UC San Diego Researchers Receive Grant for CAR T-cell Therapy, New President at Seidman Cancer Center, and more

Theodore Teknos, MD

Theodoros N. Teknos Appointed President and Scientific Officer of University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center

Theodoros N. Teknos, MD, has been named the president and scientific officer of the University Hospitals (UH) Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio, effective October 1.

He will lead the development of strategic, business, and marketing plans for UH Seidman, including cancer-related palliative care and integrative care. He also will lead UH Seidman’s academic components and its Clinical Trials Unit, and will direct UH Seidman’s involvement in the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Previously, Dr. Teknos served in leadership roles at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. He will succeed Nathan Levitan, MD, who has served as president since 2008.

“[He is a] highly respected physician, researcher, and administrative leader,” said Daniel Simon, MD, president of the UH Cleveland Medical Center. “We look forward to working with Dr. Teknos and are confident his leadership will advance our clinical, academic, and strategic business objectives at UH Seidman Cancer Center.”

Source: University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center press release, August 1, 2017.

Ezra Cohen, MD

Researchers at UC San Diego Receive $5.8 Million Grant to Study New CAR T-Cell Therapy
A group of researchers at the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine has received a $5.8 million grant from the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The researchers are led by Ezra Cohen, MD, professor of medicine and associate director for translational science at UC San Diego Health’s Moores Cancer Center.

Their work will build upon previous and ongoing research that showed ROR1 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells target and kill ROR1-expressing cancer stem cells in in vitro models of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, triple-negative breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Dr. Cohen and his team will use the grant to generate proof-of-concept and pilot safety data on the CAR T-cell therapy prior to use in human clinical trials. “Our overall goal by the end of this 30-month process is to have a full-fledged, preclinical plan in place, with input and support from the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)], so that we develop a new drug and test it in clinical trials,” said Dr. Cohen.

Sources: University of California San Diego press release, July 20, 2017; Times of San Diego, July 20, 2017.

NCI-COG Pediatric MATCH Study to Test Targeted Therapeutics
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) announced the opening of enrollment in the phase II NCI-COG Pediatric Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (Pediatric MATCH) study, a nationwide trial to explore targeted therapies for children and adolescents (1-21 years) with specific genetic mutations and diseases that progressed during or after standard therapy.

The trial has two enrollment steps: Each patient will be screened for molecular abnormalities with DNA and RNA sequencing. If a genetic abnormality is identified and a targeted drug is available, eligible patients can enroll in the corresponding treatment cohort. The trial will begin by evaluating six experimental therapies, with plans to expand to more than eight treatment arms during the course of the study.

A similar trial for adults, NCI-MATCH, began enrolling adult patients in August 2015 and is also matching patients to treatments based on the genetic mutations in their tumors.

“There aren’t any other cancer trials of this scale exploring targeted treatments for children whose cancers have specific genetic abnormalities,” said Douglas R. Lowy, MD, NCI’s acting director. “Precision medicine trials like Pediatric MATCH have the potential to accelerate progress in identifying more effective treatments for children with cancer.”

Source: National Cancer Institute press release, July 24, 2017.

Damon Runyon Announces 2017 Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award Recipients
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has announced the 2017 recipients of its Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award:

  • Robert L. Bowman, PhD, (with sponsor Ross L. Levine, MD) from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, will develop models to test the oncogenic dependency of the FLT3 gene in acute myeloid leukemia.
  • Marissa Rashkovan, PhD, (with sponsor Adolfo A. Ferrando, MD, PhD) from Columbia University in New York, will assess the metabolic vulnerabilities of early T-cell precursor acute lymphocytic leukemia to propose new, targeted therapies for this high-risk leukemia group.
  • Yadira M. Soto-Feliciano, PhD, (with sponsor C. David Allis, PhD) from Rockefeller University in New York, will combine genetic, genomic, and mouse modeling approaches to identify factors that regulate the function of Menin in MLL-r and non-MLL-r leukemia.
  • Kathryn R. Taylor, PhD, (with sponsor Michelle L. Monje, MD, PhD) from Stanford University in California, will test the effect of activity-dependent secreted proteins on tumor cell invasion in human cancer cells and animal models.

The award provides funding to basic scientists and clinicians who conduct research with the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of one or more types of pediatric cancers. Each recipient will receive $231,000 over four years.

Source: Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation press release, July 26, 2017.

NIH Awards $18.9 Million for Genome Sequencing

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $18.9 million to support the research and development of methods to accelerate the use of genome sequencing in clinical practice and to improve the discovery and interpretation of genomic variants. The research is funded as part of the Clinical Sequencing Evidence-Generating Research Consortium, which builds on the Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research (CSER) Consortium, funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute and NCI.

Recipients of the awards, who work at the six designated clinical sites of this consortium, are:

  • Jonathan Berg, MD, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Gregory Cooper, PhD, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Katrina Goddard, PhD, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Portland, Oregon
  • Eimear Kenny, PhD, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
  • Pui-Yan Kwok, MD, PhD, UC San Francisco
  • Sharon Plon, MD, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

Gail Jarvik, MD, PhD, from the University of Washington, Seattle, also received an award that will support her work at the CSER2 coordinating center, which provides organizational and logistical support to stimulate synergies among the six individual projects.

The researchers will continue efforts to generate evidence for the usefulness of genome sequencing in clinical care, with a focus on underserved individuals.

“Engaging patient populations that are traditionally underrepresented in genomic research, coupled with the inclusion of broader types of health-care settings, will enrich the data that result from CSER2,” said Regina Smith James, MD, director of clinical and health services research at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. ●

Source: National Institutes of Health press release, August 8, 2017.