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The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Awards More Than $1 Million to Four Early Career Investigators

PICI’s Early Career Researcher Awards equip the brightest and boldest investigators with funding and connections to propel the field of cancer immunotherapy 

 Since 2016, PICI’s Early Career Researchers program has awarded more than $22.5 million through 53 total awards to ascendant researchers, enabling them to accelerate their careers and conduct independent, cutting-edge cancer research that drives real impact  

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI), a collaborative consortium of the world’s leading immuno-oncology experts, today named its 2024 class of Early Career Researcher awardees who are poised to redefine what is possible in cancer research. This year’s awardees will receive over $1 million in total to support their pioneering immunotherapy research, exploring promising approaches involving gene networks, synthetic receptors, metastatic stem cells and engineered immune cells that could lead to life-saving treatments and bring us closer to a cure for cancer.

Now in its eighth year, the Early Career Researcher program has distributed 53 awards through 48 emerging investigators, with PICI deploying over $22.5 million since 2016 to advance high-impact immunotherapy research. In addition to funding, awardees also gain access to PICI’s world-class network of immunotherapy experts and research institutions, as well as leading-edge technology to further advance their research. 

“PICI’s Early Career Researcher Awards have consistently identified and supported the brightest minds in cancer immunotherapy,” said John Connolly, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at PICI. “These scientists bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the field, and their groundbreaking work has the potential to transform the way we treat cancer. By providing them with the resources and mentorship they need to succeed, we are investing in the future of cancer research.” 

This year’s class includes four graduate or postdoctoral researchers from the PICI Network – three Parker Scholars and one Parker Bridge Fellow. Parker Scholars are early career scientists entering their first postdoctoral appointment in cancer immunotherapy under the mentorship of a PICI Investigator, while Parker Bridge Fellows are senior postdoctoral researchers transitioning into faculty positions following mentorship in the lab of a PICI Investigator. Both awards grant membership in the PICI Network, a group of internationally renowned IO leaders.

Meet the 2024 Early Career Researcher Awardees:

  • Parker Bridge Fellow Zachary Steinhart, PhD, Gladstone Institutes, whose research focuses on the interrogation of gene networks controlling human cytotoxic T cell function with next-generation CRISPR screens. 
    • “This award from PICI will be instrumental in advancing my research in gene editing, in which I’m using CRISPR technologies to better assess large numbers of genes in order to determine the best candidates to put forward for clinical development,” said Zachary. “This work could have important implications for enhancing cell therapies for a variety of cancer types, and I look forward to continuing my work with PICI’s support.”  
  • Parker Scholar Maxwell Foisey, PhD candidate, the University of California, San Francisco, whose research focuses on how novel hybrid synthetic receptors deliver immunomodulatory payloads, enhancing solid tumor T-cell therapy.
    • “As a Parker Scholar, I will gain access to resources and opportunities that I would not have otherwise had, particularly through collaborating with the PICI Network, which is full of research pioneers working on bold ideas at the cutting-edge of science,” said Maxwell. “I’ll be able to build upon my current work being done as part of the Roybal Lab, which focuses on leveraging synthetic biology to enhance CAR T-cell therapies for solid tumors, an area with great unmet need.”    
  • Parker Scholar Debolina Ganguly, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who is working to identify the mechanistic underpinnings by which metastatic stem cells promote systemic tolerance to tumor antigens and suppress responses to immunotherapy.
    • “My selection as a Parker Scholar will help accelerate the work we are doing at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to understand how different metastatic sites differ in the ability to mount immune responses. As cancer spreads to distant organs, it breaks down organ-specific immune barriers, along with the total anti-tumor immune response, which can differ from site to site,” said Debolina. “This is important in the context of understanding how different patients respond to therapies and how we can improve those responses for patients who have metastases in different organs.” 
  • Parker Scholar Sean Yamada-Hunter, PhD, Stanford Medicine, who is studying harnessing engineered CD47 to develop T cell and macrophage combination immunotherapy for rapid clinical translation.
    • “In our recent work published in Nature, we found that when CAR T-cell therapy and anti-CD47 therapies are combined, macrophages target T cells as well as  tumor cells, limiting the efficacy and the practicality of this combination. We developed a solution through engineering the CD47 target to prevent anti-CD47 binding, which removed this obstacle and allowed the two therapies to work together,” said Sean. “The award from PICI will allow me to continue this research, potentially laying the groundwork for a new therapeutic approach and giving me the foundation to eventually start my own lab and research group.” 

Awardees are selected from a highly competitive field of applicants from PICI Network Institutions, which comprises the world’s leading cancer research centers. They are chosen based on the innovation and scientific approach of their proposed work, its significance in advancing cancer immunotherapy, and its potential to drive groundbreaking research in support of PICI’s mission to accelerate the development of immune therapies and turn all cancers into curable diseases.

To learn more about how to support PICI, visit

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. PICI Network research institutions include Stanford Medicine; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Pennsylvania; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Gladstone Institutes; and Weill Cornell Medicine. PICI also supports top researchers at other institutions, including The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 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 immunotherapies to turn all cancers into curable diseases. Find out more at and follow us on LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter) @parkerici, and on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Media Contacts: 

Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI)
Eric McKeeby

Dan Budwick