Interview with Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment Fund (CARE) and Spokane-based leader Laura Flores Cantrell J.D.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

(As reported in Life Science Washington e-newsletter News Beat, July 2018)

Spotlight on the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment Fund and its new leader, Laura Flores Cantrell, Executive Director


Washington State is internationally known for its world class cancer research and patient care. By passing the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund into law, our state has committed to capitalize on those strengths with public investment to help secure the best and brightest cancer researchers and conduct innovative research in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.


A bold initiative, the CARE Fund is designed to ensure Washington remains a leading place for cancer research and, even more importantly, to make discoveries that will ultimately help save lives, relieve pain and suffering and reduce health care costs for Washingtonians.


This year is proving significant for the CARE Fund on two fronts. First, the CARE Fund was renamed in February to honor its champion, Senator Andy Hill. Senator Hill was originally diagnosed with lung cancer although he never smoked. After using a cutting-edge experimental cancer treatment, he was found to be cancer-free in 2009 and remained so until 2016.  He was elected into office in 2010 and began actively advocating for cancer research. He initiated the CARE Fund in 2015 to ensure the state’s cancer research projects receive the necessary funding. Sadly, Senator Hill lost his final battle with lung cancer in October 2016.


The CARE Fund’s second milestone was the appointment in April of Laura Flores Cantrell J.D. as its first executive director. An attorney by training, Ms. Cantrell has 20+ years working in the nonprofit sector where she has served in a variety of roles including executive director, deputy director, director of policy, and equity lead strategist. At the CARE Fund, she will work with the Board and community partners as they usher the fund through its next phase of strategic development.


We caught up with Ms. Cantrell to ask her about the CARE Fund’s current state and her vision for its future.



You stepped into the Executive Director role in April.  What drew you to the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund?


I am inspired by the CARE Fund’s mission to optimize efforts with the greatest potential to improve health outcomes in our state. As a public-private partnership with an authorized funding commitment from the state coupled with non-state matching funds, the CARE Fund is a unique opportunity to contribute to advancements and breakthroughs that will have an impact in the cancer research field and beyond. The CARE Fund is still a young organization and we have a lot of work ahead of us. I see exciting opportunities in this entrepreneurial space and I am thrilled to be a part of it.


Can you walk us through the CARE Fund’s mission and objectives? What progress has been made in achieving that mission since you arrived?


The CARE Fund was signed into law in 2015. It authorizes a Washington state match of $100 million over 10 years to fund cancer research. Just last week, the CARE Board, after reviewing 17 initial Letters of Interest requesting more than $130 million, invited 11 full proposals for funding for collaborations and innovative partnerships that can generate or accelerate the next big discovery in cancer research. By the end of the year, we anticipate awarding the first cohort of Breakthrough grants and committing an additional $2.25 million in state funding. If successful, these Breakthrough Fund awardees could receive an additional $3 million per year starting next year. To date, CARE has awarded $3.5 million to support the recruitment of seven world-class Distinguished Researchers to our state. The public investment will be matched by nearly $20 million in non-state funds.


You’ve been brought in to lead the Fund through its “next phase in strategic development.” Can you outline what this might look like?


We know that cancer research breakthroughs occur through the work of talented and well-resourced scientists. The work ahead of us at the CARE Fund is to grow and invest the resources for strategic impact. In the next few months, working with the CARE Fund's program administrator, Empire Health Foundation, we will work with the Board of Directors and other stakeholders to kick-off the next phase of strategic development. We are always interested to hear from stakeholders from across the state. As I have been reaching out to existing and potential partners, both east and west of the mountains, the level of experience and thoughtful insights is impressive. It is this willingness to exchange ideas and set ambitious goals that will enable the CARE Fund to reach its potential.

So far, the CARE Fund’s investment strategy consists of two funding programs. Please tell us about them, why they were created and who is eligible to apply.


The two funding programs in place are the CARE Distinguished Researchers Program and the CARE Breakthrough Researcher Program.


The Distinguished Researchers Program was created to support recruitments of distinguished researchers from all over the world to bring their best-in-class talent to research organizations and companies in Washington. The Distinguished Researchers Program matches, dollar for dollar, Washington research institutions’, organizations’, and commercial entities’ recruitment commitments up to $500,000 per recruitment, to add value to recruitment packages that bring leading cancer researchers to Washington.


The Breakthrough Researcher Program was created to provide seed funding for innovative, cross-disciplinary research and collaborations that aim to find the next big discovery in cancer research. It is aimed at research solving critical challenges in cancer research to allow scientists to more rapidly pursue their best ideas. Like the Distinguished Researchers Program, the Breakthrough Researcher Program also provides a match of private or other non-state funding. The Breakthrough Researcher Program provides grants of up to $750,000 in the first year for research planning and feasibility studies. Projects that demonstrate significant potential for solving a critical problem or achieving a transformational breakthrough in cancer research are eligible to receive up to $3M per year for four additional years.


Eligibility for both funding programs is open to research institutions, organizations, and commercial entities that have a substantial presence in Washington. All applications are reviewed by an external review panel. Specific timelines, applications and match criteria are available on CARE's website.

What’s your vision for the CARE Fund and how do you intend to accomplish it?


The CARE Fund exists is to move cancer research further, faster. It is no small challenge -- but by being a champion of cancer research, investing in innovation and leveraging collaborations across the state, CARE has the opportunity to enhance the cancer research ecosystem. We intend to accomplish this by increasing the value of public investments in that state's existing cancer research facilities, creating jobs and encouraging investments, and advancing biotech, medical device and health care information technology industries. CARE is also dedicated to an investment approach that prioritizes utilizing the best science and technology, focusing on cancers that disproportionately burden underserved populations in Washington, and representing a geographicdistribution of investments.