Growing up, Marc Hurlbert always knew he wanted to be a scientist. His interest in human biology was driven from his mother who died four weeks after he was born. This experience led to a silver lining in his life: to pursue a profession in medical research with a particular emphasis on women’s health.
“I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. Since third grade I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up – a scientist,” Hurlbert said. “By 16 I did my first laboratory internship and by 18 started full time work in a research lab during my freshman year of college.”
After earning a bachelor’s in biochemistry and a PhD in pharmacology, he worked in neuroscience and diabetes before he entered the breast cancer space in 2004. After serving at the Avon Foundation for over a decade, Hurlbert now joins BCRF as our Chief Mission Officer. He succeeds Margaret (Peg) Mastrianni who will retire in January 2016 after serving as BCRF’s Deputy Director and Chief Program Officer for more than 14 years. Her tremendous achievements overseeing and growing BCRF’s grant program leave a lasting legacy – and big shoes to fill.
“Peg Mastrianni, my dear friend and colleague, has helped shape BCRF into the world-renowned grant making organization it is today. She will be missed tremendously but I am sincerely grateful that she helped us identify Dr. Marc Hurlbert as her successor,” said Myra Biblowit, President & CEO of BCRF. “Marc’s invaluable expertise, profound passion and laser sharp focus are a perfect fit for BCRF.”
“Coming to BCRF is a dream for me – the Foundation is so well respected for its sole mission on research. I’m excited to get back to my roots as a scientist,” Hurlbert said.
As Chief Mission Officer, Hurlbert will work closely with BCRF- funded investigators while keeping abreast with the latest developments in the field.
“I will be the biggest cheerleader for researchers we’re funding,” he said. “My job is to make sure they succeed.”
As a scientist, Hurlbert knows the challenges medical researchers face. He points to inadequate government funding and poor infrastructure especially when it comes to groundbreaking research that is often risky. In his new role, Hurlbert will be on the ground with BCRF researchers as much as possible, visiting their labs, hosting webinars and attending medical conferences.
“In my experience, breast cancer research is changing rapidly. I need to be on the ground meeting with researchers as much as possible, to keep my finger on the pulse of research,” he said. “I can’t do that working in a vacuum.”
Hurlbert’s own research published in 2014 sheds light on startling disparities in breast cancer survival between black and white women facing breast cancer, with black women more likely to die from breast cancer in 39 of the nation’s largest cities because they cannot access drugs and procedures available today.
“New technology, imaging tests, drugs – not everyone is equally able to access them and this is growing dramatically,” he said pointing to parts of the U.S. where breast cancer outcomes vary among women of different races and ethnicities.
For Hurlbert, metastatic breast cancer research is another one of his top priorities – a mission BCRF shares. To that end he helped launch the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance in 2013. The organization is comprised of dozens of nonprofits (including BCRF) and several pharmaceutical companies that work together to improve the quality and length of life for patients living with metastatic disease.
“My hope is the MBC Alliance can help fill in the gap that individual organizations aren’t able to do on their own,” Hurlbert said. “BCRF is an amazing member of Alliance, with the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund. It really makes BCRF the biggest private player in this space today.”
For Hurlbert, metastatic research goes beyond breakthroughs in the lab. His advocacy work in the field has allowed him to form friendships with many women and men living with metastatic disease. He remembers fondly a conference for metastatic breast cancer patients last year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he met 200 people living with the disease.
“It was my first time in a room with that many people living with metastatic breast cancer. I remember the stories of each person I met,” he said. “They didn’t know how many days they had left but they chose to be there.”
Their stories fuel his desire to be the end of breast cancer. He sees his new role at BCRF as a new opportunity to bridge researchers with patients in order to improve the outcomes for as many people as possible.
“I’m honored to work with Myra Biblowit, BCRF Scientific Director Dr. Larry Norton, Chairman of the BCRF Scientific Advisory Board Dr. Clifford Hudis and the entire amazing team at BCRF,” he said. “I have the best job in the world.”