Cancer Immunologist Receives New Innovator Award, Launch of Kids First Data Resource Center, and more

LSU Receives $10 Million Grant to Study Virus-Induced Cancers

Louisiana State University (LSU) Health New Orleans received a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to study new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for virus-induced cancers. The grant will support the research of four junior investigators:

  • Zhiqiang Qin, MD, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology, and parasitology at LSU
  • Chris McGowin, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology, and parasitology at LSU
  • Donna Neumann, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology at LSU
  • Zhen Lin, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology at Tulane University

It will also support two pilot projects: Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells (MDSCs) and HIV Malignancies and John Cunningham Virus–Induced MDSCs in Central Nervous System Tumors.

Krzysztof Reiss, PhD, professor and director of neurological cancer research at LSU Health New Orleans Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center is the grant’s principal investigator.

Virus-related cancers, such as primary effusion lymphoma, disproportionately affect the African-American population. “Understanding why and how particular viruses and viral co-infections promote the development of malignancies in our minority and vulnerable populations is essential to identifying and implementing new prevention, diagnostic, and treatment strategies,” said Dr. Reiss.

Source: Louisiana State University press release, August 25, 2017.

Several Cancer Research Centers and Health Systems Launch New Data Resource Center for Pediatric Cancer

Six cancer research centers and health systems have partnered to launch the Kids First Data Resource Center (DRC) – a centralized, cloud-based database and discovery portal of clinical and genetic sequencing data – to help researchers identify genetic pathways that underlie and possibly link childhood cancer and structural birth defects. In addition, the DRC will develop analytical tools to provide access to the data for use in the discovery of novel and improved treatments for patients.

The partnering organizations are the Center for Data Driven Discovery in Biomedicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the University of Chicago, Children’s National Health System, Oregon Health and Science University, and Seven Bridges Genomics.

“For the first time, clinicians and researchers, along with academic, government, and commercial partners, are coming together to fully harness the power of emergent technologies, shared data, and precision medicine,” said N. Scott Adzick, MD, surgeon-in-chief and director of the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment at CHOP.
The program is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund’s Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program, which is expected to provide funding for five years of up to approximately $14.8 million. Approximately 6,000 patient samples will be ready for analysis at inception, projected to grow to more than 25,000 by 2018.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia press release, August 15, 2017.

Researchers Assessing Less Toxic Treatment Options for Pediatric Patients With SCID

Michael Pulsipher, MD, of the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), and Sung-Yun Pai, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital, received nearly $9 million in funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the NIH to study a new treatment approach for children with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).

The randomized, multisite study will assess the lowest dose of chemotherapy needed for children undergoing bone marrow transplant. The goal is to restore the immune system safely and effectively with less toxicity than the higher-dose regimens now in use. Infants who are diagnosed with SCID during a newborn screening will be randomized to receive low- or moderate-dose busulfan.

“Our goal is to decrease the possible long-term effects from chemotherapy by determining the lowest doses needed to ensure T- and B-cell function in these infants, restoring normal immune systems that can last throughout their lives,” said Dr. Pulsipher.

CHLA will serve as the coordinating center for the study, which will involve 50 centers in the U.S. and Canada.

Source: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles press release, October 5, 2017.

Andrea Schietinger, PhD
Andrea Schietinger, PhD

Andrea Schietinger Receives NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

Andrea Schietinger, PhD, of the Sloan Kettering Institute at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. Dr. Schietinger was honored for her research in immune responses to cancer, molecular mechanisms underlying tumor-induced T-cell dysfunction, and new approaches for cancer immunotherapy.

Dr. Schietinger’s laboratory is investigating the regulatory mechanisms underlying tumor-specific CD8 T-cell dysfunction in solid tumors. “The proposal put forward a conceptual new framework to explain tumor-specific T-cell dysfunction and to design novel strategies to reprogram T cells for cancer immunotherapy,” said Dr. Schietinger.

The New Innovator Award supports innovative research from early-career investigators who are within 10 years of final degree or clinical residency and who have not received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant.

Source: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center press release, October 5, 2017.

FDA Awards 15 Grants to Increase Drug Development in Rare Diseases

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded 15 clinical trial research grants, totaling more than $22 million over the next four years, to encourage the development of therapeutics for rare diseases.

“By helping to support the cost of development of these potential new drugs and reduce some of the financial risk, we also hope that these grants will lower the cost of the capital needed to develop these products, boost competition, and translate into lower prices for successful medicines,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. “This can help increase access to resulting therapies.”

The grants included funding for:

  • Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, awarded a four-year, approximately $2 million grant for a phase II study of topical sodium nitrite for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) and leg ulcers
  • New York Medical College in Valhalla, awarded a four-year, approximately $1.75 million grant for a phase II defibrotide for the prevention of complications in high-risk SCD patients following allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation
  • Protalex, Inc., in Florham Park, New Jersey, awarded a two-year, approximately $500,000 grant for a phase I/II study of PRTX-100 for the treatment of immune thrombocytopenia

The FDA awarded the grants through the Orphan Products Clinical Trials Grants Program, which encourages clinical development of drugs, biologics, medical devices, and medical foods for use in rare diseases. The grants are intended for clinical studies evaluating the safety and effectiveness of products that could either result in, or substantially contribute to, the FDA approval therapies for rare diseases.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration press release, October 6, 2017.

Researchers Receive More Than $500,000 to Study Chemotherapy-Free Transplantation for Patients With SCD

The Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., will receive more than $550,000 for a three-year, multicenter trial assessing outcomes of a low-intensity, chemotherapy-free transplantation approach using a matched related donor for patients with SCD. The grant was awarded through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s inaugural SCD/Advancing Cures Awards, which provide funding to advance curative approaches for SCD, totaling approximately $6 million for seven projects.

Allistair Abraham, MD, and Robert Nickel, MD, both providers in the Children’s National Health System, will lead the study, which will determine whether this treatment regimen is possible without resulting in graft-versus-host disease following transplantation. The study is projected to begin in December 2018.

“This approach has proven to be effective for adults with SCD, so we are grateful for the opportunity to begin this important trial for children,” said Dr. Abraham.

Source: Children’s National Health System press release, October 9, 2017.

Hui Feng, MD, PhD
Hui Feng, MD, PhD

Hui Feng Receives American Cancer Society Grant to Study T-Cell ALL

Hui Feng, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, received a four-year, $792,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to study treatment-resistant T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia (T-ALL).

Dr. Feng’s laboratory conducted genomic analyses of patient samples and genetic studies of experimental model systems and identified a novel contributor to the aggressive nature of leukemia. The team found a protein that helps tumor cells cope with stress and plays a role in the aggressiveness of T-ALL and its rapid dissemination throughout the body.

Dr. Feng plans to use the funding to study whether targeting the protein itself or its associated pathways through available drugs is effective.

Source: Boston University press release, October 11, 2017.

University of Iowa and Mayo Clinic Receive $12.4 Million Grant Renewal for Lymphoma Research

The National Cancer Institute awarded the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and Mayo Clinic a five-year, $12.4 million grant renewal to continue the Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) for lymphoma research.

“This five-year grant will continue our quest to understand why patients get lymphoma and will be providing our patients opportunities for exciting new therapies,” said Thomas Witzig, MD, SPORE director at the Mayo Clinic.

SPORE’s goal is to develop new approaches to the prevention, detection, and treatment of lymphoma, and the program supports four major research projects, four shared research cores, clinical trials, early pilot projects, and new investigations in lymphoma research taking place at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. The research team has worked with more than 7,000 patient volunteers to analyze how genetic makeup and other factors determine outcomes in patients with lymphoma.

Source: University of Iowa press release, September 18, 2017.