Our vice chair for NCORP, Dr. Dawn Hershman, is on a roll.

This month, the American Cancer Society (ACS) announced that she won their Research Professor Award, a five-year, $400,000 prize. Research Professor Awards are the most prestigious national research honors bestowed by ACS, given to investigators with a history of pioneering, influential work as well as a demonstrated history of successful mentorship. 

The ACS award puts Dr. Hershman in rarified company. Drs. David Baltimore, Patricia Ganz, Olufunmilayo Olopade, David Sabitini, Harold Varmus, and Bert Vogelstein all earned an ACS professorship. Oh, and four Nobel Laureates did, too.

Meanwhile, in April, Dr. Hershman won the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) 2020 Hologic, Inc. Endowed Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award. The award was presented to her during the 2020 ASCO virtual annual meeting. The award puts her in great company and is part of a good cause. ASCO’s Women Who Conquer Cancer program has raised more than $5 million to support women conducting early career cancer research.

Dawn is pretty humble, and sees these honors as the culmination of a lot of good mentoring, and great opportunities, provided, in part, by SWOG Cancer Research Network.

“SWOG and the cooperative group system provide a great platform for building a career,” she says. “You can meet big-name researchers – and so many people outside your own institution – and work with them. You can take a small idea, work together to develop it into a trial, then present those results at a meeting. For someone early in their research career, that’s amazing.”

Dawn joined SWOG almost 20 years ago as a fellow, joining the breast cancer committee. Early on, she got a grant from The Hope Foundation for Cancer Research to conduct a retrospective analysis of two SWOG breast trials, S8814 and S8897, and found that black women were more likely than white women to experience early discontinuation of their cancer treatment or to experience treatment delays. She did this work with Drs. Kathy Albain, Bob Livingston, and Joe Unger, and it landed her a paper in the Journal of Clinical Oncology back in 2009. SWOG also introduced her to a slew of researchers who helped with advice, introductions, and encouragement and served as role models of leadership. Those included Drs. Julie Gralow, Dan Hayes, Christine Ambrosone, Frank Meyskens, Anne Schott, and many more. Dr. Hershman credits SWOG as helping her gain tenure; She now is co-leader of the Cancer Population Sciences Program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of breast oncology at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia.

Now Dr. Hershman is the mentor, helping shape and propel the careers of SWOG stars like Drs. Kathy Crew, Melissa Accordino, Joe Unger, Meghna Trivedi, and Shing Li. Some of these investigators made presentations as part of the ACS award site visit – and I was honored to do so as well. It was pretty easy to find discussion points – her track record is monumental. Dawn has made our SWOG research base productive and innovative , earning a stellar score on the last NCI grant renewal – a score based on influential trials and over 100 published manuscripts and 50 conference presentations.

Dr. Hershman’s ACS award funding will advance a body of NCORP work that she says will focus on improving cancer care delivery through digital interventions. Think smart phone apps, virtual consultations, or digital pills. One example is S1916. That pilot study launched last year out of the cancer care delivery committee to track adherence to opioids. It’s the very first cancer clinical trial to test the digital medicine system developed by Proteus Digital Health, which includes an ingestible and trackable “digital pill.”

This is the kind of innovation that wins national awards – and it’s work done right here at SWOG. I want to thank Dawn for all her expert mentorship of the next generation of SWOG leaders – and to thank all those SWOG leaders who supported her over the years. OUR sincerest congratulations go out to Dr. Dawn Hershman!