BY ERIC T. ROSENTHAL
The cross-pollination of cancer research collaborations continued at Stand Up To Cancer’s (SU2C) fourth annual scientific summit held in January in Pasadena, Calif., close to the Hollywood home of the initiative’s cofounders.
The four-day meeting of a diverse group that included members of the organization’s Scientific Advisory Committee; Executive Management Committee; Council of Founders and Advisors; Dream Teams; Innovative Research Grantees; scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research; advocacy partners; donors; pharmaceutical industry representatives; and others, included scientific presentations, generation of new ideas, recognition and awards, and the announcement of a new collaboration with the American Cancer Society to fund a three-year, $20 million lung cancer Dream Team.
Both ACS and SU2C will provide $10 million each, with $5 million of Stand Up’s funding contributed by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
There are currently 11 active Dream Teams. Philip A. Sharp, PhD, Chair of the the Scientific Advisory Committee and Institute Professor at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, said in a telephone interview that presentations by the original five Dream Teams were showing great promise.
He pointed to the keynote speech at the meeting by Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, which mentioned how FDA is addressing the Breakthrough Designation to bring new treatments to patients as quickly as possible by balancing risk with faster development. The FDA is just beginning to see some of the complexities of immunotherapy, Sharp said. “The number of therapies advancing now for cancer is astounding and there are some really promising new therapies.”
It is significant that the agency is keeping abreast of them and considers them important, and that Hamburg came to the summit to listen and learn more about SU2C’s efforts, he added.
Sharp was also critical, though, of the National Cancer Institute, saying that there is a lack of research programs dealing with immunotherapy. “NCI is sitting on its duff, and should be expanding its research and coordination in immune therapy in a number of cancers,” he said, intimating that he would be active in moving this initiative ahead.
Sharp praised the work of the original five Dream Teams:
- Bringing Epigenetic Therapy to the Forefront of Cancer Management;
- Targeting the PI3K Pathway in Women’s Cancers;
- An Integrated Approach to Targeting Breast Cancer Molecular Subtypes and Their “Resistance” Phenotypes;
- Bioengineering and Clinical Applications of Circulating Tumor Cell Chip; and
- Cutting Off the Fuel Supply: A New Approach to the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer.
He acknowledged that they all have brought some new science to patients within the three years allotted by the cofounders, and said that among all Dream Teams, there are currently more than 100 clinical trials completed, under way, or planned.
On a personal note he said he was following the innovative approaches to pancreatic cancer a little more closely because three people he knew, including former MIT President Charles M. Vest, PhD, had been diagnosed or died of the disease during the past year.
The summit also included the introduction of the SU2C Philip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award, which invited Dream Teams members and Innovative Research grantees attending to discuss developing collaborations and complete proposals over the following two weeks to compete for four $250,000 research grants.
The second Laura Ziskin Prize in Translational Cancer Research was awarded to Gordon Mills, MD, PhD, Chair of Systems Biology and Co-director of the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Co-leader of the SU2C PI3K Dream Team; and Taru Eliisa Muranen, PhD, Instructor and Post-doctoral student in Harvard Medical School’s Department of Cell Biology to explore how tumor cells in estrogen receptor positive breast cancer adapt to and resist treatment.
John A. Glaspy, MD, Chair of Stand Up’s Executive Management Committee and the Estelle, Abe and Marjorie Sanders Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, said during a telephone interview that he had made the recommendation of Mills and Muranen for the award based on a paper he had read by them and others in Cancer Cell: “Inhibition of PI3K/mTOR Leads to Adaptive Resistance in Matrix-Attached Cancer Cells” (2012;21:227-239).
Glaspy, who treated Laura Ziskin for metastatic breast cancer that was estrogen receptor positive, said that the selection committee wanted to keep in mind her vision for cancer research: high risk and translating to patient care, emphasizing collaboration, and thinking out of the box.
“We’d look around the landscape of cancer research for collaborations that would strike us as really good and wanted to find something that might not happen unless we got involved,” and the collaboration of a senior researcher with a more junior one made the pairing even better, he said.
The work by Mills and Muranen, Glaspy said, builds on the epigenetics research of Stephen B. Baylin, MD, Deputy Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and his wife, Feyruz V. Rassool, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who were the co-recipients of the first Ziskin Prize, which was awarded in 2012.
“What Steve and Feyruz did was take the research to the 20-yard line, and now Gordon and Taru can take it into the end zone,” Glaspy said.
‘Hollywood Stands Up To Cancer’
Another feature of the summit was “Hollywood Stands Up To Cancer,” presented by the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), which established Stand Up in 2008. Chairs of that event were Jim Toth and Reese Witherspoon, and there were musical performances by Christina Aguilera, Jamie Foxx, and John Mayer.
Conan O’Brien was emcee for the Culver City, Calif., event that allowed Hollywood to honor the scientists involved in Stand Up’s research efforts. Toth, who is married to Reese Witherspoon, also announced the “Jim Toth Sr. Breakthrough Lung Cancer Research Award,” in honor of his father, who died from lung cancer.
EIF President and CEO Lisa Paulsen, who is one of Stand Up’s cofounders, said during a telephone interview that having the summit near Los Angeles also made it possible to show the Hollywood community how its investment in the research and awareness effort has kept growing.
She said the collaborative research Stand Up model has demonstrated new ways to work with partners in academia and industry, and that the fact that science is moving forward so quickly has increased the challenge for those “of us involved in fundraising and getting ready for the next telecast.”
Sherry Lansing, EIF Chair and a SU2C cofounder, added that she thought the summit was the best ever and that it was thrilling that the work of the Dream Teams was actually getting to patients in so short a time. “It was significant that we were able to get Hollywood together to honor the scientists, and mix these two cultures that share a great deal in common, including passion and never giving up.
“A lot of people in that room had been touched by cancer and because of the Dream Teams, lives have been saved and people are living longer. But our real dream is to be out of business, and we will not be satisfied and will keep fighting until cancer is no more.”