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Eric Rosenthal Reports

Thoughts and observations about issues, trends, and controversies in the cancer community.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stand Up To Cancer’s New Immunology Dream Team Has Tuscan Roots

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) has named a ninth Dream Team. This one, focusing on immunology translational research, was made possible through collaboration and philanthropy enhanced by a specified grant from technology entrepreneur Sean Parker.


The three-year $10 million grant announced yesterday by SU2C and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), a 60-year-old nonprofit dedicated to cancer immunology, will focus on immunological treatment, control, and prevention of cancer.


CRI contributed $3 million, and the balance by SU2C was largely funded through Parker’s donation.


The “Immunologic Checkpoint Blockade and Adoptive Cell Transfer in Cancer Therapy” Dream Team will be led by James P. Allison, PhD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.


Allison, Director of CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council, said in a news release that the Dream Team’s goal is “to expand, optimize, and explore combinations of two novel immunotherapies, immune checkpoint blockade and adoptive T-cell  transfer.


“It is our dream, indeed our expectation, that by optimizing these two uniquely successful and complementary approaches, we will be able achieve durable responses in a large percentage of patients suffering from a variety of types of cancer,” he said.


Team co-leaders are Drew M. Pardoll, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Cassian Yee, MD, of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Others involved are:

  • David Baltimore, PhD, California Institute of Technology;
  • Glenn Dranoff, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute;
  • Philip D. Greenberg, MD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center;
  • Michel Sadelain, MD, PhD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center;
  • Ton Schumacher, PhD, Netherlands Cancer Institute; and
  • Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. 

Advocates will be represented by:

·   Robert E. Behrens, REB Investments Inc.;

·   Debra Black, Melanoma Research Alliance;

·   Roy Doumani, California NanoSystems Institute and UCLA, a prostate cancer survivor;

·   Valerie Guild, Aim at Melanoma;

·   Jonathan W. Simons, MD, Prostate Cancer Foundation; and

·   Mary Elizabeth Williams,, a melanoma survivor.


As described in the announcement, the Dream Team will focus on overcoming inhibitory receptors that interrupt immune responses by T lymphocytes that attack cancer cells, and will work on developing multiple adoptive cell therapy (ACT) approaches.


By using tumors from patients, the project will evaluate checkpoint expression before and after ACT and/or checkpoint blockade, and test the hypothesis that multiple T lymphocyte targets are generated in  tumors, providing a clinical synergy from the combination of the two immunology-based therapeutic approaches.


The project is scheduled to begin this spring with the aim of starting clinical trials in early 2014.


The Dream Team was selected by a SU2C-CRI Joint Scientific Committee, with Stand Up’s scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research calling for letters of intent in March.


During Stand Up’s September telecastParker praised his late friend, SU2C cofounder Laura Ziskinand said his contribution was in honor of her memory.


According to SU2C cofounder Kathleen Lobb, Senior Vice President of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the nonprofit philanthropic arm of the film and television industry that sponsors SU2C, Parker and Ziskin first met in 2009 at a retreat for philanthropists and activists hosted by Trudie Styler and Sting at their home in Tuscany, and they remained friends until Ziskin’s death in June 2011.


Parker, who was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the film The Social Network and who has been a long-time supporter of SU2C’s efforts to accelerate patient-focused translational cancer research, said his interest in immunology stems from his experience as a child suffering from asthma and allergies.


Ziskin was honored posthumously by CRI in October 2011 with the Oliver R. Grace Award for Distinguished Service in Advancing Cancer Research.  Lobb noted that a few months earlier CRI had contacted SU2C to discuss possible collaborations, and Stand Up President and CEO Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, met with CRI officials to discuss funding an immunology dream team.


“We realized there were so many commonalities between our two organizations and this was an opportunity to join forces, and later on our joint scientific committee saw the possibility of capturing the active and passive immunology components with the right Dream Team.”