AACR and FDA Introduce New Fellowship Program

A new fellowship program is giving 20 early-career researchers a window into oncology drug development and the regulatory review process.

The Oncology Center of Excellence at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) have launched a joint initiative called the FDA-AACR Oncology Educational Fellowship. The program is designed to promote scientific progress through exchange of knowledge in oncology education, collaborative learning, and research.

Through targeted educational activities and interactions with experts from the AACR and the Oncology Center of Excellence, the fellows will increase their familiarity and experience with oncology drug development and the regulatory review process. The educational and networking events will be held virtually.

“It’s our great pleasure to help enrich the education of other physicians and open lines of communication with oncology professionals about the FDA’s work in drug development,” said Richard Pazdur, MD, director of the Oncology Center of Excellence.

 “This exciting project will provide 20 extremely talented young researchers and physician-scientists with a unique opportunity to more fully appreciate how regulatory science informs and improves the way in which new cancer medicines are evaluated for their safety and efficacy,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR.

The fellows in this year’s class are current hematology/oncology fellows and early-career cancer investigators at cancer centers across the United States and Canada, selected through a competitive application process. They represent a wide range of institutions and research interests. Here’s an introduction to five of this year’s fellows; we’ll profile the others over the coming months.

Name: Aparna Hegde, MD

Position: Assistant professor of medicine
O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of Alabama at Birmingham

What she’d like to gain from the fellowship: The FDA-AACR Oncology Educational Fellowship will help me critically appraise preclinical studies and clinical trial design, incorporate biomarkers appropriately, and understand the FDA approval process so that I can work well with my counterparts in drug development. Finding mentors with common interests via the fellowship will not only enrich our careers in the long run but will also help amplify our efforts to bring novel therapeutics to patients in a safe, meaningful, and timely manner.

Research interests: Thoracic oncology, clinical trials, immune-related adverse events

Fun fact: Enjoys gardening and drumming

Name: Yasmin Kadry, PhD

Position: Postdoctoral fellow
Department of Cancer Biology
University of Pennsylvania

What she’d like to gain from the fellowship: As a cancer biologist working at the bench, I strive to see my research translate into more effective cancer therapies in the clinic; having hands-on insight into the regulatory review process for cancer drugs is an essential part of being a well-rounded cancer scientist. As an FDA-AACR Educational Fellow, I hope to further understand the dynamic between regulatory science and oncology drug development, and incorporate these concepts into my scientific research.

Research interest: EGFR/RTK-driven cancers, the biochemical basis of cancer

Fun fact: Likes hiking and kayaking with her dog

Name: Justin Lo, MD, PhD

Position: Clinical and research fellow in hematology/oncology
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

What he’d like to gain from the fellowship: As a physician-scientist with a research focus in biomedical engineering and a clinical interest in gastrointestinal oncology, I hope to gain a more nuanced understanding of the clinical trial and drug approval process that will be integral to translating new therapeutics from the lab into clinical practice.

Research interests: Gastrointestinal oncology, particularly pancreatic and biliary tract cancer

Fun fact: Does scientific illustration and animation as a hobby

Name: Misty Dawn Shields, MD, PhD

Position: Hematology/oncology fellow
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute
Tampa, Florida

What she’d like to gain from the fellowship: The FDA-AACR Educational Fellowship will help shed light on how to safely navigate the regulatory review process for investigational new drugs. I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about interpreting and designing safe and effective clinical trials.

Research interests: Thoracic oncology, biomarker and drug discovery, precision oncology, development of phase I/II clinical trials

Fun fact: Trained as a classical ballerina

Name: Neil Vasan, MD, PhD

Position: Assistant attending physician
Breast Medicine Service
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
New York City

What he’d like to gain from the fellowship: I hope to have dedicated time to learn the nuts and bolts of drug development, regulation, and clinical trials, and to discuss these topics with colleagues. This fellowship will help me design better translational science studies in the future.

Research interests: Breast cancer, cell signaling, targeted therapies

Fun fact: Has 2-year-old twins