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Our focus

Cancer is a formidable enemy. First, it’s not a single disease—it’s more than 100. Within an individual’s tumor, there are many different abnormal types of cells that make treatment that much more challenging. While two patients may have the same cancer diagnosis, their outcomes can be vastly different. Cancer doesn’t stay put, it changes and moves, sometimes slowly, and sometimes devastatingly quickly. Our challenge is to beat cancer at its own game.

Break Through Cancer intends to transform the way we think about diagnosing disease as early as possible, treating the individual patient as strategically and quickly as possible, and ultimately imagining cures for the most challenging cancers.

"To break through means to force your way through a barrier and achieve success. Break Through Cancer aims to do exactly that for seemingly intractable cancers, by using innovative funding to harness the power of scientific collaboration across disciplines and institutions."Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Director, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center

“If we can identify a need, match it with an opportunity, and bring people together around it, we’ll be effective.”William G. (Bill) Nelson, V, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Board, Break Through Cancer and Marion I. Knott Director, the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins

“Break Through Cancer’s differentiator is its commitment to collaboration. Aligning some of the country’s most talented clinical researchers, scientists, and engineers will be a powerful weapon in the fight against deadly cancers.”David Scheinberg, MD, PhD, Chair, Molecular Pharmacology Program and Director, Experimental Therapeutics Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

“That aha moment only comes after a true convergence of ideas."Brian Druker, MD, Director, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute

“There is no greater power than pulling together committed, intelligent, ambitious people to work on a shared problem.”Susan Hockfield, PhD, President Emerita, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Member, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“We believe Break Through Cancer’s collaborative model has the potential to dramatically improve outcomes for cancer patients and their families.”Giulio F. Draetta, MD, PhD, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

“Every time we feel we have a remedy, the tumor outsmarts us. Can we understand the way it outsmarts us, and do we have a remedy for that?”Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, Former CEO, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

We are focused on overcoming obstacles to intractable and incurable cancers, diseases that have defied decades of scientific effort to develop effective diagnostic tools or create treatments that will extend, and ultimately, save lives. Below are several examples of initial focus areas:

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive type of malignant tumor originating in the brain or spinal cord. A GBM makes its own blood supply, which helps it grow and spread rapidly. GBM can occur at any age, but it tends to occur more often in adults between the ages of 45 and 70. The five-year survival rate is 5.5%. GBM occurs in two to three per 100,000 adults per year, and accounts for 52% of all primary brain tumors.

Ovarian Cancer
This is a disease in which, depending on the type and stage of the disease, malignant cells are found inside, near, or on the outer layer of the ovaries. With few options for early detection, ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. When diagnosed early, ovarian cancer is more likely to be treated successfully. Late-stage ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat and can be fatal. Ovarian cancer accounts for about 3% of women’s cancers and is the deadliest of all gynecologic malignancies.

Pancreatic Cancer
The pancreas releases enzymes that help with digestion and manufactures hormones that manage blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer begins when abnormal cells in the pancreas grow and divide, forming a tumor. Pancreatic cancer is rarely detected early, as there are typically few symptoms until after the cancer has spread. Pancreatic cancer is the 11th most common diagnosed cancer in the US, and the third leading cause of cancer deaths each year.

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia begins in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and quickly moves into the bloodstream, where it can quickly spread within the body to the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, central nervous system, and testicles. AML accounts for 1% of all cancers and has as five-year survival rate of less than 30%.


Break Through Cancer creates and supports teams of multidisciplinary investigators from the five participating institutions with counsel from our Scientific Advisory Board and Chief Science Officer. 

Break Through Cancer views its financial support as just a piece of the partnership. We work closely with teams to assemble the most innovative group of experts, structure their research, get around roadblocks, and get to breakthroughs.

Make a difference

Break Through Cancer was created in February 2021 with an extraordinary matching gift of $250,000,000. Every gift to the Foundation supports groundbreaking cancer research and helps us to meet our matching commitment.

For questions about giving please email