Many of us are interested in making donations in support of cancer research. But figuring out which organizations will make the most effective use of our contributions isn’t always an easy task. This post is the second in a series in which we’re looking at individual charities that focus primarily on cancer research.
Making a choice based on value for our money means considering factors such as how an organization uses the money it raises, its financial health, and how transparent it is about what has been accomplished with the contributions it has received.
In this post, we review the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, including its mission and approach, history, notable financial facts and results reporting.
Breast Cancer Research Foundation: It’s Mission and Approach
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation says that its mission is “to prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world’s most promising research.” It seeks to carry out this mission by providing grants to researchers for studies that have the potential for rapid application in the clinic.
The grant-making process is overseen by a Scientific Advisory Board, whose members include a number of well-known, highly regarded breast cancer researchers and clinicians.
Unsolicited grant applications are discouraged. Instead, the SAB seeks out investigators whose have demonstrated the potential to advance the understanding of breast cancer and its treatment toward the goals of cure or prevention. Grants are awarded for one year and are announced each year in August. All grantees are required to submit two progress reports and a final report.
BCRF says that it supports projects in all stages of development. Its basic approach is to provide seed money to enable researchers to generate the preliminary data necessary to obtain additional funding from government agencies and other foundations.
Researchers are encouraged to partner with other researchers from around the world and focus on research that can be moved quickly from the lab to the patient. Areas of focus include understanding the basic biology of breast cancer, heredity & ethnicity, “lifestyle” factors that reduce risk, developing more personalized treatments, quality of life after treatment and understanding metastasis.
The Organization’s History
BCRF was founded in 1993 by Evelyn H. Lauder and Dr. Larry Norton. Evelyn Lauder was a senior executive with the Estee Lauder Companies, a philanthropist and a member of the board of overseers of the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Larry Norton is a medical oncologist who is currently Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Breast Cancer Programs at Memorial-Sloan Kettering and is a former president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Since its inception, BCRF says its has raised over $568 million to support breast cancer research.
After the death of Evelyn Lauder in 2011, a separate Founders Fund was established with $31 million in funding and a specific focus on improving understanding of the biology of breast cancer metastasis. The Founders Fund is supporting two large clinical trials–one in the United States and one in Europe. These trials aim to identify changes in molecular markers that occur when breast cancers metastasize, follow individual patients to see how the molecular markers in their metastases change over time, and help determine how treatments can be more effectively tailored to the changing biology of the cancers.
BCRF is also a member of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance, an alliance of patient advocacy groups, research charities and pharmaceutical companies that was formed in 2013. The alliance is working to advance progress in scientific research into metastatic breast cancer and to improve access to information and support for people living with metastatic breast cancer.
Major Program Areas, Expenses and Funding*
BCRF received a total of $58 million in public support and revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015. It awarded $48 million in grants, and an additional $5.4 million in Founders Fund grants, for the fiscal year.
Of BCRF’s total expenses, 91% were spent on its programs and services, 3% went to administrative expenses and 6% were allocated to fundraising.
BCRF raises funds for breast cancer research from individuals and corporations. The Estee Lauder Companies and affiliates have been and continue to be major donors.
Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
These are the ratings BCRF has received from charity rating agencies:
Charity Navigator: 4 stars (highest rating)
Charity Watch: A+
BBB Wise Giving Alliance: Accredited Charity – Meets Standards (highest rating)
Results: What Does the Charity Report?
For research being conducted this year, BCRF has distributed $48 million in grants to 240 researchers from universities and medical institutions in the United States and other countries. Its website has profiles for each grantee including descriptions of their current specific areas of study that are being funded by BCRF grants.
BCRF reports on research progress in articles that it publishes on its blog. Recent articles include:
- a profile of a researcher whose lab is working to understand the role of a gene called CRT that is upregulated in 51 percent of breast cancer patients regardless of hormone status. Her lab has received funding from BCRF for work on a possible therapy targeting this gene’s activity that stimulates the immune system to respond, similar to a vaccine.
- an overview of cancer immunotherapy approaches being studied, in general and specifically in breast cancer, including how BCRF-funded researchers are involved in this area of study and some clinical trials in breast cancer that they are leading.
- recent findings on a potential combination treatment for breast cancer brain metastases from research that was funded in part by BCRF.
Recent Initiatives and Additional Reading
Earlier this year, BCRF announced a new initiative that is designed to improve the ability of academic researchers to access drugs in development for both preclinical research and clinical trials. The ASCO Post interviewed Dr. Marc Hurlbert, Chief Mission Officer of BCRF, about the new initiative as well as BCRF’s research goals in general and the metastatic breast cancer research that it is funding.
In response to the Cancer Moonshot initiative being led by Vice President Biden, BCRF announced its own goal of doubling its annual cancer research investment from $50 million to $100 million.
*Sources: BCRF’s website, audited financial statements and IRS Form 990
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