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American Association for Cancer Research Announces Recipients of the 2019 AACR June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism

Awardees to be recognized at the AACR Annual Meeting 2019
3/26/2019

PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2019 AACR June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism in the following categories:

The winners in each category will be presented with a $5,000 cash prize and a commemorative award on Sunday, March 31, during the Opening Ceremony at the AACR Annual Meeting 2019, to be held in Atlanta, March 29-April 3. The AACR Annual Meeting brings together over 22,500 of the world’s greatest minds in cancer research and patient care, who will applaud these journalists for their compelling and informative stories about cancer, cancer research, and cancer policy. 

The AACR Biedler Prize was established to raise awareness of the critical role that the media play in educating the public about cancer and cancer research, and to recognize outstanding journalistic coverage that enhances the lay public’s understanding of cancer science.

The AACR Biedler Prize is named in honor of June L. Biedler, PhD, and is supported by a generous bequest that she made to the AACR. Biedler was a former member of the AACR Board of Directors and a recipient of the 1992 AACR G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award, which honors outstanding achievements in laboratory cancer research.

“Dr. Biedler was a pioneer in cancer research who was not only an inspirational scientist, but also an outstanding communicator who was dedicated to furthering science and medicine through effective health care communications,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “These recipients have provided a great service to the public by covering the intricacies of complex topics such as disease prevention, cancer disparities, and treatment. They all exemplify Dr. Biedler’s commitment to science communications, and the AACR is very proud to honor them and their outstanding work.” 

“The AACR June L. Biedler Prize is especially important during this time when the cancer landscape is rapidly evolving,” said Clifton Leaf, MFA, editor-in-chief of Fortune, who has served for the past three years as chair of the AACR Biedler Prize judging panel. “With the rapid pace of scientific discoveries and new treatments, it is a difficult but necessary task for journalists to report on the field while making their stories thoughtful and practical, yet hopeful. I am happy to say that this year’s Biedler winners have accomplished that goal, providing stellar coverage and moving the conversation around cancer forward.”  

The judging panel consisted of journalists, scientists, and patient advocates, including: 

  • Lecia Bushak, Reporter, WVIZ/PBS Cleveland
  • Damon Dahlen, Photographer, The Huffington Post (2017 Recipient)
  • Carey Goldberg, Host, WBUR CommonHealth Blog (2018 Recipient)
  • Stephanie Joho, Cancer research/patient advocate 
  • Esther Landhuis, PhD, Science writer, Science News (2018 Recipient)
  • Patricia M. LoRusso, DO, Associate Director of Experimental Therapeutics, Yale Cancer Center
  • Erin Schumaker, Reporter, The Huffington Post (2017 Recipient)
  • Maiken Scott, Reporter, WHYY Radio/NPR Philadelphia
  • Mary Jackson Scroggins, Patient advocate, In My Sister’s Care and Pinkie Hugs, LLC
  • David Wahlberg, Reporter, Wisconsin State Journal (2017 Recipient)
  • Swagata Yadavar, Principal correspondent, IndiaSpend (2018 Recipient)

The AACR Biedler Prize administration is managed internally by AACR Executive Office staff. After the judges rank each submission, all finalists are discussed and voted on during an extensive, all-day selection meeting. 

Commentaries by the Judge Discussants

Commentary by David Wahlberg on “Cancer in Haiti,” by Jacqueline Charles and José Antonio Iglesias
Through articles, photos, and videos portraying patients and providers, reporter Jacqueline Charles and photojournalist José Antonio Iglesias shine a light on the lack of cancer care—including no radiation therapy—in Haiti, just 700 miles from well-resourced Miami. Stories about three women with cervical cancer and two teen boys—one with a brain tumor, the other with Burkitt lymphoma—provide an emotional pull. Statistics reveal the challenges: Radiation in the neighboring Dominican Republic costs at least $10,000, out of reach for Haitians living on $2 a day; even Pap smears are $25 or more. Charles and Iglesias examine solutions, including self-test kits for cervical cancer and garment factory clinics that screen workers for cervical cancer and treat pre-cancerous lesions. As Haiti wrestles with urgent medical concerns such as cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, these journalists make a case for why cancer shouldn’t be ignored.

Commentary by Carey Goldberg on “They Can Now Customize Cancer Treatments, Tumor by Tumor,” by Adam Piore
This piece masterfully balances the hope and the uncertainty involved in what is clearly very exciting science: the development of personalized cancer vaccines. With vivid scenes and savvy context, it puts together an informative picture of the long road and major challenges that stand between the science and an actual treatment available to patients. Its topic is particularly relevant in an era when more and more cancer patients receive individualized treatments—not just tailored to them but made for them. The story nicely focuses on one company, Genentech, from its scientific decision-making to its logistical efforts, but it also makes clear that competitors have similar products in the works. All in all, a definitive look at what is likely to be an important new type of treatment.  

Commentary by Patricia M. LoRusso, DO, on “Black Patients Miss Out on Promising Cancer Drugs,” by Caroline Chen and Riley Wong 
This work was the culmination of efforts in creating an extensive database reflecting the racial demographics of patients recruited to clinical trials. Chen and Wong created this database by reviewing FDA websites which reported on the demographics of clinical trials from all cancer drugs approved since 2015. They noted that, across the board, minorities were grossly underrepresented, including Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. The concern over this misrepresentation was the fact that these populations often had a greater incidence of the specific tumor type for which the drug was FDA approved. Interviewing people of color in their article, they brought awareness of several barriers to clinical trial recruitment of these populations and concluded, based on tumor type vs. demographic data, that minorities need a significantly greater representation in cancer clinical trials to better understand the true worth of novel therapeutics in these patient populations.

Commentary by Swagata Yadavar on “After a Child’s Dire Diagnosis, Hope and Uncertainty at the Frontiers of Medicine,” by Michele Gershberg
The story aptly describes the dilemmas that families face in the era of targeted cancer therapies that can prolong and improve life but may have limited evidence to support them. Using her journalistic skills in research and analysis, Gershberg finds a treatment for her son and provides tools and tips for other families making similar decisions.

Commentary by Patricia M. LoRusso, DO, on “Scientists Race to Improve Living Drugs for Cancer,” by Rob Stein
In this piece, Stein educates his audience about CAR T-cell therapy through an interview with a young man who is undergoing this treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda for his refractory acute leukemia, along with interviewing his health care team. Through this series of dialogues, he eloquently gives his audience an understanding of CAR T-cell treatment and makes them understand its reference as a “living drug.” Stein simplifies a very complex concept, leaving the audience with a succinct understanding of the processing and power of this novel therapeutic strategy.

Commentary by Erin Schumaker on “Radon Roulette,” by A.J. Lagoe and Jeff Kummer
Lagoe and Kummer were recognized in the television category for their crucial investigative series into the testing of radon gas, a leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, in Minnesota schools. Their powerful storytelling and dogged shoe-leather reporting spurred the proposal of a new law to mandate radon testing in Minnesota schools and earned the attention of the state's governor, who promised to take action against what he called a “disgraceful” public health crisis. 

In addition to this year’s prize recipients, listed below are all 2019 prize finalists: 

Large Newspaper

  • Erin Allday and Joaquin Palomino, “The Miracle Cell,” San Francisco Chronicle
  • Leslie Barker, “The Lifesaving Breast Cancer Drug She Took Might Harm Her Heart. Luckily, Her Running Could Save It,” The Dallas Morning News
  • Aimee Swartz, “Conquering Cancer by Attacking the Disease's Abnormalities,” The Washington Post

Magazine

  • Matthew Herper and Ellie Kincaid, “The Young Men and The Big ‘C’,” Forbes
  • Liz Highleyman, “What's New in Immunotherapy?” Cancer Health magazine
  • Peter S. Moore, “Broke from Cancer,” AARP The Magazine

Online/Multimedia

  • Anna Almendrala & Simon Ganz, “IVFML Becoming Family: Maybe I'm Not Meant to be a Mom,” The Huffington Post 
  • Sophia Jones, “In Afghanistan, Where Breast Cancer is a Death Sentence, Women Fight to Save Lives,” ELLE UK, cross-published with the Fuller Project
  • Andrew Q. Joseph, “After a Diagnosis of Brain Cancer, a Dad and His Family Grapple with the Uncertain Time He Has Left,” STAT
  • Tiffany Kary and Christopher Cannon, “Cancer-linked Chemicals Manufactured by 3M are Turning Up in Drinking Water,” Bloomberg News

Radio

  • Lance Orozco, “My Kidney Cancer,” KCLU AM/FM, Santa Barbara, California

Small Newspaper

  • Lauren Sausser, “Toxic Talc?” The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina
  • Edward P. Stannard, “Yale Study: Cancer Patients Who Use Alternative Treatments More Likely to Die,” New Haven Register       

Television

  • David Agus, MD, Leigh Ann Winick, and Susan Schackman, CBS This Morning 2018 Body of Work, CBS Television Network
  • Sonia M. Azad and Robin M. Carter, “Racing Through Cancer,” WFAA-TV, Dallas, Texas
  • Lauren Dunn, Catie Beck, Katie Boyle, Barry Silverman, & Susan Wagner, “NBC News Investigates: Breast Implants Linked to Lymphoma,” NBC News

For more information on the AACR June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism, go to www.aacr.org/biedlerprize.