On a panel for the National Institutes of Health’s Rare Disease Day earlier this year, I was asked to share a lesson I wish I’d known at the Foundation’s outset. My answer came easily: Build organizational capacity as soon as possible. Fourteen years in, I’m proud of the tremendous team we’ve assembled here, whose dedication is powering progress I couldn’t have fathomed when starting the Foundation.
Most recently, we’ve deepened our research bench in order to keep pace with rapid advances and a growing set of opportunities on multiple fronts. I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to three incredibly talented new additions to our staff who are enabling us to push the envelope across various aspects of the research spectrum simultaneously.
In December, we welcomed Dr. Dan Freed as our Head of Target Discovery and Translational Research. In this role Dan is focused on further strengthening our research-enabling infrastructure (such as biospecimens, models, and data) and proactively advancing our target discovery, drug screening, and immunotherapy programs. With deep cancer biology expertise and over 15 years of experience in academia and industry, Dan brings a comprehensive, “molecules-to-patients” approach that will drive discovery of new and more personalized therapeutic options for chordoma patients.
Additionally, Dr. Diane Ignar re-joined the Foundation in a consulting capacity as our Head of New Drug Development after previously helping to get our Drug Screening Program off the ground five years ago. Diane’s 25 years of experience in biopharmaceutical research and development will serve us well as she oversees efforts to catalyze discovery of new drugs against chordoma-relevant targets, starting with brachyury. In this capacity, she’s focusing on generating data and resources to de-risk brachyury drug discovery, overseeing our various academic drug discovery partnerships, and working to develop partnerships with companies to accelerate brachyury drug discovery programs.
Dan and Diane’s work at the Foundation builds upon that of Dr. Joan Levy, our former Director of Research, who remains involved as an advisor. We’re deeply appreciative of Joan’s contributions: from jumpstarting brachyury drug discovery, to evaluating dozens of promising therapies preclinically, to initiating new clinical trials and more.
Finally, Sara Nick recently came on board as our Head of Engagement, bringing with her more than a decade of science communications expertise. In this role, Sara serves as a bridge between the snowballing scientific progress and the members of our community who stand to benefit and whose support and participation make this progress possible.
Looking ahead, we’re also excited about the potential to strengthen our clinical research team, which will speed the development of new clinical trials, drive patient participation, and facilitate the approval of new therapies.
Taken together, our recent growth represents a significant increase in our ability to catalyze chordoma research and treatment development, to support the growing field of chordoma researchers, and to bring about better treatment options for those in need. To have Dan, Diane, and Sara’s collective expertise and energy focused on advancing our mission is truly encouraging and makes me more optimistic than ever about what the future holds for the chordoma community.
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