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Oncology Times 39(22):p 69-71, November 25, 2017. | DOI: 10.1097/01.COT.0000527395.64210.f0
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Inaugural ESMO Award for Immuno-Oncology Awarded

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) has granted the newly established ESMO Award for Immuno-Oncology to Laurence Zitvogel, MD, PhD, for her innovating and internationally recognized achievements in the field. She is Professor of Immunobiology at the University of Paris XI Medical School; Scientific Director at the Department of Immuno-Oncology, Gustave Roussy Cancer Centre, in Villejuif, France; Director of the U1015 INSERM Tumour Immunology and Immunotherapy Laboratory at INSERM; and Co-Director of the Centre for Clinical Investigation in Biotherapies of Cancer, INSERM.

Laurence Zitvogel, MD, PhD:
Laurence Zitvogel, MD, PhD

“Professor Zitvogel's discoveries in the area of immuno-oncology have served as the foundation for important advances and our understanding of the fundamentals of cancer immunology,” said Christoph Zielinski, MD, on behalf of the ESMO Fellowship and Award Committee. “In presenting her with the ESMO Award for Immuno-Oncology, we are recognizing her preeminent and pioneering role in the field.”

This new award was created this year in commemoration of the European pioneer in cancer research in immunology, founding member, and first President of ESMO, Georges Mathé, MD. It will be presented to Zitvogel during the ESMO Immuno Oncology Congress 2017 taking place in Geneva, Dec. 7-10, during the keynote lecture.

Zitvogel has dedicated her career to advancing the field of cancer immunology and immunotherapy. She is a devoted educator having directed the work of many postdoctoral fellows. She has authored or co-authored over 350 publications. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and founder of one of the first journals in immune-oncology, OncoImmunology.

Commenting on the award, Zitvogel said: “I am honored to receive this award, which acknowledges the work of, not only my team and Gustave Roussy colleagues, but also that of the European pioneers who relentlessly paved the way for the relevance of the immune system in long-term cures obtained in patients treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immune-targeted antibodies.”

Her current research falls into three main categories: 1) studying the modes of action of immune checkpoint inhibitors and seeking predictors of response to immunomodulators; 2) defining the role of the gut microbiome in cancer immunosurveillance; and 3) deciphering the molecular mechanisms of immunogenic cell death.

“I feel indebted to our inspiring father and chairman, the Nobel Prize winner Ralph Steinman, who introduced us to the arena of dendritic cell biology, as well as to Mike Lotze and the Rosenberg school, for their seminal training,” Zitvogel added. “I will finish by acknowledging that I share this award with Professor Guido Kroemer who helped me in deciphering the molecular mechanisms of immunogenic cell death.”

2017 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists Announced

The Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences recently announced the winners and finalists of the 2017 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists.

Established in 2007, the awards are given annually by the foundation and administered by the academy to honor the excellence of outstanding postdoctoral scientists from institutions across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Regional winners and finalists are chosen from the fields of life sciences, chemistry, physical sciences, and engineering. Each winner is awarded $30,000, and each finalist receives a $10,000 prize.

In 2017, 161 outstanding nominations for the Blavatnik Regional Awards were received from 28 academic institutions in the New York tristate area. Winners and finalists were selected by a distinguished jury of senior scientists and engineers.

“We are delighted to honor and support this year's outstanding winners and finalists as they pursue their remarkable scientific careers,” said Len Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation. “Their ongoing discoveries will have an enormous positive impact on the global scientific community for years to come.”

Among the winners is Chao Lu, PhD, at The Rockefeller University. A molecular and cellular biologist, Lu is being recognized for identifying chemical modifications to chromosomes that lead to uncontrolled growth and proliferation of cells, and subsequently, to the formation of tumors.

Chao Lu, PhD:
Chao Lu, PhD

Lu's goal is to apply his discoveries to advance diagnosis, classification, and treatment of cancer and other human diseases. That is why, for most of his career, he has striven to understand the underlying causes of cancer. His work has primarily been in the field of epigenetics. Throughout his career, Lu has identified ways in which the proteins involved in genome regulation and packaging are frequently altered in human cancers. He demonstrated that these abnormal changes cause cancer by blocking cellular differentiation. When differentiation is blocked, these cells grow and divide rapidly, leading to tumor formation. Intriguingly, Lu found that, by correcting this abnormal epigenetic state of cancer cells, he could halt the growth of tumors, effectively “reprogramming” the cancer cell back to health.

Postdoctoral researchers have been named finalists in their respective categories. In the “Life Sciences” category, Ataman Sendoel, MD, PhD, a molecular and cellular biologist at The Rockefeller University, is being recognized for discovering a novel switch in the cell's protein synthesis machinery that promotes the synthesis of proteins that lead to tumor formation.

Ataman Sendoel, MD, PhD:
Ataman Sendoel, MD, PhD

Two individuals were recognized for their work in chemistry. Alan Healy, PhD, a chemical biologist at Yale University, has developed the first synthetic route to producing colibactins—bacterial compounds linked to colorectal cancers—previously only available in unstable quantities too small to study. Wilhelm Palm, PhD, a biochemist and structural biologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has discovered a novel pathway that enables tumor cells to obtain nutrition and grow.

Alan Healy, PhD:
Alan Healy, PhD
Wilhelm Palm, PhD:
Wilhelm Palm, PhD

MD Anderson Team Selected for National Push to Expand Immunotherapy

A major national effort to expand the reach of cancer immunotherapy to benefit more patients will draw upon the expertise of a team of researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

MD Anderson will provide one of four national Cancer Immune Monitoring and Analysis Centers (CIMACs) designed to conduct deep tumor analysis and immune monitoring for adult and pediatric immunotherapy clinical trials.

The centers are part of the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies announced by the NIH. The 5-year, $210 million public-private partnership aims to identify and develop biomarkers to guide and improve treatments that help the immune system attack cancer. NIH leaders note that cancer immunotherapies cause dramatic improvement in some patients, a success that needs to be extended to more people and a greater variety of cancers.

The CIMACs will bring their expertise to bear on systematic collection, processing, and analysis of blood and tumor samples.

“We want to improve immune monitoring to better understand the mechanisms that lead tumors to respond to or resist treatment so we can develop new, better strategies for patients,” said Ignacio Wistuba, MD, Department Chair, Department of Translational Molecular Pathology and principal investigator of the center.

Ignacio Wistuba, MD:
Ignacio Wistuba, MD

The MD Anderson CIMAC will receive $11 million over 5 years and will connect mainly with clinical trials conducted by two NCI cooperative groups.

One of the challenges in developing biomarkers that can predict what treatment would be best for an individual patient is the standardization of research tools and approaches. Wistuba said the CIMACS aim to provide that standardization to optimize biomarker strategies.

“It's important to have these dedicated centers with the experience and skill to centralize and standardize this work and to conduct the analyses needed to understand how the immune system and tumors respond to treatment,” Wistuba said.

The NIH effort is part of the national Cancer Moonshot, launched by former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and funded by the 21st Century Cures Act–Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot, passed by Congress last December.

Wistuba noted that MD Anderson's multidisciplinary team has honed its expertise through MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program, launched in 2012 to accelerate the development of new approaches to prevent, detect, and treat cancer based on scientific discoveries.

Wistuba cited three factors that contributed to MD Anderson's successful award:

  1. the Immunotherapy Platform, an immune-monitoring and research effort;
  2. the Adaptive Patient-Oriented Longitudinal Learning and Optimization platform (APOLLO), which systematically compiles clinical and research data and guides the collection, processing, and deep molecular and immune analysis of biopsies and blood samples before, during, and after treatment to learn as much as possible from each patient; and
  3. additional work in the 13 individual Moon Shots and the 10 platforms of the Moon Shots Program.

Co-principal investigators with Wistuba are Elizabeth Mittendorf, MD, PhD, Professor of Breast Surgical Oncology, and Chantale Bernatchez, PhD, Assistant Professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology. Co-investigators are J. Jack Lee, PhD, Associate Vice President for Quantitative Sciences and Biostatistics; Andrew Futreal, PhD, Chair of Genomic Medicine and co-leader of the Moon Shots Program; Jim Allison, PhD, Chair of Immunology and Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform; Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD, Professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology and Scientific Director of the Immunotherapy Platform; Stanley Hamilton, MD, Division Head, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Jennifer Wargo, MD, Associate Professor of Surgical Oncology; Vinod Ravi, MD, Associate Professor of Sarcoma Medical Oncology; and Cara Haymaker, PhD, Instructor, Melanoma Medical Oncology.

The project is administratively led by Sarah Fayle and Celia Garcia-Prieto, PhD, of Translational Molecular Pathology.

Prostate Cancer Foundation Reveals 2017 PCF Challenge Awards

The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) announced awards totaling $7.5 million to fund new 2017 PCF Challenge Awards supporting international, cross-disciplinary teams of investigators conducting pioneering research into critical, unmet medical needs in areas that have the highest potential for impacting and extending lives of men with advanced prostate cancer.

This year's awards include innovative research projects such as testing several novel radiation-emitting prostate cancer-targeting treatments in advanced prostate cancer, and studying prostate cancer from U.S. veterans to better understand the biology of the disease and answer important questions about treatment for lethal prostate cancer.

“We are proud and excited to fund these eight teams who will be conducting life-saving research for patients with prostate cancer,” said Jonathan W. Simons, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer, PCF. “The research conducted by these teams will change the face of how we view the treatment landscape of prostate cancer, and [it] has the potential to result in cures even for men with very advanced disease who previously had no further treatment options available.”

As part of PCF's commitment to accelerating research and innovation in prostate cancer, Challenge Award teams are required to include at least three investigators, one of whom must be a young investigator, defined as researchers within 6 years of completing research or medical training programs. The awarded teams were selected from a pool of 92 international applications following a rigorous peer review process that assessed each project's scientific merit and potential impact for patients. These eight teams will join six previously announced 2017 Challenge Award teams in the PCF research portfolio that were funded in partnership with the Movember Foundation.

The following teams were selected to receive 2017 PCF Challenge Awards

  • Optimization of Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen-Targeted Radiation ($1 million); this team led by Scott Tagawa, MD, Neil Bander, MD, and Shankar Vallabhajosula, PhD, (all of Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian) will conduct clinical trials to test the efficacy of several highly promising new and unique PSMA-targeted, radiation-emitting treatments in advanced prostate cancer. This team includes researchers from Tulane University, Harvard: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, UCLA, and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
  • Harnessing Synergies Between 177-Lutate Therapy and Olaparib to Improve Clinical Outcome of Men with Metastatic Castration Resistant Prostate Cancer ($1 million); this team led by Shahneen Sandhu, MBBS, Rodney Hicks, MD, MBBS, Michael Hofman, MBBS, Scott Williams, MD, MBBS, Carleen Cullinane, PhD, ScD, John Violet, MBBS, PhD, and Paul Neeson, PhD, ScD, (all of Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia) will conduct a clinical trial testing the efficacy of a novel radiation-emitting, prostate cancer-targeting treatment, 177-Lu-PSMA, in combination with the PARP inhibitor olaparib, in men with advanced prostate cancer. This team includes researchers from Chris O'Brien Lifehouse, St Vincent's Hospital, Kinghorn Cancer Centre, and Monash University.
  • Elucidating Mechanisms of Effectiveness and Resistance to Prostate Specific Membrane Antigen (PSMA) Targeted Radioligand Therapy (RLT) Using 177-Lu-PSMA-617 ($1 million); this team led by Johannes Czernin, MD, and Caius Radu, MD, (both at UCLA) will conduct preclinical studies and clinical trials testing the efficacy of 177-Lu-PSMA-617, a novel radiation-emitting, prostate cancer-targeted therapy in advanced prostate cancer.
  • Curing Lethal Non-Castrate Prostate Cancer: Integrative Molecular Analysis for Mechanisms of Exceptional Response, Resistance and Recurrence ($1 million); this team led by Howard Scher, MD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) and Mary-Ellen Taplin, MD, (Harvard: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), will develop a precision medicine approach for treating prostate cancer patients with high-risk localized disease or low-volume metastatic tumors with a potentially curative regimen that includes an intense combination of androgen-targeted therapies, followed by maximal treatment of the primary tumor. This team includes researchers from Harvard: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard: Brigham and Women's Hospital.
  • Multiplatform Profiling of Lethal Prostate Cancer in the Veterans Affairs Population ($1 million); this team led by Isla Garraway, MD, PhD, (UCLA), Beatrice Knudsen, MD, PhD, (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center), and Peter Kuhn, PhD, (University of Southern California) will profile mutations and genes expressed in prostate cancer samples from U.S. veterans throughout the course of treatment to identify mechanisms and biomarkers of prostate cancer progression and treatment resistance. This team includes researchers from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
  • Targeting BRN2 in Neuroendocrine Prostate Cancer ($1 million); this team led by Amina Zoubeidi, PhD, (Vancouver Prostate Centre; Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute; University of British Columbia) and Himisha Beltran, MD, (Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian), will develop a novel therapy targeting BRN2, a driver of the highly aggressive neuroendocrine subtype of prostate cancer, and will develop biomarkers to identify patients who may benefit from this treatment. This team includes researchers from Simon Fraser University.
  • Clinicopathological Correlation and Molecular Signature Identification and Risk Stratification of Prostate Cancer in African American U.S. Veterans, With and Without Exposure to Battlefield Chemicals ($1 million); this team led by Jeffrey Jones, MD, MSc, and Michael Ittmann, MD, PhD, (both of Baylor College of Medicine and Michael E. DeBakey Veteran Affairs Medical Center) will study prostate cancer samples from U.S. veterans to better understand the biology of prostate cancer in African-American men and to elucidate the effects of exposure to battlefield chemicals such as Agent Orange on the development and progression of prostate cancer. This team includes researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
  • SEARCH: Survivorship Enhancement in Men with Prostate Cancer At Risk for Poor Cognitive Health During Treatment with ADT ($515,000); this team led by Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, (Northwestern University) and Charles Ryan, MD, (University of California, San Francisco) will develop methods to measure whether androgen-targeted treatments for prostate cancer increase risk for cognitive decline, develop biomarkers to identify men at risk, and test an intervention to prevent further cognitive decline in patients undergoing treatment. This team includes researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Scott Tagawa, MD:
Scott Tagawa, MD
Shahneen Sandhu, MBBS:
Shahneen Sandhu, MBBS
Johannes Czernin, MD:
Johannes Czernin, MD
Howard Scher, MD:
Howard Scher, MD
Isla Garraway, MD:
Isla Garraway, MD
Amina Zoubeidi, PhD:
Amina Zoubeidi, PhD
Jeffrey Jones, MD, MSc:
Jeffrey Jones, MD, MSc
Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH:
Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH

John Hopkins Researcher Awarded ALCF-IASLC Joint Fellowship

The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF) and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) recently announced the winner of the $300,000 ALCF-IASLC Second Joint International Fellowship Award for The Early Detection of Lung Cancer.

This year's recipient is Evgeny Izumchenko, MS, PhD, from the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, for his research titled, “Comprehensive analysis of the genetic landscape during progression of non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma.”

Evgeny Izumchenko, MS, PhD:
Evgeny Izumchenko, MS, PhD

The ALCF-IASLC Joint Fellowship Award recognizes out-of-the-box research that offers new hope for lung cancer patients. With funding from this award, Izumchenko will study the mechanisms underlying cancer progression in the earliest stages, working to identify key genetic drivers involved in cancer progression, thereby identifying potential novel preventative approaches for managing lung cancer patients. As part of this research project, Izumchenko will also develop a blood test for the non-invasive detection and follow-up of early tumors.

Izumcheno and his team have already made headway into identifying genetic changes in the progression of early lung cancers, and some of these findings were published in a report in the scientific journal, Nature Communications, where the team identified what they believe are the earliest genetic changes that mark the potential onset of the most common and deadly form of lung cancer.

“The ability to detect precancerous lesions before they become tumors allows for prompt treatment,” said Izumchenko. “Understanding the complex signaling networks may help us better prevent, diagnose, and treat lung cancer early, thereby helping us improve the currently dismal 5-year survival rate for this dreaded disease.”

Association of Community Cancer Centers Honors AMA President-Elect

In recognition of her pioneering work in value-based care, Barbara McAneny, MD, FASCO, MACP, was honored with the Annual Achievement Award of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC). Her work in developing the grant-funded COME HOME oncology medical home initiative demonstrated reduced costs and improved care; helped to inform Medicare's current Oncology Care Model (OCM) pilot; and supported physician practices in process changes critical to participation in value-based payment models, including those created under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA).

Barbara McAneny, MD, FASCO, MACP:
Barbara McAneny, MD, FASCO, MACP

This is a year of honors for McAneny, a board-certified medical oncologist/hematologist from Albuquerque, N.M., who in June became the first oncologist to be voted President-Elect of the American Medical Association (AMA). She will assume the AMA presidency in June 2018.

The ACCC Annual Achievement Award recognizes individuals that have made outstanding contributions, nationally and/or internationally, to cancer care and patients.

McAneny's acceptance speech conveyed her unique perspective as a physician who successfully transitioned to a leadership role within the nation's rapidly evolving health care environment. “It is a great honor to receive this ACCC award,” she said. “This is an organization that brings together thousands of specialists from all areas of cancer care, from cancer centers and hospitals to private practices and academic centers. All of us have a common cause, which is taking care of cancer patients. So, to receive an award from an organization that has so many great people to choose from is one of the greatest honors of my life!”

McAneny also emphasized the AMA's a long-standing principle of increasing access to health care through insurance coverage. “[This is] especially important for cancer patients,” she said. Reflecting on evolving practice transformation, McAneny urged alignment between practice delivery models and newly emerging payment models. “A medical home isn't a payment methodology, it's a practice methodology,” she said. We need a payment model that works with it.” It's needed “because our country can't afford to lose the infrastructure of cancer care.” As AMA President-Elect, she hopes Congress will work with doctors across America to fix our ailing health care system, so every individual with cancer can get the care he or she deserves.

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