The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has awarded Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD, with the prestigious Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator Award, granted each year to a select group of young physician-scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research.
The award was established in 1946 by radio personality Walter Winchell in honor of his friend and short story writer Damon Runyon, who had died of cancer that same year. To date, the Foundation has invested over $147 million in cancer research, with the goal of increasing the number of physician-scientists capable of moving between the laboratory and the bedside in search of breakthrough cancer treatments. As a recipient of the award, Dr. Wolchok and his mentor, Alan N. Houghton, MD, Chairman of the Immunology Program at SKI, will receive $1 million dollars of financial support for up to five years.
Dr. Wolchok’s career in science began in 1984, when, as an undergraduate at Princeton University, he worked in Dr. Houghton’s laboratory as part of the Summer Research Program. Then, after receiving both his MD and PhD from New York University, Dr. Wolchok returned to Memorial Sloan Kettering, entering the Medical Oncology Fellowship Program in 1996. Four years later, after serving as Chief Fellow, Dr. Wolchok was appointed to the Memorial Sloan Kettering faculty.
Remembering his early days in Dr. Houghton’s lab, Dr. Wolchok says, “I was inspired by the work going on, specifically by Dr. Houghton’s ability to blend laboratory research with clinical applications to patient care. Visiting other hospitals around the country, you quickly see that there are very few places that allow people to have the time and resources to pursue research as well as to deliver a high quality of patient care. Memorial Sloan Kettering is one of the only places that not only does that but does it well.”
Dr. Wolchok’s first reaction upon learning that he had won the award was disbelief. His next was to inform his mentor of nearly 20 years, Dr. Houghton, whose constant support throughout the years, Dr. Wolchok notes, has played a large role in his winning the award.
“I am incredibly honored to have this award,” Dr. Wolchok says. “I think The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation recognizes the critical importance of funding investigators like myself who are at a critical point in our careers. We exist in a world where you are trying to prove that you are both an excellent scientist and an excellent physician. The foundation has grasped the idea that the physician-scientist is the most qualified to bring the science out of the laboratory and to the bedside.”
The monetary gift attached to the award will ensure that Dr. Wolchok’s research into the development of cancer vaccines and the study of tumor immunity will continue. “It’s a wonderful feeling,” he declares, “knowing that all of the projects I am working on right now will continue to develop and grow over the next five years.”
“And I think it’s wonderful for Memorial Sloan Kettering to be recognized as a leader in clinical cancer investigation,” Dr. Wolchok adds. “The award is certainly not about me. It’s about recognizing me in the context of this great institution, which has trained me and allowed me to flourish.”