Salk Cancer Center

Conquering Cancer Initiative

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Conquering Cancer Initiative

“The Salk Cancer Center aims to catalyze discovery beyond boundaries, redefining humanity’s fundamental understanding of cancer. We will leverage that new knowledge to develop therapeutics that transform how we treat cancer.”

Reuben Shaw, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center at the Salk Institute

Salk’s Conquering Cancer Initiative will further empower our world-renowned cancer research team to transform cancer therapy by engaging our community partners in a collective effort to redefine cancer care.

Salk Institute receives $2 million for cancer research initiative

The Salk Institute announced a $2 million gift in support of its new Conquering Cancer Initiative from its current Board of Trustees Chair, Dan Lewis, and his wife, Martina Lewis. The funds will be used to advance the Salk Cancer Center’s highest research priorities, including new investigations into five of the deadliest cancers: lung, pancreatic, brain (glioblastoma), ovarian and triple-negative breast. Click here to read more.


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Enabling transformative cancer research
Salk’s Conquering Cancer Initiative Fund provides support for the scientific strategies related to its Conquering Cancer Initiative. Under the initiative, Salk’s researchers will combine foundational biological research with advanced biomedical technologies to overcome hard-to-kill tumors, keying in on five of the deadliest cancers: breast (triple negative), brain (glioblastoma), pancreatic, lung and ovarian. The fund will focus on supporting early stage cancer research projects that show significant promise for major breakthroughs but may not be able to garner funding from traditional sources (e.g., the National Institutes of Health) because of their newness.

On May 28, 2019, Salk supporters came to the Institute for an exciting update on the Conquering Cancer Initiative, which was launched in April 2017. Keynote speaker Lisa Niemi Swayze, widow of actor Patrick Swayze, spoke movingly about her husband’s battle with pancreatic cancer. CCI Advisory Committee Chair Tim Schoen moderated a panel that included Salk Cancer Center faculty Ronald Evans, Tony Hunter and Dannielle Engle. Salk President Rusty Gage and Cancer Center Director Reuben Shaw emceed the evening.

Introduction by Cancer Center Director, Reuben Shaw
Panel discussion with Ronald Evans, Tony Hunter and Dannielle Engle

Following in the footsteps of our founder Jonas Salk, this institution has never shied away from daunting challenges or outside-the-box science. Today we are joining with forward-thinking individuals who have the same dedication to seeing serious illnesses defeated once and for all. Salk’s researchers will combine foundational biological research with advanced biomedical technologies to overcome hard-to-kill tumors, keying in on five of the deadliest cancers: breast (triple negative), brain (glioblastoma), pancreatic, lung and ovarian.

The knowledge and therapeutic approaches that emerge from these efforts will provide a powerful set of tools to treat a broad array of cancers, not just the five targets but also many others. Our vision is to make current generations the last to ever see cancer as anything more than a diagnosis.

read more about the Conquering Cancer Initiative

Click here to download the pdf»

Click here to view the virtual version»

Some cancers can be effectively treated, especially if detected early, and others are now more akin to manageable chronic conditions thanks to advances in medicine. There remain several types that have failed to see similar improvements in overall survival rates. Salk Cancer Center is taking on five of them.

Brain (Glioblastoma)

  • The Challenge: Glioblastoma can be a particularly frightening diagnosis; with even the best care, most people will survive approximately 15 months after diagnosis and approximately 10 percent will survive five years or longer. Removing glioblastoma tumors via surgery can provide some relief, but some cancerous cells can remain and new tumors will grow again.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Salk’s researchers are exploring how to augment traditional therapies for brain cancer with additional treatments that prevent cancer from altering the microenvironment around it, making it vulnerable to treatment as well as the body’s immune system. Empowering the body to kill cancer cells means that we may also be able to mitigate recurrences.

Breast (Triple Negative)

  • The Challenge: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) tends to be highly aggressive and therapy resistant because it lacks three of the most common targets for treatment. While breast cancer overall has a median five-year survival rate of about 90 percent, people diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer face a starker 78 percent survival rate.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Salk researchers are investigating ways to bypass the inherent drug resistance of TNBC so that this cancer, like other forms of breast cancer, can be brought to heel.


  • The Challenge: Long considered a “smoker’s disease,” approximately one in four individuals who have lung cancer would be classified as “never smokers.” Slightly more than 18 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive more than five years after their diagnosis—on its own, lung cancer accounts for more than 25 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States each year. But these realities are changing for the better.
  • Conquering this Cancer: New breakthroughs in immunotherapy have given some people a fighting chance against lung cancer. Salk scientists are at the forefront of research that can bring better lung cancer treatments to a larger number of people and wider range of lung cancer types.


  • The Challenge: When diagnosed and acted on early, ovarian cancer is highly treatable. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of ovarian cancers are detected before they spread beyond the ovaries, drastically reducing prospects of being cured. Overall, women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a survival rate of 46 percent.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy all offer options for tackling ovarian cancer. Researchers at Salk are working to discover screenings that can detect the disease early, when it’s easier to treat, and therapies that will equip physicians to successfully manage ovarian cancer even when it is more advanced.


  • The Challenge: Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with a five-year survival rate of 8 percent. It is very difficult to detect, meaning that it is usually diagnosed only after it has spread, and it is hard to treat because it creates a protective “shell” that blocks chemotherapy and immunotherapy from attacking it.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Salk scientists and colleagues at other institutions are working together to open up a new avenue for immunotherapy that uses modified vitamin D molecules to break down the shell created by pancreatic cancer so that existing cancer drugs can invade and destroy tumors.

Click here for our Cancer Research Glossary

Why give now?
In June 2018, Corinne Mentzelopoulos pledged a generous $1 million challenge gift to the Cancer Center Director’s Endowment Fund that will ensure that it can continue to support leading-edge cancer research in perpetuity. The Director’s Fund provides strategic support where it is most needed, focusing on the highest priorities of the Salk Cancer Center.

Right now, your gift to Salk Cancer Center can be doubled thanks to the dollar-for-dollar challenge made possible by Mentzelopoulos’ gift. In other words, every dollar given in support of Salk Cancer Center’s greatest needs will be doubled, up to $1 million.

Thanks to the dollar-for-dollar challenge made possible by Mentzelopoulos’ gift, every dollar given in support of Salk Cancer Center’s greatest needs will be doubled, up to $1 million. It is critical that we make the most of this opportunity to transform cancer research. You can play a key role by making a gift to Salk’s Cancer Center Director’s Endowment Fund today.

To have your generosity doubled, click here!

Join Us

Thank you for your interest in the Conquering Cancer Initiative. We invite you to join us and be a part of our initiative. For more information and to become involved, please contact Sandy Liarakos, Senior Director, External Relations/Salk Cancer Center, or (858) 732-9580. Click here to donate to Salk Cancer Center

Sandy Liarakos, CFRE

Senior Director of External Relations
Phone: (858) 453-4100 x2067