undergo rigorous peer review and are held to the strictest standards of scientific excellence. For more information on The Mark Foundation’s funding programs visit

About The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research actively partners with scientists to accelerate research that will transform the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. The Mark Foundation fulfills its mission by supporting groundbreaking science carried out by individual investigators, multi-disciplinary teams, and inter-institutional collaborations in the United States, Europe, and across the globe. Recognizing the obstacles that prevent scientific advances from improving patient outcomes, The Mark Foundation maintains a nimble, high-impact approach to funding cancer research that bridges the gap between bench and bedside through grants and early-stage venture investments.

Since 2017, The Mark Foundation has awarded more than $140 million in grants to enable innovative basic, translational, and clinical cancer research, including drug discovery. The Mark Foundation also has a robust and growing portfolio of investments in oncology companies developing novel therapeutics and diagnostics. Through its research and venture arms, The Mark Foundation supports projects throughout their life cycle to ensure their highest chance of success in impacting the lives of patients with breakthroughs in cancer care.

To learn more please visit

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