The organizations also praise an unsung hero and recognize groundbreakers including researchers, philanthropists, and patients
Target ALS and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America, Inc. (MTPA) today announced Merit E. Cudkowicz, Chief of the Neurology Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, as the winner of the first annual Target ALS Rebecca Luker Courage Award. To honor the life and legacy of Broadway legend Rebecca Luker, the award is given to those who have demonstrated a courageous spirit and made a positive impact on the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) community. The award, presented in partnership with Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America, Inc. (MTPA), will be featured at the upcoming Target ALS Annual Meeting, the premier meeting in ALS research, taking place May 3-5, 2022.
Luker, a renowned Broadway star for more than 30 years, died from complications of ALS in December 2020. Diagnosed less than a year before she died, Luker showed incredible courage as an advocate for ALS clinical trials and treatments while also performing concerts and recording her final album. To memorialize Luker upon her passing, Target ALS presented “Becca” in May 2021, a musical tribute to benefit ALS research, with support from MTPA. The concert raised more than $150,000 and inspired the inauguration of the annual courage award.
A selection committee made up of notable Broadway performers, ALS researchers, and ALS advocates reviewed the award nominations based on a predetermined selection criterion, including the nominees’ innovation, collaboration, impact, and reach within the ALS community.
“There are so many individuals making a meaningful difference in the fight against ALS, it’s an honor to recognize some of them with this inaugural award,” said Manish Raisinghani, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., President and CEO, Target ALS. “It was so gratifying for our team to recognize and celebrate our outstanding colleagues. We thank MTPA for sponsoring this award.”
Along with Raisinghani, the selection committee included Luker’s husband and Tony Award-winning Broadway performer, Danny Burstein, Luker’s close friend and Broadway star, Sally Wilfert, Director of the Center for NeuroGenetics at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, Laura P. W. Ranum, Associate Professor of Biomedicine at the University of Zurich’s Department of Quantitative Biomedicine, Magdalini Polymenidou, and Sunny Brous, ALS Advocate.
“We are thrilled to announce Merit E. Cudkowicz as the first recipient of the Rebecca Luker Courage Award,” said Atsushi Fujimoto, President of MTPA. “As an organization that’s committed to the advancement of ALS research and treatment, we are encouraged and inspired by those who strive to make a difference in the lives of those affected by ALS every day. Together, we’re battling on all fronts to fight ALS.”
In addition to the Courage Award, Target ALS and MTPA also announced the winners in the Unsung Hero category and three Awards of Recognition:
Courage Award Winner: Merit E. Cudkowicz
- In addition to leading the Neurology Department at Massachusetts General, Cudkowicz serves as Director of the Sean M. Healey and AMG Center for ALS and is the Julieanne Dorn Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. Colleagues say she has “worked to ensure that all people with ALS have access to care, opportunities to participate in clinical trials, and are surrounded by hope.”
Unsung Hero Winner: Joumana Baroody
- Director of Care Services at the Greater Chicago Chapter of the ALS Association, Joumana Baroody cares for ALS patients at multiple clinics in the Chicago area, including at the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Loyola, Rush University, and Northshore Hospital. She is “very experienced regarding the psychological as well as physical needs of her patients.”
Awards of Recognition: Tim Miller, Sandy Morris, and Mark Calmes
- Timothy Miller is the “driving force” behind the ALS Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. One of the nation’s foremost researchers into neurodegenerative diseases, he has spent decades searching for better ways to treat, prevent, and cure ALS. He is also a professor of neurology.
- Sandy Morris, a person living with ALS, says her slogan is “from heartbreak to action.” Friends say that Morris has a “unique approach that brings people together to establish new ways of collaborating.” Despite her decreased mobility due to the disease, she “remains unstoppable, always providing encouragement, support, and practical ideas.”
- Mark Calmes believes that philanthropy is an “investment of heart and soul into advocacy for people and causes that truly make a difference.” He honors his late wife, who died after a long battle with ALS, with innovative programs like the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to students whose families are burdened by the disease.