Together: Finding the Cures

Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Initiative

Susan G. Komen + Duke University + University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill = REAL IMPACT

The Susan G. Komen® Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) Collaborative Research Initiative is a first-of-its-kind collaborative effort that is bringing together the best and brightest researchers at Duke Cancer Institute and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to find breakthrough discoveries to end metastatic breast cancer. Research will cure this disease. Until then, research will transform MBC from a terminal diagnosis to a chronic disease, giving patients and their families the priceless gift of time.  

Thousands of families’ lives will be changed forever by an MBC diagnosis this year. Sadly, more than 44,000 lives are at risk of dying from breast cancer this year in the U.S. We need outstanding translational research into the understanding, detection, and treatment of metastatic breast cancer now. 

This is the work needed today. This is the work that will enable us to find the cures. The five-year relative survival rate for metastatic breast cancer is only 29%. This is unacceptable. With your help, Komen + Duke + UNC will help change those numbers and give the ultimate gift of time to the far too many families counting on us. 

Did You Know? 
Although metastatic breast cancer has spread to another part of the body, it’s still breast cancer and it is treated as breast cancer. 

Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC)  is an advanced stage (stage 4) of breast cancer where tumor cells have spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs, or brain. Nearly all breast cancer deaths are due to MBC. In fact, it kills over 44,000 people in the U.S. every year. It’s estimated there were more than 168,000 women living with metastatic breast cancer in the U.S. in 2020.  

The 5-year relative survival rate for people whose breast cancer is contained to the breast is 99%. Once breast cancer metastasizes to areas outside of the breast and surrounding regional lymph nodes—often spreading to the bones, liver, lungs, or brain—the 5-year relative survival rate drops to 29%.  

In the Triangle region of North Carolina, there is a unique opportunity to catalyze and support collaborations between two world-class cancer research institutions that share our mission to save lives from MBC.

Duke Cancer Institute and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are partnering with Komen to build on the strong work currently being done at both institutions. There is no doubt that the need for translational research into the understanding, detection, and treatment of metastatic breast cancer is urgent.

This new Initiative is launching innovation and fast-tracking MBC research. By removing research silos and leveraging local expertise at both institutions, we will accelerate the discovery of ways for MBC patients to live well and live longer with this disease.  More than 125 researchers and advocates from UNC/Duke participated in the inaugural MBC Collaborative Research Summit hosted by Komen in the spring of 2021, an event that inspired ideas and new collaborations within and across institutions.

“We’ve developed a much deeper understanding of the genomics and cellular changes that lead to metastatic breast cancer. We’ve made some important strides in extending life for our patients but now is the time to do more. The Komen MBC Collaborative Research Initiative, linking the amazing clinical and research talent at UNC and Duke, is a bold move that will ignite collaboration and yield more effective therapy for Triangle residents and the nation.”
– Dr. Shelley Earp, UNC Lineberger Cancer Center

“Despite many advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in recent years, metastatic breast cancer remains a disease that kills too many women. New treatment approaches are still desperately needed, and success will require collaborations across disciplines and institutions. The Komen MBC Collaborative Research Initiative recognized this need and is responding by providing support for collaborations between investigators at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. Working together, all things become possible.”
– Dr. Michael Kastan, Duke Cancer Institute

“I call myself a thriver because I AM thriving. I live my life and THRIVE, but my family and I know that it is RESEARCH that will save my life.”
– Stephanie Walker, MBC Thriver and Advocate – Tarboro, NC 

The Komen MBC Collaborative Research Initiative is a unique, national program with a local focus that leverages and builds upon current, Triangle-based research. Komen Scholars and other world-class investigators, early career researchers who represent the next generation of research leaders, and patient advocates at Duke and UNC have shown great enthusiasm for producing real impact through true intellectual collaboration. Continued funding must be sustained to make this revolutionary lifesaving research possible. 

Komen released its first request for MBC Collaborative Research Grant proposals in the spring of 2021. Only collaborative projects between Duke Cancer Institute and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center were eligible for these grants. In response to this initial request, Komen received nine innovative proposals from teams of researchers at Duke/UNC who want to find much-needed breakthroughs for MBC. Proposals were evaluated through Komen’s highly esteemed peer-review process, which was guided by the Komen Scientific Advisory Board, managed by our Ph.D. level and professional staff, and involved our Komen Scholars, other scientific experts and MBC patient advocates.

Susan G. Komen® awarded its first MBC Collaborative Research Grants in October 2021 to support collaborative research projects led by researchers at Duke University and the University of North at Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The goal of these grants is to address significant gaps in our knowledge about metastatic breast cancer (MBC) to advance MBC patient care and improve patient outcomes. Additionally, these grants will foster a collaborative research environment between two highly resourced academic research centers to synergize the independent research efforts of their talented faculty and staff to drive discoveries that will allow metastatic breast cancer patients to live longer, better lives.   

The Susan G. Komen and Blue Cross NC MBC Disparities Collaborative Research Grant was awarded to Duke’s Jennifer Freedman, Ph.D., and Steven Patierno, Ph.D., as well as UNC’s Katherine Hoadley, Ph.D., to investigate how the ancestry of different populations impacts the immune response to MBC.

The Susan G. Komen and Gilead Sciences, Inc. for North Carolina’s MBC Collaborative Research Grant was awarded to UNC’s Melissa Troester, Ph.D., and Duke’s Dr. Terry Hyslop, Ph.D. They will use information on tumor biology and social factors in UNC’s long-standing Carolina Breast Cancer Study to understand racial differences in breast cancer metastasis and death.

The Susan G. Komen NC Metastatic Breast Cancer Disparities Collaborative Research Grant was awarded to UNC’s Benjamin Vincent, M.D., and Duke’s Zachary Hartman, Ph.D., to develop a personalized antitumor vaccine strategy for patients with advanced triple negative breast cancer.

Read More: Susan G. Komen® Announces $1.5 Million in Grants for Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

Thank You to Our Generous Donors


Jean S. Gross & Donald J. Miller


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina


Gilead Sciences, Inc.


A Sole Team for Vickie
Friends of Vickie Grabowski

PROMISE DONORS – $60,000-$99,999

Komen SW Ohio, In Memory of Pamela Smitherton
North Ridge Country Club

DIAMOND DONORS – $30,000-$59,999

Lisa Carey, MD, FASCO
Biologics by McKesson
Komen Virginia Blue Ridge

PLATINUM DONORS – $20,000-$29,999

Donald McDonnell, PhD
Investors Management Corporation in honor of Bob McDevitt

GOLD DONORS – $10,000-$19,999

Dennis Grabowski
on behalf of A Sole Team For Vickie

Phil & Sandy Byrd
on behalf of A Sole Team For Vickie

Robert & Judy McDevitt

Barbara McGuire in Honor of Peggy Fain

SILVER DONORS – $5,000-$9,999

Terry Clark
Dena Silver
Chris & Missy VanLokeren

BRONZE DONORS – $1,000-$4,999

Donna Anderson
Lyn Andrews
Rose Auman
in honor of Pam Kohl
Valerie Blettner
Tom Blue
Mark Boomgarden
Margaret Brown
Capital Pest Services, Inc.
Byron Creech
Martha and Greg Crampton
Partha Daughtridge
Jennifer Ead
Louisa and Beau Fisher
Jill & Roland Gammon
Stephanie Humrickhouse
Diane Jewell
Joanna Johnson
Pam Kohl & Tom Gongaware
Kimberlin Kincaid
Mary Moss
Fara Palumbo
Dr. Charles Perou
Mitch Perry
Meg Revelle
Karen Rice
Savannah Community Foundation
Robert Silver
Kathi Sippen
Amanda Smith
Stephen Solomon
James Stone
Cantey Tanner
Tomika Vasey and Nicholas Caspero Family Foundation
Lynda Weatherby
Dr. Danielle Wellman
Carole & Brad Wilson
Debbie Woody

We must do everything we can to save lives.

Seed Donors Invest in Hope

Two years ago, Jean and I gained a sense of urgency to increase our contribution to the fight against breast cancer. Our friend, Pam Kohl, the former executive director of the Susan G. Komen NC Triangle to the Coast Affiliate was well into her personal battle with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). We felt we had to do something more than what we’ve been doing for years to support the fight against breast cancer.

Somehow, supporting Komen events, giving what we could of our time and resources just didn’t feel like enough. We appreciate that our volunteer efforts and the money we raised all went to good purpose throughout the Komen organization. But, our increased urgency focused on our need to do something more targeted to help Pam and all the other “Pams” out there fight the currently incurable MBC. Witnessing first-hand Pam’s experiences, we learned that while there is still no cure for MBC, there is an ever-growing array of treatment options to help keep this disease at bay.

We also learned that some of the world’s most prominent MBC researchers were hard at work looking for additional treatments right here in the Triangle at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her engagement with these researchers, Pam learned that many of these researchers could see the benefit of a closer collaboration between their institutions. Unfortunately, neither program had the resources in place to launch such a potentially game-changing collaboration.

That’s when Jean and I were presented with the opportunity to become the seed-stage investors in a new, collaborative relationship between these two esteemed institutions. What excited us most was that our investment might lead to innovative and actionable research intended to offer new and very specific treatment protocols designed to address the needs of particular populations. We were even hoping this collaboration might someday directly lead to a cure for MBC in all its forms.

In just these first two years, we’ve already seen our investment pay off. $1.5 million raised! Three grants of $500,000 each go to researchers doing exactly the kind of work we want to support – focused, actionable research targeting specific forms of MBC in specific populations. There is currently NO “one-size-fits-all” treatment which makes this news so rewarding. Bottom line? The return on our investment has already exceeded our expectations. Can you imagine what might come next if you join us and invest in this game-changing initiative? We firmly believe there will be benefits that will outlive us all!

 – Jean S. Gross & Donald J. Miller, Komen MBC Collaborative Research Initiative Seed Investor

Victoria Wolodzko
Senior VP, Mission at Susan G. Komen

“Today, the five-year relative survival rate for metastatic breast cancer is only twenty-nine percent. There is critical need for increasing our understanding of metastatic breast cancer and developing new ways to treat those living with the disease to help them live longer, better lives. 

We have a unique opportunity to support innovative research in the Triangle area through a unique collaboration between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This approach can lead to the very breakthroughs needed to change outcomes and save lives. 

We are inspired by the leadership of the Komen NC Triangle to develop and lead this game-changing initiative, and we look forward to working alongside this local collaboration to find new treatments and cures for metastatic breast cancer.” 

Our Partners

The Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Initiative is dedicated to funding research breakthroughs specifically for metastatic breast cancer in the labs of two of the most renowned research institutions in the world: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. Over the past 10 years, Susan G. Komen has invested more than $27 million in Triangle-based research.

Diamond Sponsor
MBC Research Virtual Summit Sponsor

MBC Research Partner
Susan G. Komen and Gilead Sciences, Inc for North Carolina’s Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Grant

Spotlight Catalyst Donor
A Sole Team for Vickie

SEED Donor
Jean S. Gross and Donald J. Miller