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AACR to Recognize the St. Baldrick’s Foundation-Stand Up To Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team with 2021 Team Science Award

PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will recognize the St. Baldrick’s Foundation-Stand Up To Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team with the 2021 AACR Team Science Award.

In early 2013, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) collaborated to create a Pediatric Cancer Dream Team to help develop new immunotherapy approaches for high-risk childhood cancers. The team is led by pediatric oncologist John M. Maris, MD, the Giulio D’Angio Chair in Neuroblastoma Research at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; and by Crystal L. Mackall, MD, the Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor, a professor of pediatrics and of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, co-executive director of the Stanford Laboratory for Cell and Gene Medicine, founding director of the Stanford Center for Cancer Cell Therapy, associate director of the Stanford Cancer Institute, leader of the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program, and director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Stanford, Stanford, California. The collaboration has resulted in 319 peer-reviewed published manuscripts, 44 patent applications, the generation of more than $118 million in additional grant funding, the creation of a new pediatric clinical trials network, and the treatment of more than 1,113 children through early-phase clinical trials.  

The AACR Team Science Award was established by the AACR and Eli Lilly and Co. in 2007 to acknowledge and catalyze the growing importance of interdisciplinary teams to the understanding of cancer and the translation of research discoveries into clinical cancer applications. The award recognizes an outstanding interdisciplinary team of researchers for their innovative and meritorious science that has advanced or may advance our fundamental knowledge of cancer, or a team that has applied existing knowledge to advancing the detection, diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of cancer.

“From establishing novel immunotherapies for pediatric cancer, to giving hope to thousands of children and their families through the clinical trial network it established, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation-SU2C Pediatric Cancer Dream Team has made incredible advancements in pediatric cancer research,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “The AACR is proud to honor these two remarkable leaders of the program and all those involved in this project since 2013 with this prestigious AACR team science award.”

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation-SU2C Pediatric Cancer Dream Team now consists of about 200 researchers across 10 leading children’s hospitals and childhood cancer-focused research programs. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation and SU2C launched the Pediatric Cancer Dream Team with a grant of $14.5 million over a four-year term beginning in 2013. In that time, the team worked to improve and expand immunotherapy in childhood cancers. In particular, the team integrated insights from the field of genomics into immunotherapy to identify new therapeutic targets and develop new drugs. In 2017, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation renewed its commitment with an additional $8 million in funding. Furthermore, the eight institutions that were part of the consortium at that time pledged to match the St. Baldrick’s Foundation grant to bring the total of additional funding to $16 million.

Maris and Mackall conceptualized and implemented their vision for an immunogenomics team to address the fact that childhood cancers are fundamentally different from adult cancers, and therefore require immunotherapies tailored to their unique genetic makeup.

The team has discovered novel approaches to leveraging immunotherapeutic targets that have been developed for other diseases, such as targeting GD2 with CAR T cells for the uniformly lethal diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas and B7H3 for various recurrent and refractory solid tumors. Additionally, they have discovered critical mechanisms of immune escape, and intra- and inter-tumoral heterogeneity, leading to the development of first-in-class bivalent CAR molecules. These efforts led to the creation of the Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Discovery and Development Network, which was funded through the Biden Cancer Moonshot initiative.

To capitalize on their discoveries, the team took on the challenge of developing targeted therapies by first incorporating advanced yeast and phage display technologies for the discovery of highly specific protein binders for the therapeutic targets that the team identified. The team then built human antibody reagents and therapeutics, thus allowing them to conduct preclinical proof-of-concept studies using antibody-drug conjugates and CAR T-cell therapies. The progress in preclinical development that the team made attracted multiple industry partners to take the tools that they built and develop them into viable treatments for children with advanced cancers.

Building on the basic science infrastructure and a robust clinical trials network, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation-SU2C Pediatric Cancer Dream Team helped develop CD19-directed CAR T-cell therapies for refractory childhood leukemia, provided important data on predicting and managing associated toxicities, and led the efforts to develop and test CD19/CD22 CAR T cell dual targeting therapies in clinical trials. The team has since opened several clinical trials for pediatric solid tumors. They have shown activity of HER2-directed CAR T cells in pediatric sarcoma and pediatric glioblastoma, demonstrated durable complete remissions in osteosarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma, and have initiated novel trials for a variety of pediatric solid tumors with several others in development.

Click here for the full listing of recipients of the 2021 AACR Team Science Award.

The AACR congratulates the researchers whose vision and involvement in the St. Baldrick’s Foundation-SU2C Pediatric Cancer Dream Team have contributed significantly to advances in pediatric cancer research. The AACR is the Scientific Partner of SU2C.