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NMG’s Hellen Shikanda wins prestigious June L Bielder award for cancer journalism

Nation Media Group’s health and science reporter Hellen Shikanda has been named as the recipient of the AACR June L Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism, in the newspaper category.

Ms Shikanda was selected from a list of hundreds of applicants drawn from 19 countries for her exceptional work in educating the public about cancer and important developments in cancer research. She is the first journalist from an Africa-based media outlet to scoop the award.

The judges described her story, “New Drug Promises Better Treatment for Cancer Patients”, as masterfully highlighting the ongoing promise of molecularly targeted treatments which have been transformational for many patients.

“In this article, Hellen Shikanda narrates the cancer journey of a patient named Alex, who was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer that had metastasised to his liver and who benefited from a phase Ib trial of an experimental molecularly targeted therapeutic. After several difficult rounds of chemotherapy, genetic testing of Alex’s tumour revealed that his cancer had an alteration in the KRAS protein called KRASG12C. Fortunately, Alex was able to participate in a phase Ib clinical trial that was evaluating a KRASG12C-targeted therapeutic at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.”

The June L Bielder Award is a significant honour in the field of health and science journalism. The award, named after the American scientist June L Biedler, PhD, was established in 2016 to showcase outstanding examples of cancer journalism and recognises individual professional journalists who have produced accurate, informative, and compelling stories that enhance the public’s understanding of cancer, cancer research, cancer advocacy, or cancer policy.

“Winning this award is a truly humbling experience,” Ms Shikanda remarked. “It reaffirms to me the need to always take a step back and think through the stories that I work on. This story was pitched to me in the form of a press release, but I pushed to go beyond the surface. With the help of my editors, I secured a meeting with the hospital, allowing me to connect with the patient directly and speak to the researchers behind the ground-breaking clinical trial.”

The NMG Editor-in Chief, Mr Joe Ageyo, congratulated Ms Shikanda, noting: “There couldn’t be a more befitting honour and recognition of Hellen’s indefatigable quest to tell the authentic health story from an African lens. Hellen is the personification of journalism with a human face. This prestigious award is one more proof that there is still a place for the good old art of impactful storytelling. I take this opportunity to congratulate Hellen for this enviable feat.”

Mr Bernard Mwinzi, the NMG Managing Editor for Content Hubs, said Ms Shikanda’s feat was not only “a testament to the brilliance of her work, but also to the quality of the content ecosystem at NMG”. He described Ms Shikanda as “a self-driven, eager-to-learn reporter who has won several awards in the last three years because of her determination and sense of duty, not only to the newsroom, but also to the public”.

Ms Zeynab Wandati, the Sustainability Editor, noted that the award was a showcase of Ms Shikanda’s “commitment to storytelling that inspires and uplifts, while Ms Jane Njoroge, a Quality Editor at the Nation said Ms Shikanda has demonstrated “unwavering determination towards excellence and a desire to tell life-changing stories that positively impact society.”

Ms Angela Oketch, Content Lead for Health noted that the feat was proof of Ms Shikanda’s “incredible abilities” and “the countless hours” she had dedicated to serve audiences”.

Ms Shikanda will receive the award at the AACR annual meeting in California, USA later this year.

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