WASHINGTON – Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) announced Monday the award of $7.5 million in Innovative Research Grants (IRGs) focused on immuno-oncology to 10 early-career scientists, in a program funded by a grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS), an SU2C Visionary Supporter. These awards were announced at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), SU2C’s Scientific Partner.
“Immuno-oncology is one of the most exciting areas in cancer research today, and we believe these outstanding investigators have the potential to help take the field to the next level,” said William G. Kaelin, Jr., MD, professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School and chair of the SU2C Innovative Research Grants Committee (IRGC). “We want to see more patients benefitting from the science of immuno-oncology, so increasing the types of cancers for which treatment may be effective is critical. These researchers will bring new ideas and fresh energy to that effort.”
The awards are part of SU2C’s overall IRG program, which has provided funding to 36 early-career scientists in three classes thus far (in 2009, 2011, and 2016), in an effort to support outstanding members in the rising generation of cancer researchers. The 2017 class is unique in that funds are being provided by BMS through a grant to SU2C, and applicants were asked to focus on some aspect of immuno-oncology, an area of research in which the company and SU2C are both very active. The process of selecting grantees was conducted by the IRGC, with the assistance of AACR, and was independent of BMS.
“Immuno-oncology has the potential to improve survival and change the way people live with cancer, but we have much more to learn, and so investment in new research is critical,” said Thomas J. Lynch, MD, chief scientific officer, Bristol-Myers Squibb. “The Innovative Research Grants program is a novel approach that enables the rising stars in cancer research to help accelerate the field of immuno-oncology, and we are delighted to provide funding to Stand Up To Cancer to support it.”
From its inception in 2008, SU2C has been committed to creating opportunities for early-career researchers. Its model for the IRGs was designed specifically to support work that utilizes new ideas and approaches to solve critical problems in cancer research. Traditionally, the projects most likely to be funded in the oncology field are those with a demonstrable expectation of success, which means that some of the research has to be done before an investigator can submit a proposal. SU2C’s IRG program is one of the few opportunities for young scientists to receive funding for cancer research that does not have a “proof of concept” data requirement. These innovative IRG-funded projects are characterized as “high-risk” because they challenge existing paradigms, and, if successful, the projects have the potential for “high-reward” in terms of saving lives.
“Not only is Bristol-Myers Squibb extraordinarily supportive of Stand Up To Cancer’s research and programs across our entire portfolio, but the company shares our belief that we must nurture the next generation of cancer researchers, to allow the next big, bold ideas to flourish and benefit patients,” said Sung Poblete, RN, PhD, president and CEO of SU2C. “Stand Up To Cancer has already made a significant investment of approximately $120 million in immuno-oncology across eight Dream Teams and three Translational Research Teams and other awards. Given the commitment of Bristol-Myers Squibb to cancer research over more than five decades and the company’s leadership in the immuno-oncology field, we are thrilled to have Bristol-Myers Squibb’s help in supporting the work of investigators who very well may be the next generation’s leaders in this area of cancer research with so much potential to help patients.”
The 2017 class of immuno-oncology Innovative Research Grant recipients and their proposals are:
- Daniel A. Bachovchin, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “Harnessing Dipeptidyl Peptidase Inhibition for Cancer Immunotherapy”
- David M. Barrett, MD, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “Rescuing T-Cell Function for Immunotherapy of Pediatric Malignancies”
- Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, “Targeting the Pro-Metastatic Niche in the Liver for Cancer Immunotherapy”
- Marie Bleakley, MD, PhD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, “T-Cell Immunotherapy for Core Binding Factor Acute Myeloid Leukemia”
- Michael D. Farwell, MD, University of Pennsylvania, “Imaging CAR T Cells with a Dual Function PET Reporter Gene”
- Rizwan Haq, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “Identifying and Targeting Mechanisms of Resistance to Immunotherapy”
- Meenakshi G. Hegde, MD, Baylor College of Medicine, “Reworking Negative Receptor Signals for Improved Anti-Glioma T-cell Therapy”
- Marcela V. Maus, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center/Harvard Medical School, “Potentiating Novel Engineered Cellular Therapies for Solid Tumors”
- Jennifer Wargo, MD, MMSc, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, “Delineating the Role of the Microbiome in Modulating Tumor and Host Immunity”
- John T. Wilson, PhD, Vanderbilt University, “Reprogramming Tumor Immunogenicity with STING-Activating Nanoparticles”
"The Innovative Research Grant program allows these young investigators to pursue exciting new ideas with great potential for breakthroughs in cancer research," said Sara A. Courtneidge, PhD, professor at the Oregon Health & Science University and a member of the SU2C IRG committee. "A grant like this is of tremendous value to an investigator early in his or her career."
The term of the grants begins July 1 and runs for three years. The scientists will report their progress twice yearly to SU2C and the AACR, which organized the application and review process, and will administer the grants.
“Funding is often challenging for many early-career researchers,” said SU2C Co-founder Katie Couric. “One of the biggest obstacles is the ‘proof of concept’ requirement. It’s a classic ‘Catch 22’ – in order to get a grant, an investigator has to complete some of the research to prove the approach has a good chance of succeeding. SU2C has no such requirement, so our early-career scientists can pursue big, bold ideas. We are profoundly grateful that BMS ‘stood up with us’ in making a grant specifically for young investigators working in immuno-oncology which will enable patients to become the beneficiary of their innovative research.”
Since its inception in 2008, Stand Up To Cancer has launched 20 Dream Teams, six Translational Research Teams, 46 Innovative Research Grants, and a host of other grants and awards to encourage innovative and collaborative cancer research, with funds committed by philanthropic, organizational, corporate, and individual donors, as well as nonprofit groups working with SU2C.