MRA General RFP Awards

MRA issues a general Request for Proposals (RFP) once a year during late summer/fall. The 2017 RFP invited applications for Team Science (up to $900,000 over 3 years) and Young Investigator Awards (up to $225,000 over 3 years). Special emphasis areas included: treatment failure or difficult-to-treat disease; developing markers of response, resistance or risk of recurrence; informing logical and optimal combination and/or therapeutic sequences; and identification of new targets, treatments or biomarkers. As a result, the following awards were issued in 2018:

Team Science Awards

Targeting BAP1-dependent alterations in metastatic uveal melanoma: Takes an integrated team approach to understand how mutations in a gene, known as BAP1, drive uveal melanoma cells to metastasize.

The Helman Family-MRA Team Science Award

  • Andrew Aplin, Ph.D., Thomas Jefferson University
  • Emily Bernstein, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • J. William Harbour, M.D., Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center/University of Miami Health Systems
  • Marlana Orloff, M.D., Thomas Jefferson University: Young Investigator

Diet, mental health, and the microbiome in response to immunotherapy: Aims to build upon existing research to further explore how the collection of microorganisms living within the digestive tract, known as the gut microbiome, could be modified to improve outcomes for patients with metastatic melanoma.

MRA Team Science Award, collaboratively funded by University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

  • Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D.
  • Jennifer Wargo, M.D.
  • Jennifer Leigh McQuade, M.D., Young Investigator

Autophagy in the tumor microenvironment as a target for drug development: Investigates whether blocking the natural “self-cleaning” process that occurs within tumors can enhance the killing to tumors by immune cells.

The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation-MRA Team Science Award


  • Hilary A. Coller, Ph.D
  • Lili Yang, Ph.D.
  • Claudio Scafoglio, M.D., Ph.D.,: Young Investigator

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

  • Beatrice Knudsen, M.D., Ph.D.

Commensal microbiota and anti-PD-1 efficacy: Aims to identify the exact species of “good” bacteria that help improve a patient’s response to immunotherapy treatment, with the hope of developing a novel therapy to improve immunotherapy efficacy in melanoma patients.

MRA Team Science Award, collaboratively funded by The University of Chicago.

The University of Chicago

  • Thomas Gajewski, M.D., Ph.D.,
  • Jason Luke, M.D.,
  • Cathryn Nagler, Ph.D.,
  • Riyue Bao, Ph.D., Young Investigator

Identifying genetic dependencies in rare forms of melanoma: Will use state-of-the-art gene editing tools to identify and characterize new drug targets in rare forms of melanoma.

MRA Team Science Award

  • Nicholas Hayward, Ph.D., Queensland Institute of Medical Research
  • Francisca Vasquez, Ph.D., Broad Institute
  • Ken Dutton-Regester, Ph.D., Queensland Institute of Medical Research: Young Investigator

Prognostic and functional roles of altered circular RNAs in melanoma: Aims to take a closer look at loop-shaped RNA molecules, called circular RNAs or circRNA, to study how they are controlled within the body, as well as investigate their potential as drug targets for melanoma and predictors of melanoma progression.

Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma-MRA Team Science Award

  • Eva Hernando, Ph.D., New York University School of Medicine
  • Ernesto Guccione, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Next-generation neoantigen-targeting peptide vaccines for melanoma patients: Will further optimize design and delivery of a personalized anti-cancer vaccine called NeoVax to improve melanoma control and cure.

BJ’s Wholesale Club-MRA Team Science Award

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

  • Patrick Ott, M.D.
  • Catherine Wu, M.D.
  • Osama Rahma, M.D., Young Investigator

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Bradley Pentelute, Ph.D.

Targeting eIF4A in melanoma persistent cells to prevent resistance: Plans to further study a specific protein, called eIF4A, which drives melanoma resistance to combination targeted therapies, with the goal of designing a clinical trial to delay treatment resistance in patients with BRAF mutant melanoma.

Rising Tide Foundation for Clinical Cancer Research-MRA European-led Team Award

  • Caroline Robert, M.D., Ph.D., Gustave Roussy Institute
  • Stephan Vagner, Ph.D., Institut Curie
  • Felice Alessio Bava, Ph.D., Institut Cure: Young Investigator

Directing adaptive immune responses to non-polymorphic MHCs in melanoma: Aims to address challenges around personalized approaches to immunotherapy by identifying and testing a new class of immunotherapy targets, which are called HLA-E in humans and Qa-1 in mice.

MRA Team Science Award, collaboratively funded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT Institute for Integrative Cancer Research

  • Forest White, Ph.D.
  • Dane Wittrup, Ph.D.
  • Michael Birnbaum, Ph.D., Young Investigator
  • Stefani Spranger, Ph.D., Young Investigator

DAMPening immunotherapy adverse events in melanoma: Will test whether the immune system’s response to tissue damage is a major contributor to immune-related adverse events, and then develop a clinical trial to test potential therapies for mitigating these side effects in patients with melanoma.

MRA Team Science Award, collaboratively funded by the research institutions

University of Maryland, Baltimore

  • Pan Zheng, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Yang Liu, Ph.D.


  • Siwen Hu-Lieskovan, M.D., Ph.D., Young Investigator

Young Investigator Awards

Building a predictive framework for vaccine design against melanoma: Will combine mathematical models and lab experiments to build a prediction tool that yields the most rationale drug combinations for vaccines designed for melanoma.

  • Elliott and Ruth Sigal-MRA Young Investigator Award
  • Nicolas Chevrier, Ph.D., The University of Chicago

Manipulating cellular metabolism to promote cancer immunity in melanoma: Aims to use innovative techniques to identify promising drug targets within the tumor microenvironment, which has potential to expand immunotherapy treatment options for patients.

The Robbins Family-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Ku-Lung Hsu, Ph.D., The University of Virginia

Investigating the mechanistic basis for tumor immunogenicity in melanoma: Will build novel animal models that allow researchers to study the anti-tumor immune response and to understand why melanomas often respond to immunotherapy whereas many other cancer types do not.

The Sokoloff Family-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Nikhil Joshi, Ph.D., Yale University

LncRNAs as modulators of protein synthesis rewiring in melanoma: Aims to test the potential of molecules called the long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) as a druggable targets to overcome therapeutic resistance.

Amanda and Jonathan Eilian-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Eleonora Leucci, Ph.D., Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Primary anogenital melanoma: Comprehensive molecular and immune analysis: Will undertake a study to look at a rare but aggressive melanoma subtype called anorectal melanoma (AM) and identify factors that are linked to patient outcomes.

MRA Young Investigator Award, collaboratively funded by University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

  • Priyadharsini Nagarajan, M.D., Ph.D., University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Isoform-specific targeting of the PI3Ks to overcome cancer immunoresistance: Seeks to better understand the role of PI3Ks, a group of enzymes known to play a key role in helping tumor cells escape the immune system’s attack, and then will target them therapeutically to enhance the effectiveness of immunotherapy.

MRA Young Investigator Award, collaboratively funded by University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

  • Weiyi Peng, Ph.D., University of Houston

Dependence of melanoma metastasis on AMPK-mediated metabolic switch: Aims to identify novel pathways that allow melanoma cells to survive under metabolic stress in the blood and in new tumor sites, with the hope of developing a therapy that specifically targets tumors that have spread to other places in the body.

Ellen and Gary Davis Foundation-MRA Young Investigator Award, collaboratively funded by Joan & Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University

  • Elena Piskounova, Ph.D., Joan & Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University

The genomic landscape of individual melanocytes from human skin: Will collect and organize data on the genetic features of normal, individual melanocytes, which are the cells from which melanomas form, to better understand how melanoma arises at the molecular level.

Tara Miller Melanoma Foundation-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Hunter Shain, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco

Targeting PSGL-1 inhibitory pathways to promote anti-tumor T cell immunity: Plans to test whether blocking a molecule called PSGL-1 will restore the T cell’s natural ability to kill melanoma cells.

The Denise and Michael Kellen Foundation-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Roberto Tinoco, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine

Pilot study of intervention to reduce sunburns in melanoma survivors: Will pilot test whether a wearable device that tracks sun exposure and provides alerts regarding sun exposure and protection behaviors will reduce sunburns in melanoma survivors.

The Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Rachel Vogel, Ph.D., The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Targeting the JNK-ITCH signaling pathway in melanoma: Aims to understand how tumor cells reprogram chemical reactions in a cell to gain growth advantage and escape death from anti-cancer drugs.

Mary Jo and Brian Rogers-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Lixin Wan, Ph.D., H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute

Developing advanced non-invasive histology techniques: Combines artificial intelligence and digital imaging technology to conduct ‘virtual biopsies’ of potential melanomas, as an alternative to less safe laser techniques.

Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, & Schreck-MRA Young Investigator Award

  • Jesse Wilson Ph.D., Colorado State University

Targeting BRAF/NRAS wildtype melanoma with ERBB3 and MEK inhibition: Seeks to address the unmet needs of non-BRAF mutant melanoma patients who have limited treatment options by conducting a clinical trial to evaluate a promising combination molecular therapy.

MRA Young Investigator Award, collaboratively funded by Thomas Jefferson University

  • Melissa Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., Thomas Jefferson University

MRA Young Investigator Awardees