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Collaboration Driving Progress: LLS Forms Alliances with Leading Cancer Institutions and Foundations to Co-Fund nearly $17 million in New Research Grants

Headwinds from the coronavirus pandemic spur need for innovative models to fund research

Rye Brook, NY (December 14, 2020) – As the world confronts a viral pandemic not seen in the past 100 years, the reverberations are being felt across every sector, from healthcare to the economy, education, business and science, including the blood cancer community. Blood cancers don’t stop for the Covid-19 virus and the urgent need for collaboration to address these challenges has never been starker.

In response, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) today announced it has forged significant alliances with premier foundations, cancer institutions and philanthropic individuals, bringing their collective resources to bear to co-fund approximately $9 million in new research grants, with up to $8 million more funding anticipated over the next year. This cooperation will allow LLS to continue driving forward impactful research to find better treatments and cures for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other blood cancers.

“Since our founding in 1949, LLS has invested nearly $1.3 billion to fuel groundbreaking research that has touched nearly every therapy used to treat patients with blood cancers,” said Lee Greenberger, PhD, LLS chief scientific officer. “But we can’t do it alone. Particularly in light of the fiscal challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, LLS is grateful to have the partnership of these renowned foundations, centers and individuals to help us continue to deliver on our mission to find cures. This is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator when so much potential progress can be realized right now. ”

The global pandemic has upended every aspect of cancer care for patients and their families and has also halted critical research around the world. In addition to lab closures, many institutions and organizations have been forced to scale back their investments in research, creating unexpected funding shortages. The new research grants will help fill that gap; they span the continuum of research from basic science to clinical work addressing unmet need in areas such as pediatric blood cancer and high-risk diseases such as T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and will further advancements in precision medicine and immunotherapy.

These newly awarded grants are being funded in collaboration with The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, Snowdome Foundation and Leukaemia Foundation, and institutions including MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, The Jackson Laboratory in Maine, and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

These research efforts build on LLS’s prior collaborations with multiple large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, many cancer institutions across the U.S. and around the globe, and foundations such as the Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust, the Sarah Cannon Foundation, the Hairy Cell Leukemia Foundation, The Rising Tide Foundation for Clinical Cancer Research, Runx1 Research Program and The Harry T. Mangurian, Jr. Foundation, and generous individual donors, which collectively exceed $70 million over the past seven years.

The collaboratively-funded grants, some of which were activated on October 1, 2020, and others which will activate January 1, 2021, are as follows:

Grants Supported in Collaboration with Research Institutions

Michael R. Green, PhD, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Dr. Green was awarded a Career Development Program (CDP) Scholar grant, effective October 1, supported in collaboration with MD Anderson and an individual donor. Dr. Green’s project is focused on targeting a mutation in a gene called CREBBP to trigger an immune response in patients with follicular and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Jennifer Trowbridge, PhD, The Jackson Laboratory

Dr. Trowbridge will be awarded a CDP Scholar award, effective January 1, supported in collaboration with The Jackson Laboratory in Maine, to fund her project focused on changes that occur in bone marrow as a result of aging and how these alterations may lead to development of leukemia later in life.

Frederick Locke, MD, Moffitt Cancer Center

Dr. Locke’s project uses the power of novel immunotherapies, including vaccines and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, to further improve outcomes for patients with lymphoma. He will explore the use of radiation combined with CAR-T in a clinical trial. The new award will start January 1.

Grants Supported in Collaboration with other Foundations

In July,  LLS,  The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research and the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, launched the new Blood Cancer Discoveries Grant Program, providing funding for nine new basic science research grants devoted to understanding and targeting the mechanisms of blood cancer.

Today, LLS and The Mark Foundation announced three new projects (which are not part of the Discoveries Program) fully funded by The Mark Foundation, effective January 1:

Therese Vu, PhD, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Dr. Vu has been awarded a CDP Fellow grant supporting her work to develop combination therapies to treat patients with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), a disease with a very poor prognosis. She is testing inhibitors targeting both the so-called mixed lineage leukemia 1 (MLL1) protein and the NOTCH1 protein, to weaken T-ALL cells and make them more susceptible to treatment.

Johanna Melo-Cardenas, PhD, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Dr. Melo-Cardenas has been awarded a CDP Fellow grant focused on studying alterations in large cells in the bone marrow called megakaryocytes, and exploring how changes in the bone marrow microenvironment contribute to disease progression in primary myelofibrosis, a blood cancer characterized by a buildup of fibrous tissue that impairs the bone marrow’s ability to produce normal blood cells. 

Sylvain Simon, PhD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Dr. Simon has been awarded a CDP Special Fellow grant focused on understanding the underlying biological mechanisms that cause many patients treated with CAR T-cell therapy to experience the dangerous, toxic immune response called cytokine release syndrome (CRS). The researchers will test pharmaceutical agents for CRS prevention and treatment.

LLS joined forces with Australia’s Snowdome Foundation and Leukaemia Foundation in 2019 to fund four projects. Today the three organizations announced two new co-funded grants:

Ravindra Majeti, MD, PhD, Stanford University and Daniel Thomas, MD, PhD, South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute (Adelaide, Australia)

Drs. Majeti and Thomas’s Translational Research Program (TRP) grant, active as of October 1, is focused on the link between the metabolism of leukemia cells and the common mutations that cause the disease. His work has opened up a major new branch of research and is poised to deliver a new mutation-targeted, personalized medicine approach for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).  

John Pimanda, MD, PhD, University of New South Wales

Dr. Pimanda’s TRP project, effective January 1, is focused on stratifying patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) to identify those most likely to respond and those who are unlikely to respond to azacitidine, the drug most commonly used to treat MDS patients, and to implement evidence-based alternatives for the latter group of patients.

Partnering to Support Pediatric Research

Last year, LLS launched its LLS Children’s Initiative, a comprehensive effort to take on pediatric blood cancers from every direction, including an increase in support for pediatric research.

Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Dr. Stegmaier was awarded a PedAL Special Grant, effective October 1, in collaboration with the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, to support her pre-clinical research to identify the biological mutations driving pediatric acute leukemia. Her discoveries will help inform which potential new targeted therapies to test in clinical trials, including LLS’s PedAL (pediatric acute leukemia) clinical trial planned for next year. Dr. Stegmaier is among a group of pediatric hematologists to receive grants from LLS over the past year as LLS ramps up its efforts to improve treatments for children with blood cancers.

Building Further Collaborations

LLS continues to work with other organizations toward the goal of awarding future grants.  To this end, LLS recently announced it is teaming up with the Hairy Cell Leukemia Foundation to fund up to $10 million in new research in hairy cell leukemia. The organizations are currently seeking proposals from researchers and the grants will activate in fall 2021.  

LLS is working with several major cancer centers to increase access to clinical trials for underserved patients, including minorities, rural residents and economically disadvantaged communities.  The IMPACT program will award funding to several major cancer research and treatment centers to establish a “hub and spoke” model. The academic cancer center will serve as the hub for the trial, with trial sites hosted at a network of smaller community clinics and hospitals. LLS anticipates launching this $3.75 million program in the spring of 2021.

Public/Private Collaboration

In July, LLS worked with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to open emergency funding for NCI-funded principal investigators whose postdoctoral research fellows lost support from a nonprofit temporarily due to the pandemic. The emergency funding covers the fellow’s salary for up to six months and preserves continuity in training, which is essential for helping early-career researchers thrive in the field. Approximately 20 LLS-funded researchers benefitted from this program, which provided approximately $475,000 in funding.  LLS sparked these conversations with the NIH, highlighting our shared commitment to retaining promising talent in cancer research.

About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® (LLS) is a global leader in the fight against cancer. The LLS mission: cure leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world, provides free information and support services, and is the voice for all blood cancer patients seeking access to quality, affordable, coordinated care.

Founded in 1949 and headquartered in Rye Brook, NY, LLS has regional offices throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit www.LLS.org. Patients should contact the LLS Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., ET.

Contact: mediarelations@lls.org