PHILADELPHIA — Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF), Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA), and National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), along with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Scientific Partner to SU2C, announced today the formation of a Dream Team devoted to ovarian cancer research at the AACR Annual Meeting 2015, held here April 18-22.
Alan D’Andrea, MD, co-director of the Gene Therapy Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and the Fuller-American Cancer Society professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, will lead the Dream Team. Elizabeth M. Swisher, MD, professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle, will be co-leader.
The collaborating organizations will devote $6 million over three years to a project entitled “DNA Repair Therapies for Ovarian Cancer.” Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all the gynecologic cancers. Approximately 22,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, and 14,000 die of the disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year approved the drug olaparib to treat women with advanced ovarian cancer associated with defective BRCA genes, which are among a number of DNA repair genes identified as mutated in ovarian cancer. The existence of defects in DNA repair has emerged as a common weakness in ovarian cancer. By targeting DNA repair pathways, the Dream Team hopes to build and expand on the recent clinical advances seen with olaparib and other PARP inhibitors in current clinical trials.
“We now see defective DNA repair as a more general vulnerability of ovarian cancer,” said D’Andrea, a cancer biologist and expert in chromosome instability and DNA repair. “We hope to extend the use of PARP inhibitors to many other patients and find combinations with other drugs that will be effective against ovarian cancer.”
The team will also focus on prevention and early detection of ovarian cancer, which tends to be diagnosed at a late stage of the disease.
“We plan to develop a new web-based approach to genetic testing and counseling that will increase access to ovarian cancer risk assessment so women can take action if they are at high risk,” Swisher said. “This is a deadly disease that creates tremendous suffering. Prevention is critical because the mortality rate is so high. Ultimately, cancer prevention is one step better than cancer therapy.” A key feature of the prevention approach proposed by the Dream Team is to offer women identified as genetically high risk a choice of surgical options, including one that removes the fallopian tubes but spares the ovaries, thereby avoiding forced menopause, which many women find unacceptable.
In addition to the team leaders, the project will involve researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; University of Chicago; The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The Dream Team also includes three advocates for patients, their loved ones, and those at risk for this disease: Kathleen Gavin, executive director of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance; Sue Friedman, executive director of FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered); and Jamie Crase, an ovarian cancer survivor.
“The Dream Team is capitalizing on recent advances in genetic research and ovarian cancer treatment,” said Arnold J. Levine, PhD, professor emeritus of systems biology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and chair of the SU2C-OCRF-OCNA-NOCC Joint Scientific Advisory Committee (JSAC). “We believe the team will make significant advances in the early detection and treatment of ovarian cancer.”
The project marks the first time that all three of the major ovarian cancer groups in the United States have come together to support a single research initiative.
“We’re thrilled to be funding this collaboration to bring new therapies and preventive measures to ovarian cancer,” said Audra Moran, president and CEO of Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. “This could be a game-changer for ovarian cancer research.”
“We are on the brink of new discoveries in ovarian cancer,” said Calaneet Balas, chief executive officer of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. “This project with Stand Up To Cancer is exactly what we need to have an impact on women’s lives.”
“Frankly, it’s been hard to see the needle move in ovarian cancer in recent years,” said David Barley, CEO of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. “We are very optimistic that this new collaboration will give us hope and optimism that this devastating disease can be overcome.”
The Dream Team, along with the Lung Cancer Dream Team also announced today, brings the total number of SU2C Dream Teams to 16. SU2C is a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (a 501(c)(3) charitable organization) that raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly. SU2C has also funded translational research grants and made awards to individual investigators. In total, more than $370 million has been pledged to support SU2C’s groundbreaking cancer research since its inception in 2008.
“Ovarian cancer is so deadly; we are excited that this Dream Team will bring patient benefits not only in potential new treatments, but in developing a new approach to genetic testing and counseling,” said SU2C president and CEO Sung Poblete, PhD, RN. “This project will allow women at risk for ovarian cancer to secure genetic information so they can collaborate with their physician and family to consider their best treatment or prevention options.”
The team was selected after careful review by the JSAC chaired by Levine. Serving as vice-chairpersons were William G. Nelson, MD, PhD, co-vice chair of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee and director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and Jeff Boyd, PhD, senior vice president for molecular medicine at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. The committee was composed of highly accomplished laboratory researchers, physician-scientists, and advocates.
The review process began with a call for ideas by the AACR in September 2014. The committee then chose three finalist teams, each of which met with the JSAC to present the plans for their research and respond to questions about their projects—a level of face-to-face interaction between applicants and reviewers that is unique in major grant funding in the United States.
The AACR is responsible for administering the grant and provides ongoing scientific oversight to ensure that progress is being made. Since the launch of SU2C, the AACR has played an integral role as SU2C’s Scientific Partner by providing scientific leadership, expert peer review, grants administration, and oversight of progress.