Salk Conquering Cancer Initiative

Following in the footsteps of our founder Jonas Salk, this institution has never shied away from daunting challenges or outside-the-box science. Today we are joining with forward-thinking individuals who have the same dedication to seeing serious illnesses defeated once and for all. Salk’s researchers will combine foundational biological research with advanced biomedical technologies to overcome hard-to-kill tumors, keying in on the five deadliest cancers: breast (triple negative)brain (glioblastoma)pancreaticlung and ovarian.

The knowledge and therapeutic approaches that emerge from these efforts will provide a powerful set of tools to treat a broad array of cancers, not just the five targets but also many others. Our vision is to make current generations the last to ever see cancer as anything more than a diagnosis.

Some cancers can be effectively treated, especially if detected early, and others are now more akin to manageable chronic conditions thanks to advances in medicine. There remain five types that have failed to see similar improvements in overall survival rates.

Brain (Glioblastoma)

  • The Challenge: Glioblastoma can be a particularly frightening diagnosis; with even the best care, most people will survive approximately 15 months after diagnosis and approximately 10 percent will survive five years or longer. Removing glioblastoma tumors via surgery can provide some relief, but some cancerous cells can remain and new tumors will grow again.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Salk’s researchers are exploring how to augment traditional therapies for brain cancer with additional treatments that prevent cancer from altering the microenvironment around it, making it vulnerable to treatment as well as the body’s immune system. Empowering the body to kill cancer cells means that we may also be able to mitigate recurrences.

Breast (Triple Negative)

  • The Challenge: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) tends to be highly aggressive and therapy resistant because it lacks three of the most common targets for treatment. While breast cancer overall has a median five-year survival rate of about 90 percent, people diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer face a starker 78 percent survival rate.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Salk researchers are investigating ways to bypass the inherent drug resistance of TNBC so that this cancer, like other forms of breast cancer, can be brought to heel.


  • The Challenge: Long considered a “smoker’s disease,” approximately one in four individuals who have lung cancer would be classified as “never smokers.” Slightly more than 18 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive more than five years after their diagnosis—on its own, lung cancer accounts for more than 25 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States each year. But these realities are changing for the better.
  • Conquering this Cancer: New breakthroughs in immunotherapy have given some people a fighting chance against lung cancer. Salk scientists are at the forefront of research that can bring better lung cancer treatments to a larger number of people and wider range of lung cancer types.


  • The Challenge: When diagnosed and acted on early, ovarian cancer is highly treatable. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of ovarian cancers are detected before they spread beyond the ovaries, drastically reducing prospects of being cured. Overall, women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a survival rate of 46 percent.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy all offer options for tackling ovarian cancer. Researchers at Salk are working to discover screenings that can detect the disease early, when it’s easier to treat, and therapies that will equip physicians to successfully manage ovarian cancer even when it is more advanced.


  • The Challenge: Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with a five-year survival rate of 8 percent. It is very difficult to detect, meaning that it is usually diagnosed only after it has spread, and it is hard to treat because it creates a protective “shell” that blocks chemotherapy and immunotherapy from attacking it.
  • Conquering this Cancer: Salk scientists and colleagues at other institutions are working together to open up a new avenue for immunotherapy that uses modified vitamin D molecules to break down the shell created by pancreatic cancer so that existing cancer drugs can invade and destroy tumors.
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