Solana Beach resident becomes chief science advisor of cancer research nonprofit Curebound
Solana Beach resident Ezra Cohen, M.D., recently joined Curebound as its first chief science advisor.
Cohen grew up in Toronto, went to medical school at the University of Toronto, and worked as a family physician before pursuing his interest in oncology. After 15 years on the faculty at the University of Chicago, he moved to UC San Diego about 10 years ago.
In a Q&A, Cohen discussed his new position at Curebound, a nonprofit that focuses on cancer research. Answers were lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
Q: How did your career lead you to Curebound?
Cohen: At UC San Diego I was doing multiple things, including roles in the cancer center, in the division of hematology-oncology. And then I got involved with a couple of cancer-focused fundraising organizations. One of them was called the Immunotherapy Foundation and the other was called Pedal the Cause. Those two organizations merged to become Curebound. I was involved in that merger and peripherally advising the founders in terms of how they should structure their organization. I eventually became a member of the scientific advisory board. And then their CEO approached me because we had regular contact. In one of our conversations, she said that they’d soon be looking for a scientific director, and that thought stuck with me. Several months later I had another conversation with her and I said I’d be interested in doing that role.
Q: What will your priorities be in your role with Curebound?
Cohen: The key is the idea of funding translational research focused on science that is being generated here in San Diego. I really think those are the two key elements in what made Curebound slightly different than most other, if not all other, cancer-funding organizations. What I mean by translational — and I really feel strongly about this, it’s been a focus of my career and my efforts for 20 years — is getting discoveries to patients. So some sort of human and patient application. I want to make a difference in patients’ lives. And that is in no way to diminish the importance of basic science discoveries — finding out how a protein works, how a gene affects other genes. Those are important and eventually those are discoveries that can lead to changes in people.
We have incredible research going on within just a few square miles in San Diego. I felt like if we had the ability to fund collaborations to get those discoveries to people, that would make a tremendous difference in the long-term for cancer patients, not only here in San Diego but obviously all over the world.
Q: How do you think Curebound can best engage the community to raise awareness and interest in the work it does?
Cohen: Curebound is relatively young, it’s even less than two years old if I’m counting properly. That’s really a critical part of the effort now, is to let the community know that Curebound exists, what it’s doing and what its mission is. In terms of how to do that, obviously there are events. One of the other major events that Curebound has (in addition to the Padres Pedal the Cause bicycling event) is a concert in the fall. Last year it was Alicia Keys. We’re about to announce this year’s in the next couple weeks. It will also be a big name. And other fundraising events or publicity events that go on throughout the year. Smaller salons or roundtables, we’re planning to sponsor and host scientific meetings really showcasing the science that we’re funding as those projects mature. And so there will be a lot of opportunities for Curebound to interact with the community and vice versa.
Q: What are your short and long-term goals with Curebound?
Cohen: I think short-term, we’re working on solidifying the process of grant funding and making sure that we get the best science to apply for grants to make sure that we have a validated and transparent process to fund the best science. Without that, we lose legitimacy, and that would be terrible. In the long term, it’s really about getting Curebound to a point where we’re able to fund projects that will make a major impact on how we treat cancer, how we diagnose it, prevent it. That, of course, will require larger sums of funding, larger grants. But I believe, first of all, that San Diego has the capacity to do that. And secondly, I think we’ve got the science here that is ripe for that type of funding and take advantage of the biotech hub we have here to translate those findings to patients.
Visit www.curebound.org for more information about Curebound.
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