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50 Years of Supporting Scientists at Wistar

When biomedical scientists think about the Pew Charitable Trusts, the first thing that probably comes to mind for many is the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences. The program, which launched in 1985, has been supporting promising early-career researchers at institutions across the United States—including a growing number at The Wistar Institute.

But the history of the relationship between Pew and Wistar stretches back much farther. Since 1969, the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization which itself dates back to 1948, has been generously supporting a wide range of activities at Wistar through institutional grants. These include focused research programs, building renovations, and new faculty member recruitment—as recently as 2016 and 2019, Pew awarded Wistar a grant to bring on three new investigators.

Given the decades-long, steadfast mission of both Pew and Wistar to advance groundbreaking health research, it would seem a funding match made in heaven. One of the earliest priorities of Pew was to support cancer research, and The Wistar Institute, in addition to its longstanding leadership in vaccine research, has had an intense focus on this area of study, and in 1972, earned the prestigious designation of National Cancer Institute Cancer Center in basic research.

“The combination of bold ideas, innovative science, and commitment to improve human health is at the core of both The Wistar Institute and the Pew Scholars program,” noted Dario C. Altieri, M.D., Wistar president & CEO, director of the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center, and the Robert and Penny Fox Distinguished Professor.

The most recent support from Pew, a $1M grant that was awarded in September, will provide key help in Wistar’s effort to recruit a director for its new Center for Advanced Therapeutics. The Center will be dedicated to identifying and developing therapeutic candidates in the categories of small molecules, antibodies, and personalized vaccines. The director and scientists in the Center will work closely with those in the newly named Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center and the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at Wistar to advance discoveries with translational potential.

Wistar will soon begin the search for a Center director who is a world-class research leader with a vision to integrate immunological approaches with small molecule therapeutics and chemical biology to conceptualize the medicines of the future. The director will in turn recruit researchers to the Center who are innovators in immunology, computational and structural biology, and other fields, as well as oversee a total of about 10 research labs in the Center and put into use the Center’s new drug discovery platform.

The grant from Pew will contribute to the director’s salary, benefits, and start-up research funding. The ability to recruit an exceptional director will help ensure that the new Center continues, and accelerates Wistar’s tradition of making transformative contributions to therapeutic and technological development in vaccine and cancer research. These advances will, in turn, improve public health and well-being, which is a key element of Pew’s health program.

The new institutional grant is the second major award that Pew has bestowed upon Wistar this year. In June, the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences selected Amelia Escolano, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in The Wistar Institute’s Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, as one of the 22 Scholars for the 2022 cohort. Amelia, who was just recruited to Wistar last year along with three other exceptional early-career faculty members, is the fourth Wistar scientist to earn the honor.

The Pew Scholars award gives Escolano a grant of $300,000 over four years, which will fuel her work toward developing new vaccination strategies against HIV-1, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), and other highly mutating pathogens, as well as vaccines targeting cancer. In addition to receiving the grant support, Escolano will join a community of all past and present Scholars, with their diverse backgrounds and research programs, that collaborate and support each other in their continued pursuit of discovery and innovation.

The Wistar Institute is extremely proud of the longstanding partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and is grateful for their support to advance novel scientific discoveries and accelerate biomedical research advances to improve human health.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.