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Empowering Tomorrow’s Great Minds in Cancer Research: The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Awards up to $4.5 Million to Nine Early Career Researchers

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI) is helping to forge a future without cancer, by investing in today’s top talent to train and empower the research leaders of tomorrow. In 2022, PICI recognized its largest class of early career researchers yet, nine exceptional graduate and postdoctoral researchers from leading academic institutions. They will share a total of up to $4.5 million in fellowship and scholarship awards.

Honorees are selected from a pool of candidates across PICI’s partner research institutions. They are chosen on the basis of academic achievement, scientific approach, innovation, the significance of the proposed work to advance the field, and the promise of their research to advance the mission and goals of PICI.

“The 2022 awardees, like those who have come before them, are among the best and brightest minds anywhere,” said John Connolly, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at PICI. “We are proud to support these researchers, who are dedicated to innovating our approach to cancer to improve patient outcomes.”

Marking the sixth anniversary of the early career researchers program, PICI is furthering its commitment to addressing disparities in the field of cancer research through diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives. Those include the creation of its Representation In SciencE (RISE) Scholar program, which awards a Black, Indigenous or Person of Color (BIPOC) graduate or rising postdoctoral student who has an outstanding scientific background and conducts research at a PICI Network institution.

This year, PICI also is proud to partner with the V Foundation for Cancer Research to fund four of the nine class of 2022 awardees. Known as Parker Bridge Fellows, the four recipients are senior postdoctoral investigators working to answer the most critical questions in cancer immunotherapy as they transition into faculty positions following mentorship by PICI’s network of leaders.

The 2022 Parker Bridge Fellows are:

“Our mission is to support cutting-edge cancer research, so as many patients as possible can benefit from the extraordinary breakthroughs that researchers are making today,” said Susanna Greer, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at the V Foundation. “PICI helps us further the V Foundation’s mission to fund accomplished young researchers bringing new techniques to combat cancer that warrant further exploration. We’re thrilled to support this work and to get to know these rising stars.”

This year, an anonymous donor has committed substantial funding to create the Parker RISE Scholar award. The inaugural RISE Scholar is Gabriel Abril Rodriguez, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA.

“The scholarship is a validation of my project idea, which is an ambitious, high-impact project,” said Abril Rodriguez, who is developing new tools to study T-cell biology. “As part of the PICI Network, I will interact and share my ideas with some of the brightest minds in the field. Learning from them will help me push this project forward.”

The other award categories are:

    • Parker Scholars – graduate students and researchers who are entering their first postdoctoral appointments and are focused on ambitious, high-impact projects. The 2022 Parker Scholars are Inaki Etxeberria, PhD, of MSK, Louai Labanieh, PhD, of Stanford and Darwin Ye, a doctoral candidate at Penn.

“My project involves learning how cells become resistant to immunotherapy so we can design more effective clinical trials, and this is something that requires an interdisciplinary approach,” Ye said. “The PICI Network lets me explore that approach with leading cancer researchers in the field.”

Awardees pursue bold research through support from PICI’s world-class network of immunotherapy experts and research institutions, as well as individual mentorship by PICI members and researchers from affiliated institutions. They also are given access to leading-edge technology, informatics and clinical data needed for their research.

With this year’s class, PICI has recognized 37 early career researchers since 2016, awarding over $19 million in total funding and welcoming them into the PICI Network. They are working to advance cancer research on cell and gene therapies, CAR T cells, immune checkpoint blockade therapy and other critical scientific projects.

“This fellowship allows me to collaborate and communicate with experts from very different fields, including cancer biologists, computational biologists and clinical scientists,” said Yu, an immunologist and postdoctoral researcher at Stanford who is doing research on the targeting mechanisms that T cells and other immune cells use to kill cancer. “Being able to learn from these leaders while also operating my own lab is an incredible opportunity.”

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About the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI) is radically changing how cancer research is done. Founded in 2016 through a $250 million gift from Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean Parker, the San Francisco-based nonprofit is an unprecedented collaboration between the country’s leading immunotherapy researchers and cancer centers. The PICI network of research institutions includes Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Stanford Medicine; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Pennsylvania; and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. PICI also supports top researchers at other institutions, including the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, City of Hope, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Institute for Systems Biology and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. By forging alliances with academic, industry and nonprofit partners, PICI makes big bets on bold research to fulfill its mission: to accelerate the development of breakthrough immune therapies to turn all cancers into curable diseases. Find out more at and follow us on LinkedIn and on Twitter @parkerici.

About the V Foundation for Cancer Research

The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State University basketball coach and ESPN commentator. The V Foundation has funded nearly $290 million in game-changing cancer research grants nationwide through a competitive process strictly supervised by a world-class Scientific Advisory Committee. Because the V Foundation has an endowment to cover administrative expenses, 100% of direct donations is awarded to cancer research and programs. The V team is committed to accelerating Victory Over Cancer®. To learn more, visit

Contact Information

For the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy
Laurie Peters

For the V Foundation for Cancer Research
Torrey Winchester