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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

$1m cancer prize promotes sharing of ideas

Taking a page from an investors' club handbook, hedge fund managers and a Harvard scientist today introduced the Gotham Prize for Cancer Research, a $1 million annual award that will be given to a researcher who posts a promising idea on an online forum.

"As researchers who live and die by grant support, we want to hold on to our ideas," said prize co-founder Dr. Gary C. Curhan of Harvard Medical School and the School of Public Health. "But it's important to share the best ideas and also try to expedite their investigation."

To be considered, a scientist will have to send an essay of 500 to 1,000 words describing an idea for further research. If the idea is approved by a panel of cancer experts, the scientist will become a member of the online forum, where accepted ideas will be anonymously posted. Members will be asked to comment on these ideas in a spirit of collaboration the prize's founders hope will pave the way for progress in cancer research. Guests can also view the exchange.

The prize was created by New York hedge fund managers Joel Greenblatt and Robert Goldstein of the investment firm Gotham Capital and Curhan, a kidney specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. For the website, they took as their model the Value Investors Club, an online group where members share investment ideas.

The winner will be selected based on the quality of the idea, the feasibility of studying it, and on the comments it generates on the forum. The prize will be awarded in February. An additional $250,000 Ira Sohn Conference Foundation Prize in pediatric oncology will also be offered.

The scientific advisory board for the prizes includes Dr. Meir J. Stampfer of Harvard's medical and public health schools.

Joan S. Brugge, a cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School who is not involved in the prize, applauded the marketplace of ideas approach that the website will take.

"Since research money is really tight, any influx of support for cancer research is a good thing in general," she wrote in an e-mail. "'Experimentation' to evaluate new strategies to stimulate novel ideas and new approaches can't hurt cancer research and could indeed lead to important new breakthroughs."

Federal funding for cancer research has been flat in recent years, but still provides the foundation for basic knowledge, she said.

"These kinds of creative approaches ... should not be viewed as substitutes for continued robust/large scale support of investigator-initiated programs at NIH," Brugge wrote.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:36 PM
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