Five New Cancer Grand Challenges Teams Named in Global Effort to Resolve Hurdles in Cancer Research

Get Permission

The Cancer Grand Challenges initiative announced it has selected five new global teams that will each receive up to $25 million in funding over the course of 5 years to address four major challenges faced by cancer research.


In March 2023, the initiative unveiled nine new challenges to the global cancer research community. They received applications from 176 global teams that proposed innovative solutions to tackle these challenges. The funding recipients were decided upon following a competitive process of shortlisting, full applications, and interviews. 

For the first time, Cancer Research UK has partnered with France’s Institut National Du Cancer and KiKa (Children Cancer Free Foundation)—who are each contributing to the funding of two teams. The Cancer Grand Challenges initiative noted the new funding represents the largest investment made in a single funding round to date.

“Some of these challenge areas have been massively underinvestigated,” stressed Sir David Lane, PhD, FRS, FRSE, Chair of the Cancer Grand Challenges Scientific Committee. “Now it’s time for the teams addressing these challenges to shine and to bring the full power of global team science to bear on the work that lies ahead,” he continued. 


  • KOODAC: researchers will analyze oncoproteins contributing to high-risk solid tumors in pediatric patients
  • MATCHMAKERS: researchers will examine how T cells recognize tumors
  • PROSPECT: researchers will assess factors increasing risk of early-onset colorectal cancer
  • PROTECT: researchers will develop new strategies to test targeted therapies in pediatric patients
  • SAMBAI: researchers will build a database of factors impacting cancer outcomes in underserved patients of African descent


The KOODAC team, assigned to the Solid Tumours in Children challenge, will be co-led by Yaël Mossé, MD, Professor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Martin Eilers, PhD, Professor at the University of Würzburg. The team will use protein degradation technologies to target the oncoproteins that drive high-risk solid tumors in pediatric patients and develop orally bioavailable drugs to improve the cure rates in this patient population.

“We bring together an international group of experts in five of the most potently transforming oncoproteins that define high-risk pediatric malignancies, with leading experts in the field of targeted protein degradation and an international team of patient advocates to develop a new class of drugs for [pediatric patients] with solid cancers,” emphasized Dr. Mossé.

To learn more about the KOODAC team, visit


The MATCHMAKERS team was assigned to the T-Cell Receptors challenge and will be led by Michael Birnbaum, PhD, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Taking advantage of advances in high-throughput approaches and computational prediction, the team will take an integrated approach to understand and predict how T cells recognize tumors, potentially paving the way for personalized immunotherapies.    

“T-cell–based therapies for cancer are saving lives, but typically we don’t know what the T cells target in a tumor and how it differs in those who respond to treatment vs those who don’t,” detailed Dr. Birnbaum. “This Cancer Grand Challenges [initiative] was a perfect opportunity to dream big and put together a team with the scope, expertise, and talent needed to solve the question of T-cell recognition,” he added.

To learn more about the MATCHMAKERS team, visit


The PROSPECT team, assigned to the Early-Onset Cancers challenge, will be co-led by Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Yin Cao, ScD, MPH, of the Washington University in St. Louis. The team will employ a disruptive, transdisciplinary approach spanning cells, individuals, and populations to uncover the mechanisms linking lifetime exposures to early-onset colorectal cancer as well as test novel strategies to combat this cancer type.  

“Our team has been at the forefront of identifying risk factors for early-onset colorectal cancer, yet it remains unclear which causal risk factors collectively lead to the increasing incidence globally and how to reverse the trend. This critical mission demands a transformative shift in our approaches to identifying causal risk factors, which is only feasible through the support and scope provided by Cancer Grand Challenges,” Dr. Chan highlighted.

To learn more about the PROSPECT team, visit


Led by Stefan Pfister, MD, of the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg, the PROTECT team was assigned to the Solid Tumours in Children challenge. The team will use innovative approaches involving targeted protein degradation to establish a platform to develop and test drugs targeting the undrugged drivers of solid tumors in pediatric patients. Their vision is to establish the next generation of therapeutic approaches in this patient population with unmet clinical needs.  

“Fueled by the urgent need to develop therapies specifically tailored toward the biology of cancers in [pediatric patients], this unique grant offers the opportunity to implement research that has the potential to bring about transformative changes in this space,” Dr. Pfister indicated. “Collaboration with diverse disciplines such as chemistry, biology, medicine, and computer sciences and a multidimensional approach [have] ignited fresh perspectives and sharpened our focus on the challenge,” he underscored.

To learn more about the PROTECT team, visit


The SAMBAI team, assigned to the Cancer Inequities challenge, will be led by Melissa Davis, PhD, of the Morehouse School of Medicine. The team expects to generate a comprehensive database with measurements of social, environmental, genetic, and immunologic factors that potentially cause and influence disparate cancer outcomes in underserved populations of African descent. They will focus their research on breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer and hope their findings will help inform policies and generate opportunities for interventions specific to patients with these cancers.

“Disparities, driven by inequities, have persisted despite decades of research but haven’t been addressed at this scale before. A global and interdisciplinary approach will allow us to build a comprehensive cohort of harmonized data, paving the way for more accurate precision interventions that are effective—particularly for minoritized populations who have been underrepresented in cancer research,” Dr. Davis underlined.

To learn more about the SAMBAI team, visit

Disclosure: The funding for the Cancer Grand Challenges initiative was made possible by the Scientific Foundation of the Spanish Association Against Cancer, the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK, and The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.