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“Innovation in Collaboration” among Research Teams Rewarded by Grants from Stand Up To Cancer

PHILADELPHIA: – May 2, 2019 – Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) announced five new awards today drawing on the strengths of existing research activities to explore cross-cutting questions that have the potential of opening new paths to improved cancer treatment, according to the American Association for Cancer Research, SU2C’s Scientific Partner.

“These new studies bring together outstanding researchers from different teams to make use of the extraordinary talent we have across the SU2C community,” said Arnold J. Levine, PhD, vice chair of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). “We’re building on previous research at the same time we are tackling tough new questions,” said Levine, who is also professor emeritus of systems biology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

The Phillip A. Sharp Awards for Innovation in Collaboration are named for Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Nobel laureate and molecular biologist at MIT who serves as chairperson of the SAC, in recognition of his relentless emphasis on collaboration across research institutions and among different teams as a way to bring fresh perspectives to questions in cancer research.

The grant program is unique in its speed and simplicity. Scientists attending the annual SU2C Scientific Summit in Santa Monica, California, are invited to submit applications consisting of a 250-word outline of their idea. A committee meets the next morning to review the applications, and the preliminary winners are announced that afternoon. Each winning team submits a more detailed application before the grant is confirmed.

“I’ve always believed that it is essential to bring the best minds together, regardless of institutional imperatives, to work together and try to solve the questions that will help us overcome cancer,” Levine said.

“This is the fastest peer-reviewed grant application process I’ve ever heard of,” Levine said. “But we have been very pleased with the results.” The program is now in its sixth year.

The leaders of each team cannot be from the same existing SU2C research team. The inclusion of early-career investigators in the team is also encouraged, another distinctive SU2C touch.

A special award was funded this year by the Emily Whitehead Foundation, named for the first pediatric patient to receive chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy for leukemia. Emily was 7 years old when she received the groundbreaking treatment in 2011, and is thriving today with no evidence of disease.

“We are pleased to continue our collaboration with SU2C and fund these extraordinary teams focused on pediatric cancer immunotherapy treatments,” said Tom Whitehead, co-founder of the Emily Whitehead Foundation. “We know collaborative research is essential to lead to successful, less toxic treatments that will give more kids the chance to not only survive their cancer but thrive, healthy and happy.”

Details including the leaders, title of their project, and term and funding for the grant:

  • Alan D’Andrea, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, leader of a Pancreatic Cancer Collective New Therapies Challenge Research Team: Exploiting DNA-Repair Gene Mutations in Pancreatic Cancer, and Juan Cubillos-Ruiz, PhD, Weill Cornell Medicine, 2016 SU2C Innovative Research Grant recipient: Resistance to PARP inhibitor plus anti-PD1 therapy driven by ER stress and bioactive lipids in ovarian cancer. This team will evaluate gene signatures controlled by phospholipid messengers and ER stress in responding and non-responding patients, and will utilize tumor organoids to test whether pharmacological inhibition of these pathways can render ovarian tumors susceptible to treatment. Two-year grant; total funding $250,000.
  • Denada Dibra, PhD, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, young investigator in the laboratory of SU2C SAC member Guillermina (Gigi) Lozano, PhD, and Peter P. Lee, MD, City of Hope National Medical Center, SU2C Breast Cancer Convergence Research Team: Uncovering mutant TP53 dependencies in spontaneously arising triple-negative breast cancer. This team will use novel mouse models to study how the TP53 tumor suppressor gene may influence the tumor microenvironment, and to characterize both tumor cells and immune cells that may be present within the tumor tissue. One-year grant; total funding $250,000.
  • Maximilian Diehn, MD, PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine, co-leader of the SU2C-LUNGevity-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception Research Team, and Aaron Hata, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, investigator on the SU2C-American Cancer Society Lung Cancer Dream Team and a member of the SU2C’National Science Foundation Lung Cancer Convergence Research Team: Non-invasive monitoring of tumor phenotype by interrogation of plasma cell-free RNA. While circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) analysis allows non-invasive tumor genotyping, it is unable to assess non-genomic features of tumors such as gene expression. This team seeks to develop a novel method for analyzing cell-free RNA (cfRNA) associated with resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) in patients with non-small cell lung cancer, to develop a non-invasive approach to better characterize tumors and detect changes in cancer phenotypes during treatment. Two-year grant; total funding $225,000.
  • Sarah Tasian, MD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, young investigator on the St. Baldrick’s Foundation-SU2C Pediatric Cancer Dream Team, and Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 2009 Innovative Research Grant recipient, will now team up in this new SU2C Sharp Award: Precision combinatorial immunotherapeutic targeting of thymic stromal lymphopoietin receptor (TSLPR) signaling in pediatric and young adult CRLF2-rearranged ALL. This team will test a novel hypothesis that multi-antigen-specific CAR T cells targeting two or more neoantigens presented by the cancer cells will have superior anti-leukemia efficacy in preclinical models of childhood Down Syndrome-associated ALL and Ph-like ALL, prevent resistance mechanisms observed with single antigen-targeted CAR T cells, and facilitate more durable leukemia remissions in these medically fragile populations. Two-year grant; total funding $250,000. This grant was funded with support from the Emily Whitehead Foundation.
  • Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center, leader of a Pancreatic Cancer Collective New Therapies Challenge Research Team, and Vinod P. Balachandran, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, SU2C Pancreatic Cancer Convergence Team co-leader: Antigenicity of mutant KRAS and impact on cancer evolution. The team will combine expertise in immunobiology and computational biology to analyze three unique, clinically curated datasets, including short- and long-term pancreatic cancer survivors, primary resected pancreatic cancers, and mKRAS lung and colon cancers, to investigate how mKRAS immunogenicity may dictate outcomes. Two-year grant; total funding $225,000.