Ned Sharpless Named New NCI Director, 2017 Pew-Stewart Cancer Research Scholars Announced, and more

Norman Sharpless Named Director of the National Cancer Institute

Norman “Ned” Sharpless, MD, has been appointed director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) by President Donald Trump. He will succeed Douglas Lowy, MD, who has served as acting director of NCI since early 2015.

Dr. Sharpless has served as director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center since January 2014 and is recognized internationally for his research on the aging and malignant conversion of normal cells.

“Dr. Sharpless is a visionary leader and a truly gifted scientist and clinician, and we strongly agree he would be an excellent choice to lead the NCI into the future,” said UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt, PhD.

Sources: The Washington Post, June 10, 2017; University of North Carolina School of Medicine news release, June 10, 2017.

James Downing Receives 2017 Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize

The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering has presented James Downing, MD, president and chief executive officer at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the recipient of ASH’s 2017 E. Donnall Thomas Prize, with its annual prize for 2017. The award recognizes individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the field of pediatric oncology.

Dr. Downing’s research has had significant influence on defining the genetics and genomics of pediatric cancers. He also helped launch the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, which has sequenced the genomes of more than 800 pediatric patients with rare and aggressive tumors.

Source: St. Jude Children’s Hospital news release, May 18, 2017.

NCI Funds Research Studying the Expansion of PET Imaging

The NCI will provide funding to researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine (WSU SOM) and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute to study an expanded use of positron emission tomography (PET) in cancer immunotherapy.

Wei-Zen Wei, PhD, the Herrick Chair of Cancer Research at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of oncology and immunology/microbiology at WSU SOM, and Nerissa Viola-Villegas, PhD, Karmanos researcher and assistant professor of oncology at WSU SOM, received a two-year, $368,445 grant to study the use of PET imaging for dendritic cells in tumors. They plan to develop new imaging probes to detect these cells; if PET imaging can successfully measure dendritic cells, it could be a useful tool to predict patient outcomes with specific treatments.

“Assessing if cancer treatments are effective is often invasive and difficult,” said Joseph Dunbar, PhD, director of special operations in the Office of the Vice President for Research at WSU. “Drs. Wei and Viola-Villegas’s method of using PET imaging will be a less invasive, strong indicator of whether cancer treatments are effective.”

Source: Karmanos Cancer Institute press release, April 11, 2017.

2017 Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research Announced

The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust announced the five 2017 Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research. The program acknowledges early-career scientists making groundbreaking contributions to cancer research. This year’s scholars are:

  • Daniel A. Bachovchin, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Nadya Dimitrova, PhD, Yale University
  • Charles Y. Lin, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine
  • Robert K. McGinty, MD, PhD, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Sabrina L. Spencer, PhD, University of Colorado, Boulder

Each awardee will receive four years of flexible funding to invest in his or her research. Topics of study include slowing or stopping the development of cancer, destroying leukemia cells, and understanding how cancer cells evade certain therapies.

“Innovation and creativity are necessary [for] solving some of the biggest questions in cancer research,” said Peter M. Howley, MD, chair of the Pew-Stewart national advisory committee. “The 2017 class of scholars is using cutting-edge research to get us closer to reducing or eliminating the burden of cancer.”

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts press release, June 15, 2017.

Foundation Medicine Joins the NCI-MATCH Trial

The NCI and the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group have announced a collaborative effort with Foundation Medicine, a genomics testing company, to enroll more patients into phase II of NCI’s precision medicine clinical trial, NCI-MATCH.

The trial seeks to determine the effectiveness of genome-specific treatment options in patients with solid tumors, lymphomas, or myelomas that have progressed following all standard treatments or in patients with rare cancers for which there is no standard treatment.

“We believe our collaboration will help the clinical sites participating in the trial to identify a larger number of patients who may be eligible to enroll for treatment,” said Vincent Miller, MD, chief medical officer at Foundation Medicine.

Source: Foundation Medicine press release, June 7, 2017.