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Vaniam Group™ and Women Leaders in Oncology® Announce 2024 Young Investigator Awards, Advancing Diversity and Equity in Cancer Research

Leou Ismael Banla, MD, PhD, receives annual Conquer Cancer-Vaniam Group LLC Young Investigator Award, dedicated to Black, African, or African American cancer researchers and Erica Pimenta, MD, PhD, receives annual Conquer Cancer-Women Leaders in Oncology “Women Who Conquer Cancer” Young Investigator Award

CHICAGO, June 5, 2024 –Conquer Cancer®, the ASCO Foundation, presented the 2024 Young Investigator Awards (YIAs) funded by Vaniam Group™ and Women Leaders in Oncology® (WLO) on May 31. Both annual awards recognize and promote greater diversity and equity across cancer research.

  • Leou Ismael Banla, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program, became the fourth recipient of the Conquer Cancer-Vaniam Group LLC YIA, which is dedicated to Black, African, or African American cancer researchers. Dr Banla, of Boston, Massachusetts, will use his funding for continued research on advancing imaging techniques to obtain a clearer picture of specific markers found on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cells
  • Erica Pimenta, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, became the eighth recipient of the Conquer Cancer-Women Leaders in Oncology “Women Who Conquer Cancer” YIA for her innovative work investigating the key pathways in the de-differentiated subtype (DDLPS) of liposarcoma (LPS). Her continued research in Boston, Massachusetts, will explore how the lack of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IFG-1) may serve this at-risk population

“The pursuit of an equitable future in oncology research and treatment inspires our work at Vaniam Group,” said Deanna B. van Gestel, Founder and CEO of Vaniam Group and WLO, and Board Member of Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation. “Championing young investigators, most especially women and people of color, will help pave the way to better health outcomes for patients living with cancer. It is our honor to support Dr Banla and Dr Pimenta in their important research.”

Both grants were presented by Conquer Cancer in conjunction with the 2024 ASCO Annual Meeting held in Chicago on Friday, May 31st, 2024.

Conquer Cancer-Vaniam Group LLC YIA

Presented by Conquer Cancer and funded by Vaniam Group, the Conquer Cancer-Vaniam Group LLC YIA provides annual research grants to Black, African, or African American researchers who specialize in oncology. The YIA was established in 2021 to encourage more people of color to apply for Conquer Cancer grants. Dr Banla is the fourth recipient of this YIA. In 2021, Quaovi H. Sodji, MD, PhD, of University of Wisconsin-Madison, received the inaugural grant while completing residency at Stanford University for his research exploring a novel immunotherapy approach to combat pancreatic cancer.

Women Leaders in Oncology

Created in 2014 by Ms. van Gestel, WLO is focused on growing a community and fostering meaningful connections for women in oncology drug development, clinical research, and medical practice. WLO facilitates networking, mentorship, and research funding for women across oncology at all levels, along with sponsorship opportunities that enable corporations to exceed their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in a measurable and impactful way.

In addition to raising funds to support the annual YIA, WLO community members also contribute toward the $1.35 million endowment that Ms. van Gestel has pledged to raise by 2026 to fund future Women Who Conquer Cancer YIAs. Anyone interested in supporting this cause can donate at CONQUER.ORG/WLO.

Leou Ismael Banla, MD, PhD

As a recipient of the Conquer Cancer-Vaniam Group LLC YIA, Leou Ismael Banla, MD, PhD, will continue his research into confirming the potential PDAC cancer biomarkers identified by his team. Although still in its early stages, success in Dr Banla’s research could enable more targeted treatments for PDAC cancer, ultimately leading to improved patient options.

“We’re aiming to create more tailored treatments for PDAC,” shared Dr Banla. “These new methods could lead to better drugs that are safer, have fewer side effects, and are more efficient at treating this deadly form of cancer.”

Dr Banla is a distinguished fourth-year resident and Holman research fellow with the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program. His research endeavors focus on advancing the precision of treatments for aggressive malignancies, particularly pancreatic cancer. With a keen interest in leveraging cutting-edge developments in cancer biology and bioengineering, Dr Banla’s work spans from developing antibody-drug conjugates targeting specific surface proteins to pioneering methods for in vivo drug activation.

Erica Pimenta, MD, PhD

Dr Erica Pimenta, a medical oncology fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is dedicated to understanding sarcoma pathogenesis and immune evasion. As a recipient of the WLO Women Who Conquer Cancer YIA, Dr Pimenta will further her work on LPS, a common form of soft tissue sarcoma. Through this funding, Dr Pimenta will continue her investigation into the shift from the well-differentiated subtype to DDLPS, uncovering the key pathways that may drive this transition.

“We do not currently understand the cellular pathways that are involved in this transition,” stated
Dr Pimenta, “but uncovering these important processes is required to improve outcomes for patients with LPS.”

Dr Pimenta’s unique training, bridging adult and pediatric medicine, as well as computational and molecular biology, positions her to conduct clinically meaningful, patient-derived, and biologically relevant research into sarcoma biology. She plans to pursue an independent career as a physician-scientist, focusing on mesenchymal tumor biology and immune evasion, with the overall goal of improving the lives of patients living with sarcoma.

About Vaniam Group

Vaniam Group is a people-first, purpose-driven, independent network of healthcare and scientific communications agencies committed to helping biopharmaceutical companies realize the full potential of their compounds across oncology, virology, and rare disease. Founded in 2007 as a virtual-by-design organization, Vaniam Group harnesses the talents and expertise of team members around the world. For more information, visit

ASCO® and Conquer Cancer®, the ASCO Foundation, are registered trademarks of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Used with permission. ASCO and Conquer Cancer® are not partners or affiliates of WLO or Vaniam Group and do not recommend or endorse any organization, product, or service.

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