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AACR and MPM Oncology Charitable Foundation Announce Three Grants to Support Transformative Cancer Research

PHILADELPHIA, PA and CAMBRIDGE, MA – January 19, 2021 — Three grants for research that could transform cancer therapies have been awarded by the AACR-MPM Oncology Charitable Foundation Transformative Cancer Research Grants Program, an innovative partnership between the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the UBS Oncology Impact Fund (OIF) managed by MPM Capital.    

The Transformative Cancer Research Grants Program provides generous funds to investigators so they can pursue innovative research which has the potential to help guide and advance cancer treatment and make a significant impact for cancer patients. These grants are part of OIF’s impact program, which provides support for next-generation basic science research as well as patient access to oncology drugs through the UBS Optimus Foundation. OIF donates a percentage of the fund manager’s profits to the impact program, as well as royalties on approved drugs from OIF startup portfolio companies. To date, OIF’s impact program has provided $6.8 million in philanthropic donations.

“In these challenging times, the need for high-impact, transformative research that will markedly reduce cancer incidence, morbidity, and mortality is more important than ever,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “The AACR is honored to continue its partnership with MPM Capital and the OIF to support early-career and mid-career scientists whose creative research approaches hold promise for catalyzing paradigm-shifting advances that will result in breakthroughs against cancer.”

“Through these grants, we continue to fund extremely innovative approaches to basic science and beyond,” said Christiana Bardon, MD, MBA, managing director of OIF and trustee of the AACR Foundation. “This year’s grant recipients are each working on bold and exciting science that could transform how we understand and treat cancer.”

These grants were selected through a highly competitive review process including an expert review panel chaired by Nobel Laureate H. Robert Horvitz, PhD, an advisor to MPM Capital and OIF.

”Last year saw the emergence of an international health crisis that has refocused our attention firmly on the importance of scientific progress,” said Tom Naratil, president of UBS Americas and co-president of UBS Global Wealth Management. “While COVID-19 continues to demand our attention and medical resources, we should not forget that cancer remains one of the leading threats to our health. We are thankful that by working with MPM Capital and the AACR, our UBS Oncology Impact Fund can now for the second time fund groundbreaking research projects that could lead to new therapies against cancer.”

The three grants are:

Bivalent DUB recruiters for targeted protein stabilization

Sara Buhrlage, PhD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, proposes to develop a novel class of agents, bivalent deubiquitinase (DUB) proximity inducing molecules, that can selectively stabilize targeted proteins. This new drug development paradigm is enabled by her recent success in development of selective DUB ligands for several members of the enzyme family. The successful completion of this proposal has the potential to transform cancer clinical care by delivering a completely new strategy for one of the most prolific undruggable oncology classes, tumor suppressors.

“I’d like to sincerely thank the AACR and MPM for the opportunity to pursue this research project,” said Buhrlage. “As an early-career investigator, the chance to pursue this type of project could propel my career. We will pursue the research aggressively and are optimistic we’ll credential a new cancer treatment paradigm.”

Targeting the ionic checkpoint on T-cell antitumor function

Robert Eil, MD, of Oregon Health & Science University, will test the hypothesis that cancer cell death suppresses T-cell function through potassium (K+)-sensitive signal transduction. The study will help to determine the functional significance of cancer cell death byproducts for inflammasome and T-cell activation in human intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, define the mechanism underlying K+ control of T-cell function, and assess the impact of interventions to reprogram T-cell K+ transport as cancer immunotherapeutics.

“Receipt of this AACR-MPM Oncology Charitable Foundation Transformative Cancer Research Grant represents a critical milestone in my development as an independent scientist,” said Eil. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue this exciting line of investigation with the potential to apply groundbreaking immune-based treatments to patients with treatment-resistant cancers.”

Discovering and targeting cancer-engineered pathways of metastasis

Hani Goodarzi, PhD, of University of California, San Francisco, will study a class of previously unknown regulatory RNA molecules that appear specifically in cancer cells and can serve as building blocks for cancer-engineered regulatory pathways. The discovery of orphan non-coding RNAs as a cancer-specific class of small RNAs with regulatory potential provides an opportunity for a systematic search for functional neo-regulators of gene expression in cancer cells. In addition to providing insight into tumor evolution, this research will also attempt to discover novel targets that are solely active in cancer cells and develop potential therapies using a new generation of antisense molecules.

“This grant provides a unique opportunity for my team to tackle a high-risk, high-reward project,” said Goodarzi. “In addition to providing support and resources, this represents a vote of confidence in our approach from the leaders in the field.”

Each project will receive $400,000 over a two-year period. In this program, proposed research must represent a highly innovative approach to a major problem or challenge in cancer research that may not be funded through conventional channels. The funded projects are expected to catalyze important advances in cancer research and should have a potentially transformative impact on future clinical practice. The projects can be focused on any area of basic, translational, or clinical research.