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Rye Brook, NY (November 1, 2023) – The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), the largest private funder of blood cancer research, today announced $65 million in new grants to 78 research teams across seven countries. This expands LLS’s academic research portfolio to more than $240 million across multi-year grants. These grants support nearly 300 top scientific investigators at prestigious cancer institutions including Dana-Farber Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and others.
In addition to these grants, LLS's Therapy Acceleration Program (LLS TAP) currently has $40 million invested in over 20 active partnerships with biotech companies, including several in Europe, to support development of novel treatment platform technologies and first-in-class drugs for unmet medical needs, including for rare blood cancers.
“LLS has invested more than $1.7 billion in scientific research over almost 75 years, which has led to the development of nearly every major blood cancer research breakthrough. This sustained scientific investment has led to cures and to patients living longer, healthier lives,” says E. Anders (Andy) Kolb, M.D., president and CEO of LLS. “Thanks to the ongoing support of our generous philanthropists, and the work of the brilliant investigators we fund, our research dollars will accelerate the next big breakthroughs in blood cancer treatment.”
With multiple funding programs designed to support all stages of drug development, LLS can make investments over the long term to shepherd an early idea all the way to approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the past six years alone, LLS has helped advance three out of every four blood cancer treatments approved by the FDA.
“Our investment in a diverse array of research empowers the scientists we support to take risks, think big and test bold ideas,” says LLS Chief Scientific Officer Lee Greenberger, Ph.D. “A good example of this is when LLS recognized the promise of CAR T-immunotherapy in the 1990s, and through long-term and multi-faceted investments, supported the work leading all the way to the first approval of this revolutionary therapy that is saving lives today, and has the potential to save even more in the future.”
LLS funds the best and brightest scientists across the entire spectrum of blood cancer research – from basic science to clinical trials, including in the following major focus areas:
BRINGING THE PROMISE OF IMMUNOTHERAPY TO MORE PATIENTS
LLS invests significantly in immunotherapy, funding over $28 million this year and more than $80 million overall in next generation treatments that harness the immune system to fight cancer, including CAR-T, bispecific antibodies and immune checkpoint inhibitors.
Studies focus on how to make immunotherapies safer, more effective, longer lasting and available to more patients. LLS-funded research also aims to lower costs and speed up the treatment process — both of which are barriers to treatment today. This year's grant recipients include:
- Todd Fehniger, M.D., Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis, and a prestigious team are exploring multiple promising approaches for immunotherapy to treat patients with hard-to-treat lymphomas. He received one of LLS’s most distinguished and generous grants — a Specialized Center of Research Program (SCOR) — for this research.
- Mark Dawson, M.D., Ph.D., Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre & University of Melbourne in Australia, is working to improve on the promise of immunotherapy by uncovering the reasons why, while up to 80% of patients with B-cell blood cancers respond to CAR T-treatment, less than half have a long-lasting response.
- Robert Orlowski, Ph.D., M.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center, is testing antibodies that target a protein called HSP70. Reducing levels of HSP70 could improve how the immune system responds to a range of cancers including myeloma and lymphoma.
ADVANCING PRECISION MEDICINE FOR ACUTE MYELOID LEUKEMIA
More than one-quarter of LLS’s research funding — including 22 new grants this year and five of the last seven TAP investments — are dedicated to acute myeloid leukemia, a hard-to-treat and aggressive blood cancer. LLS’s strategic approach to allocating its AML research dollars is helping researchers uncover new precision treatments that can be matched to different types of AML, and to uncover the root causes of these types of cancer. This year’s grant recipients include:
- Britta Will, Ph.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, is researching the foundation of how myeloid cancers start, which is essential for developing curative treatments or prevention strategies.
- Venkata Lokesh Battula, Ph.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center, is developing a novel immunotherapy approach treating AML by taking off the brakes on the B7-H3 immune checkpoint that cancer cells turn on, allowing them to grow unchecked.
TRANSFORMING TREATMENT FOR CHILDREN WITH BLOOD CANCER
“When it comes to pediatric cancer treatment, children are not little adults,” says LLS Chief Medical Officer Gwen Nichols, M.D. “Their cancer’s biology can be significantly different than in adults and they need approaches that target that biology. Their growing bodies need less toxic treatment approaches.”
Through the Dare to Dream project, LLS is powering innovative research, new safer treatments, support services and advocacy for children to improve access to care and outcomes. LLS funded research aims to uncover targeted, less toxic therapies for all forms of pediatric blood cancer, which will improve survival rates and minimize the long-term effects of treatment. LLS funded investigators include:
- Stephen Gottschalk, M.D., St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has identified a protein that appears to be present on AML cells in children. His team is testing a CAR T-immunotherapy trained to target this protein (CD70) and kill the cancer cells it’s attached to while leaving healthy cells alone.
- Justine Kahn, M.D., M.S., Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, is studying how social determinants of health, including race, poverty, insurance status, and language impact care outcomes of children, adolescents and young adults with blood cancers.
- Shannon Maude, M.D., Ph.D., The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, seeks to understand and overcome the factors that cause some children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia to become resistant to CAR T-immunotherapy.
TAKING DOWN CHRONIC MYELOMONOCYTIC LEUKEMIA
A recent gift of $17 million to LLS from the Mike and Sofia Segal Family Foundation will accelerate research into new treatments for chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML), a rare and incurable blood cancer. Seven inaugural grants fund researchers working on a range of treatment options for CMML. Grantees include:
- Huda Salman, M.D., Ph.D., Indiana University, is evaluating the safety and effectiveness of a new CAR T-immunotherapy targeting a protein called CD4 on CMML cells.
- Stephen Oh, Ph.D., M.D., Washington University in St. Louis, is working on blocking an enzyme called RSK1 that plays a role in crippling inflammation that often precedes and is thought to contribute to CMML disease development.
A COMMITMENT TO ADVANCING HEALTH EQUITY
LLS is committed to making sure all blood cancer patients have access to and receive the treatment they need, regardless of location, race, language or income. We do this through support and education for patients, advocacy efforts and through research. In July, LLS awarded approximately $4 million through its Equity in Access Research Program to researchers across the U.S. to break down barriers to care for all blood cancer patients and survivors. This month, LLS announces new funding awarded to research projects and researchers to ensure everyone can benefit equally from blood cancer treatment advances. LLS funded investigators include:
- LLS launched the IMPACT grants in 2021 to bring more clinical trials into underrepresented communities. This year’s recipient, Jonathon Cohen, M.D., Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, will facilitate the university bringing trials into rural Georgia counties where higher poverty rates and long travel distances to Atlanta make clinical trial participation very difficult.
- This year, LLS announced a new Underrepresented Minority Medical Student Research Program to diversify the scientific workforce. Through the program, Jennifer Lewis, a talented Puerto Rican medical student at the California University of Science and Medicine, is performing research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
THE NEXT FRONTIER: EARLIER DETECTION OF THOSE AT RISK OF BLOOD CANCER
LLS is funding researchers who are working to understand the underlying mechanisms leading to blood cancer. The purpose of this work is to identify individuals who are at higher risk of developing blood cancer, and treating them as early as possible to achieve better outcomes. LLS funded investigators include:
- Madhav Dhodapkar, MBBS, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, is working to eradicate specific gut bacteria in patients with a precursor condition called MGUS to keep them from progressing to full-blown myeloma.
- Caitlin Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University, is investigating what happens in the sometimes decades-long lead up to an AML diagnosis. During this “preleukemic” stage, cells that should develop into a range of normal blood cells instead gain mutations that can lead to blood cancer.
ACCELERATING CLINICAL TRIALS FOR ALL TYPES OF BLOOD CANCER
LLS TAP investments primarily focus on supporting clinical trial programs that are advancing innovative treatments that can change the standard of care for blood cancers. TAP invests worldwide, including recent investments in European biotech companies, which have helped bring promising blood cancer trials into the U.S. Among current TAP investments are several supporting therapies for rare blood cancers, such as CMML and large granular lymphocytic leukemia (LGLL). Partners include:
- Immune-Onc is testing a first-in-class antibody that targets a gene called LILRB4 in combination with chemotherapy in a dose expansion clinical trial for the treatment of CMML and AML.
- Dren Bio has entered a phase 1 clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of its novel antibody in treating patients whose LGLL has returned or progressed despite earlier treatment.
- Enterome is testing a unique vaccine in a phase 2 clinical trial to activate the immune system to treat indolent forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, including follicular lymphoma and marginal zone lymphoma.
Learn more about LLS’s research grant programs and Therapy Acceleration Program at www.lls.org/research.
ABOUT THE LEUKEMIA & LYMPHOMA SOCIETY
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® (LLS) is the global leader in the fight against blood cancer. The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and 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 regions throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit www.LLS.org. Patients should contact the Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.
LLS is the only organization featured in the nonprofit category on both Fast Company’s 2022 Brands That Matter list and the 2023 Best Workplaces for Innovators list. LLS stands out among brands around the world for its relevancy, cultural impact, ingenuity, and mission impact.
Senior Manager, Medical & Science Communications