White Plains, NY (October 15, 2013) - The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) today announced it has awarded four new grants through its prestigious Marshall A. Lichtman Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) research initiative, bringing the program's total funding to $285 million since its inception in 2000.
The innovative SCOR program funds teams of researchers representing different disciplines and engaged in collaborative efforts to discover new approaches to treat patients with blood cancers. Each team will each receive $1.25 million a year for five years, for a total of $6.25 million. All principal investigators have a long history of working with LLS. They are William L. Carroll, MD, New York University School of Medicine; Irene Ghobrial, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Helen E. Heslop, MD, Baylor College of Medicine; and Thomas Kipps, MD, PhD, The Regents of the University of California, San Diego.
"This year's SCOR teams bring together distinguished investigators with a deep understanding of the complexity of blood cancers and their treatments," said Lee Greenberger, PhD, LLS chief scientific officer. "The teams are uniquely positioned to undertake groundbreaking research. The work will define the genetic abnormalities that cause the most difficult-to-treat blood cancers and further develop promising immunotherapies that mobilize the immune system to control such cancers. LLS is pleased to be able to help advance their work, which is expected to bring novel, superior therapies to patients in the near future."
Carroll, the Julie and Edward J. Minskoff Professor of Pediatrics and professor of pathology at New York University School of Medicine, and Director, NYU Cancer Institute, along with a distinguished group of co-investigators at University of Colorado, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, University of New Mexico and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, will attempt to identify the causes of high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and to characterize the role of mutations in relapsed childhood ALL. Despite the success over the last few decades in treating childhood ALL, high risk and relapsed cases pose a particular challenge. In addition, the intensive chemotherapy in the childhood cancer patients often leads to late effects reducing the quality of life. Enhanced understanding of relapsed childhood ALL may lead to better treatment decisions for those less likely to benefit from current chemotherapy.
Ghobrial, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director, Michele & Stephen Kirsch Laboratory at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, is collaborating with an esteemed group of co-investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hopsital in Boston, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Massachusetts General Hospital to understand the molecular basis of the progression from less to more severe blood cancers. In particular, they will seek the genetic drivers that cause the progression of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). In addition, the team will study the genetic drivers that cause the disease monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) to develop into multiple myeloma (MM). Finally, they will attempt to determine whether there are other such disease states that can be identified genetically. By understanding the progression of these diseases, it may be possible to identify therapies targeted to the pre-AML and pre-MM states.
Heslop and her team of 11 colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, will expand upon previous success in mobilizing the immune system to control blood cancers by attempting to define safer, simpler, and more effective immunotherapies for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and multiple myeloma (MM). They will investigate if naturally occurring "off the shelf" cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs), also known as killer T cells, can be as effective under some circumstances as engineered T cells against lymphoma. In addition, they will devise ways to augment the effectiveness of CTLs in MM and optimize strategies to isolate and expand CTLs against ALL. This research is significant because immunotherapies may produce better responses in patients compared with existing therapies. Beyond that, there is a need to reduce the complexity and cost in order to make such therapy accessible to more patients.
Kipps, professor of medicine at The Regents of the University of California, San Diego, and Deputy Director of Research, UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, together with his distinguished collaborators at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will evaluate the efficacy of both monoclonal antibodies and T cells genetically engineered to kill chronic lympocytic leukemia (CLL) cells, alone and in combination with other therapies. They will also evaluate therapies targeting specific cancer-causing pathways in CLL. While strong clinical data with the most advanced novel therapies currently in clinical trials for CLL have led to great excitement, it is likely that some patients will not respond or will develop drug resistance to these new agents. In addition, the long-term survival of patients undergoing these experimental treatments is still being defined. Therefore, these newly emerging therapies, along with the research of Kipps' team, are likely to be important steps that could lead to long-term control or cures for CLL.
About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® (LLS) is the world's largest voluntary health agency dedicated to 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 exists to find cures and ensure access to treatments for blood cancer patients. Founded in 1949 and headquartered in White Plains, NY, LLS has chapters throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit www.LLS.org or contact the Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.