The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has committed an additional $46 million toward 87 new blood cancer research projects at institutions worldwide.
The new funding will increase to 254 the number of grants in LLS's total active research portfolio—which according to the society represents more investment in blood cancer research than any non-profit agency or government agency outside of the NIH.
“There is never a good time to get cancer, but it's a phenomenal time to be fighting it. LLS is doing more than any cancer non-profit to advance the next generation of blood cancer treatments and cures, and, in doing so, we are helping patients with other cancers and chronic diseases,” Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D., LLS's president and CEO, said in a statement.
The funding includes 23 new grants toward precision medicine research, 17 toward new immunotherapy projects, and 36 new grants toward its career development program designed to nurture the careers of young researchers, LLS said.
One key area of funding is LLS’ Specialized Center of Research (SCOR), for which the Society has awarded three five-year multidisciplinary, collaborative SCOR grants designed to bring together teams of researchers to solve difficult challenges in blood cancer. SCOR grants have been awarded to:
- Stephen Nimer, M.D., of University of Miami, toward research in how to target epigenetic abnormalities in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).
- Robert Orlowski, M.D., Ph.D., of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, toward immunotherapeutic approaches designed to prevent precursor diseases from progressing to full-blown myeloma, as well as targeted approaches to treat patients with high-risk subtypes of myeloma.
- Andreas Strasser, Ph.D., of Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia, toward therapeutics that harness the body's own apoptosis machinery. Dr. Strasser’s team played a key role in the discovery of the first approved apoptosis-targeted agent, Venclexta™ (venetoclax) co-marketed by AbbVie and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The team is now testing multiple new approaches to boost apoptosis in other leukemias, as well as lymphoma and myeloma, LLS said.
LLS said its immunotherapy grants included awards to two researchers who won the Society’s Special Fellow Award for early-career scientists: Eric Smith, M.D., Ph.D., of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), toward research to optimize CAR T-cell therapy for patients with multiple myeloma; and Shannon Oda, Ph.D., of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, toward research to enhance T-cell immunotherapy for AML by studying ways to overcome the obstacles that make some patients resistant to the treatment.
Barbara Savoldo, M.D., Ph.D, of University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, won a Translational Research Program grant to support her team's efforts to reduce potentially lethal side effects associated with immunotherapy, including cytokine release syndrome. The team is developing a “safety switch” designed to halt the expansion of the T cells once infused into the patients in cases of severe toxicities.
In myeloma, LLS highlighted a pair of grant recipients: Fenghuang Zhan, M.D., Ph.D. of the University of Iowa, and his team, are studying the role of the CD24 gene to find treatment approaches which may prevent relapse; while Fotis Asimakopoulos, MB BChir, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin System, received a Translational Research Program grant, toward understanding the defenses cancer cells employ to resist treatment, with the long-term goal of enhancing the ability of immunotherapy-mobilized killer cells.
LLS said it also awarded funding to researchers focused on AML, including Timothy Ley, M.D., of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Jacqueline Garcia, M.D., of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Ley is investigating the use of genomic technology to identify genetic markers that reveal which AML patients are more likely to relapse and whether performing a stem cell transplant on some patients would improve their outcomes over high-dose chemotherapy. Dr. Garcia is conducting an LLS-supported clinical trial intended to test an epigenetic targeting agent that may enhance the activity of a checkpoint inhibitor.
The society also disclosed additional grants toward research targeting the BRAF gene in blood cancers. Funding has been awarded to Enrico Tiacci, M.D., University of Perugia in Italy, and Jae Park, M.D., of MSK, both of whom are testing a BRAF-targeting therapy in combination with other drugs in hairy cell leukemia; as well as to Carl Allen, M.D., Ph.D, of Baylor College of Medicine, who will examine inhibition of the BRAF pathway in children with Langerhans cell histiocytosis.
LLS has raised more than $1 billion toward cancer research over its nearly 70 years of existence.
“We are seeing extraordinary progress in blood cancer research but with one third of blood cancer patients still not surviving five years past their diagnoses we clearly have more work to do,” Dr. DeGennaro added.