American Association for Cancer Research

Stand Up To Cancer Dream Teams

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On May 28, 2009, one year from its launch, Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) announced its first round of three-year “Dream Team” grants to five multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary research teams, totaling $73.6 million. SU2C’s distinctive approach to funding cancer research was specifically designed to eliminate barriers to creativity and collaboration, in part, by enabling scientists with different expertise from different institutions across the country – and in some cases, internationally – to work together. Each Dream Team’s project is “translational” in nature, geared toward moving science from “bench to bedside” where it can benefit patients as quickly as possible. Collectively, the research being done through the Dream Team projects could impact the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of cancers in adults and children across ethnicities including, but not limited to pancreatic, breast, ovarian, cervical, uterine, brain, lung, prostate, melanoma and leukemia, which represent two thirds of all U.S. cancer deaths.

On December 14, 2011, SU2C announced its first jointly funded Dream Team in collaboration with the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA). The SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Grant provides $6 million during a three-year period for a project that will accelerate the application of new therapeutic agents to the clinic, thus advancing scientific research in the interests of both today’s cancer patients and those who may develop cancer in the future.

On April 1, 2012, SU2C, in collaboration with the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), announced a new Dream Team. The SU2C-PCF Prostate Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Grant provides $10 million during a three-year period for a project that addresses therapeutic interventions for advanced prostate cancer with special emphasis on metastatic disease. A second SU2C-PCF Prostate Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Grant also providing $10 million during a three-year period for a project was announced on October 9, 2012.

On August 2, 2012, SU2C, in collaboration with Kankerbestrijding/The Dutch Cancer Society (KWF), announced recipients of a new Sta Op Tegen Kanker International Translational Cancer Research Grant. This grant provides funding of €1.2 million ($1.3 million U.S.) for four years.  The funding mechanism represents a new, focused effort to affect advances in cancer research as rapidly as possible through the creation of collaborative, international translational cancer research “Team.”

On December 11, 2012, SU2C, in collaboration with the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), announced recipients of a new SU2C-CRI Cancer Immunology Translational Research Dream Team. This grant provides $10 million during a three-year period for a translational cancer research project that will use an immunology-based approach to advance the treatment, control and prevention of cancer.

On April 7, 2013, SU2C, in collaboration with the St. Baldrick's Foundation, announced a new pediatric Dream Team. The SU2C-St. Baldrick's Pediatric Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Grant provides $14.5 million during a four-year period for a project that will focus on developing new, targeted immunotherapeutics for the most difficult-to-cure childhood cancers.

On November 12, 2013, SU2C, in collaboration with the Dutch Cancer Society, announced a new Sta Op Tegen Kanker Dream Team. The SOTK Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Grant provides €6 million (U.S. $8.1 million, at the current conversion rate) during a four-year period for a project that focus on developing and analyzing tumor organoids from patients with pancreatic, prostate, or colon cancer.

Since the launch of this groundbreaking initiative in 2008, the AACR, SU2C's scientific partner, has played an integral role by providing scientific leadership, expert peer review and grants administration. For each grant opportunity, the AACR assembles a Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) led by Nobel Laureate Dr. Phillip A. Sharp to conduct innovative, interactive, rapid and rigorous scientific reviews of Dream Teams ideas via a multi-step process. Joint Scientific Advisory Committees (JSAC) were formed for the SU2C-MRA, SU2C-PCF, SU2C-CRI, SU2C-St. Baldrick's and SU2C-KWF joint collaborations. The AACR is responsible for administering the Dream Team cancer research grants, including distributing the funds to the Dream Team leaders' institutions, developing methods of reporting and providing scientific oversight through program management and evaluation of progress during the funding period. The AACR and the Scientific Advisory Committees conduct periodic reviews to ensure that milestones and objectives are being satisfactorily achieved.

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The 11 Dream Teams are:

SOTK Dream Team: Tumor Organoids: A New Pre-Clinical Model for Drug Sensitivity Analysis

Hans Clevers, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular genetics, Hubrecht Institute, Utrecht, Netherlands

Johannes L. Bos, Ph.D., professor, University Medical Center, Utrecht, Netherlands

Cancer is caused by changes in the genetic material, or DNA, of normal cells. These changes accumulate over time, first turning normal cells into precancerous cells and then into cancer cells. Recent technological advances have made it possible to determine all the DNA changes that have occurred in an established malignant tumor. The promise of precision medicine lies in the ability of researchers to devise treatment approaches that are specific to the genetic profile of individual patients and their tumors. However, predicting which drug, or drug combination, will be the most effective based on the genetic makeup of a tumor remains a challenge. This is largely because for most DNA changes, it is not known how they contribute to the cancer process or how they can be targeted by drugs. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new tools and technologies to investigate the consequence of all these DNA changes. Read More.

SU2C-St. Baldrick's Dream Team: Immunogenomics to Create New Therapies for High-Risk Childhood Cancers

John M. Maris, M.D., director, Center for Childhood Cancer Research, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Crystal L. Mackall, M.D., chief, the Pediatric Oncology Branch, National Cancer Institute (NCI), Bethesda, Md.

Curative chemotherapy for cancer was first realized in children and survival rates for many childhood cancers improved dramatically through the last decades of the 20th century. However, those cure rates have plateaued since the 1990s, and for some childhood cancers, cure rates remain below 20 percent. Further, current therapies often lead to severe side effects that reduce the quality of life for patients as they grow into adulthood. New classes of therapeutics are needed if the survival of children with cancer is to be improved and the financial, emotional and life-altering costs of curative therapies are to be decreased. Read More

SU2C-CRI Dream Team: Immunologic Checkpoint Blockade and Adoptive Cell Transfer in Cancer Therapy

James P. Allison, Ph.D., chairman of the department of immunology, director of the immunotherapy platform and co-director of the David H. Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, surgery, and molecular and medical pharmacology; director of the tumor immunology program area at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California, Los Angeles

Drew M. Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the division of immunology and hematologic malignancies and professor of the department of oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
Cassian Yee, M.D., member of the Clinical Research Division and Program in Immunology at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine; and attending physician at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle, Wash.

Cancer immunologists have long hypothesized that specific interventions could stimulate and “re-educate” patients’ own immune systems to attack their cancer. In one approach of immunology-based cancer treatment, what kills cancer cells is a type of white blood cell called the T lymphocyte. These T lymphocytes have receptors (TCRs) on their surface that activate the T lymphocytes and allow them to recognize and specifically target cancer cells. Expanding these T lymphocytes outside the body, engineering them to be more potent and reinfusing these souped up anti-cancer lymphocytes into patients – a process termed adoptive cell therapy or ACT -  is like adding more soldiers to the immune army. However, lymphocytes also have inhibitory receptors, termed checkpoints, that put the brakes on immune responses. Cancers exploit these checkpoints to resist immune attack by the anti-tumor lymphocytes. Read More.

SU2C-PCF Dream Team: Targeting Adaptive Pathways in Metastatic Treatment-Resistant Prostate Cancer

Leader: Eric J. Small, M.D., professor of medicine; chief, division of hematology/oncology, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); deputy director, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Co-Leader: Owen N. Witte, M.D., investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; distinguished professor, microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics; director of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Prostate cancer is the most common nonskin cancer in America, and the second leading cause of death in U.S. men after lung cancer. Prostate cancer affects one in six men, with a new case estimated to occur every 2.1 minutes. Metastatic prostate cancer refers to cancerous tumors that have spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones. Read More.

SU2C-PCF Dream Team: Precision Therapy of Advanced Prostate Cancer

Leader: Arul M. Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., clinical pathologist and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; S.P. Hicks endowed professor of pathology and professor of urology at the University of Michigan

Co-Leader: Charles L. Sawyers, M.D., chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; professor in the Cell and Developmental Biology Program and the Department of Medicine at the Joan & Sanford Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences of Cornell University

Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of death for men in the United States. According to PCF, one man dies every 18 minutes from this disease. In addition, a new case occurs every 2.1 minutes. More than 2 million American men are currently living with prostate cancer and more than 16 million men are affected worldwide. Read More.

SU2C-MRA Dream Team: Personalized Medicine for Patients With BRAF Wild-Type (BRAFwt) Cancer


Leader: Jeffrey M. Trent, Ph.D., F.A.C.M.G., president and research director at The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

Co-Leader: Patricia M. LoRusso, D.O., director, Center for Experimental Therapeutics, Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine

Currently, patients who develop metastatic melanoma have a dismal prognosis, with a median survival of six to nine months and a three-year survival rate of 10 percent to 15 percent. About half of patients with metastatic melanoma have an oncogenic mutation in their tumor’s BRAF gene, but the other half of patients are BRAF wild type (BRAFwt) and have no mutation in the gene. Very little progress has been made to identify new therapeutic targets to treat metastatic melanoma patients with BRAFwt disease.

This project will investigate the utility of personalized target/therapy identification in patients with BRAFwt metastatic melanoma. The goal is a significant improvement in tumor response relative to standard-of-care therapy. This Dream Team hopes that an individualized medicine approach to the treatment of BRAFwt metastatic melanoma will not only lead to therapeutic benefit for this patient population, but may also be beneficial to many other tumor and disease types. Read More.

SU2C Dream Team: Bringing Epigenetic Therapy to the Forefront of Cancer Management


Leader: Stephen B. Baylin, M.D., deputy director, the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins

Co-Leader: Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc., distinguished professor of urology and biochemistry & molecular biology, University of Southern California

Researchers have discovered that there are additional layers of material outside of the DNA that regulate, or turn on and off, genes. These epigenomes, as they are known, have been the focus of a rapidly emerging, important new area of cancer research. Investigators have determined that inappropriate epigenetic activity contributes significantly to cancer causation and growth, and that unlike mutations in the DNA, these changes can be reversed. This opens the door to cancer research that could potentially regulate this activity or return the affected genes to normal function even after they have become defective. Read More.

SU2C Dream Team: Targeting the PI3K Pathway in Women's Cancers


Leader: Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., director, Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Co-Leader: Gordon B. Mills, M.D., Ph.D., chair, department of systems biology, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

This project focuses on frequent mutations that occur in a set of genes that regulate the PI3K pathway, which is a complex signaling cascade that, in concert with other signaling networks, regulates cell survival and growth. The scientists involved in this Dream Team are the pioneers who discovered the PI3K pathway and validated its role in human cancers, and they will focus on breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, all of which have the PI3K mutation. A number of drugs to inhibit this pathway have been developed and currently are in clinical trials. However, as with other "targeted" therapies, only a fraction of patients who enroll in these cancer research trials benefit, and it is not possible to predict which patients will respond positively. This means that many women will be given treatments that have no benefit to them or could cause unnecessary complications. Read More.

SU2C Dream Team: An Integrated Approach to Targeting Breast Cancer Molecular Subtypes and Their 'Resistance' Phenotypes


Joe W. Gray, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Oregon Health and Science University; and
Dennis J. Slamon, M.D., Ph.D., director of clinical/translational research, UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

Although a great deal of progress has been made in understanding and treating breast cancer, more than 40,000 women a year lose their lives to this disease in the United States alone. During the past several years, cancer researchers have come to understand that breast cancer is not a single disease but rather a spectrum of conditions that vary in their biology and response to treatment, and understanding breast cancer's molecular diversity has been the driving force leading to the development of new treatments for this disease. Read More.

SU2C Dream Team: Bioengineering and Clinical Applications of Circulating Tumor Cell Chip  


Leader: Daniel A. Haber, M.D., Ph.D., director, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center

Co-Leader: Mehmet Toner, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, Harvard Medical School

Cancers arise within the cells of an organ, such as the breast or pancreas, but cause death by disseminating throughout the bloodstream, spreading - or metastasizing - to the bone, liver, lungs or brain. Cancer cells that spread from the primary tumor can be found in the blood of patients with cancer. These circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are extraordinarily rare - there is one per one billion normal cells. The ability to detect and analyze them would allow for significant advances in detecting and treating cancers as well as understanding the fundamental mechanisms by which cancers spread. Read More.

SU2C Dream Team: Cutting off the Fuel Supply: A New Approach to the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer


Craig B. Thompson, M.D., president and CEO, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; and
Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., senior investigator and physician-in-chief, The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

As the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, pancreatic cancer remains one of the most deadly forms of cancer. More than 90 percent of patients die within the first year of diagnosis. Recent advancements have had little impact, and a new approach is desperately needed. Scientists have suggested the possibility of "starving" cancer cells to death by depriving them of a specific nutrient that they require for survival. Recent cancer research studies have demonstrated that most cells acquire mutations causing them to become addicted to a continual supply of nutrients to produce the energy needed for survival and proliferation. In most cancers, this nutrient is glucose. Read More.