A strategic, science-driven partnership between the Foundation for Women’s Cancer (FWC) and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) awarded its first pair of $50,000 annual-research grants to young investigators asking new questions and adopting novel methodologies as they explore how genetic counseling, personal finance, preventive care and other factors affect women facing ovarian cancer diagnoses. 

During the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) 2022 Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer this past March, FWC leaders named Katharine Esselen, MD, and Sushmita Gordhandas, MD, first-ever recipients of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition “Quality of Life” and “Early Detection” awards, respectively. 

“I am so pleased that the FWC, the foundation for the SGO,?and NOCC have developed this collaboration, which is an ideal fit for both entities,” says SGO President Stephanie Blank, MD, who serves on the NOCC’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board and is Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Mount Sinai Health System, Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City and the inaugural Associate Director of Tisch Cancer Institute, Women’s Cancer. “Working with the NOCC is a perfect example of the SGO and FWC’s emphasis on patient-centered research which focuses on the day to day lives of the people we treat.” 

“Our strengths complement each other,” adds Melissa Aucoin, CEO of the Dallas-based NOCC. “At NOCC, our focus is on heightening awareness, disease prevention, and of course, improving the quality of life for anyone with an ovarian cancer diagnosis. The FWC commitment to the provider population in this space is unmatched, so we are honored to be able to forge a path together that will lead to a tangible and meaningful impact that will improve the patient-provider experience and support the future of ovarian cancer research.” 

Charles Landen, MD, an oncologist and associate professor at UVA Health in Charlottesville, Virginia and chair of the Foundation for Women’s Cancer Research & Awards Committee, explains the immediate focus and potential impact of NOCC-funded research by FWC-affiliated oncologists.  

“Not only will these projects assist young investigators in launching a long and productive career, but they will also generate vital data that can help us take better care of patients in the near future,” says Dr. Landen. 

“Dr. Esselen’s project examines barriers to Financial Toxicity that often lead to delays or compromises in care. Not only will it identify key factors in this problem, but it will also intervene immediately with a program designed to reduce this burden and examine objectively and scientifically whether this approach leads to improved care and might serve as a model for other institutions.” 

“Financial toxicity and decision making are crucially important to patients but are not studied in the laboratory or with clinical trials,” adds Dr. Blank. “These research projects propose novel methodologies to answer questions such as these. Through this new mechanism, the NOCC brings the patient voice to the forefront of research, and the peer review and stewardship of the FWC position researchers for success.” 

Dr. Esselen is a gynecologic oncologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Dr. Gordhandas is an oncology fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where the NOCC grant will fund a project focused on women at high risk of developing ovarian cancer, examining factors that influence their decision to undergo risk-reducing surgery. 

“This is a highly complex decision,” Landen says. “This data will guide us in helping patients make the right decision for them and their priorities. Importantly, they are also considering decisions made by patients with a wide variety of social/racial backgrounds and access to care.”