publication date: Nov. 16, 2018

In Brief

Cornelis Melief receives 2018 ESMO Immuno-Oncology Award

Cornelius Melief received the European Society for Medical Oncology 2018 ESMO Immuno-Oncology Award in recognition of his life’s work in studying the interactions of the immune system with cancer.

The distinction will be officially presented to him at the opening keynote and award lecture of this year’s ESMO Immuno-Oncology Congress in Geneva in December.

“Professor Melief dedicated his career to understanding how the immune system, specifically cytotoxic lymphocytes, interact with cancer, and used this knowledge for the development of new therapeutic cancer vaccine strategies,” said George Coukos, a scientific co-chair of the upcoming congress

After studying virally induced cancer in mice, he is currently involved in clinical trials with synthetic vaccines for the treatment of head and neck as well as cervical cancer associated with the human papilloma virus.

Melief’s work in developing effective immunotherapy for virus induced tumours recently led to the implementation of clinical trials to bring so-called synthetic long peptide vaccines to cancer patients worldwide.

Melief and his team were able to show the clinical effectiveness of these vaccines in treating patients with pre-malignant lesions caused by HPV type 16. They also demonstrated that in patients with cancer, in whom vaccination could not be used effectively on its own and instead should be employed in combination with other therapies.

Among the most promising results obtained to date, Melief and his team found that a combination of SLP vaccination and standard chemotherapy strengthened cervical cancer patients’ immune response and prolonged their survival.

They further discovered that a similar effect could be achieved among patients with HPV-related head and neck cancer by administering the vaccines in conjunction with immunotherapy in the form of immune system boosting monoclonal antibodies.

Melief will be the second recipient of the ESMO Immuno-Oncology Award, which was created in 2017 in commemoration of European cancer research and treatment pioneer Prof. Georges Mathé, a founding member of ESMO.

Melief is professor emeritus in tumor immunology at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, as well as the co-founder and chief scientific officer of ISA Pharmaceuticals.


Roswell Park partners with Jagiellonian University in Kraków

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has formed an academic cooperation with the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

The collaboration will see the two centers exchanging staff, students and scientific resources to undertake basic, translational and clinical research in order to advance the development of cancer therapies.

The agreement grew out of a July 2018 visit by Polish Secretary of State Anna Maria Anders to Roswell Park. Four Roswell Park faculty leaders, joined by Anders, recently traveled to Kraków to initiate the collaboration: Kunle Odunsi, deputy director, chair of gynecologic oncology and executive director of the Center for Immunotherapy; Pawel Kalinski, vice chair for translational research and Rustum Family Professor for Molecular Therapeutics and Translational Research; Agnieszka Witkiewicz, director of the Center for Personalized Medicine and chief for research in the Department of Pathology; and Danuta Kozbor, associate professor of immunology and microbiology.

The agreement is effective immediately, and could see exchange of students and faculty between the two centers as early as spring 2019.


NCCS presents third annual Ellen Stovall Award to Gay Crawford and Norman Coleman

The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship presented the third annual Ellen L. Stovall Award for Innovation in Patient-Centered Cancer Care to Gay Crawford, founding director of Cancer CAREpoint, and Norman Coleman, senior investigator at NCI.

Since her diagnosis of breast cancer at age 30, Crawford spent the last 44 years playing a leadership role in bringing patient-focused cancer care to the Silicon Valley area. She helped found and lead numerous organizations, including the non-profit organization Cancer CAREPoint, which provides a wide-range of cancer support services in Silicon Valley free of charge.

Coleman is the director of the Radiation Oncology Sciences Program. Coleman leads a laboratory at NCI focusing on radiation-induced molecular and immunotherapy targets.

Named for former NCCS CEO, Ellen Stovall, who died in 2016 due to complications from three cancer treatments, the award seeks to highlight those who continue Ellen’s work of transforming cancer care to further incorporate patients’ goals, needs, and values.

More information about Crawford, Coleman, and the Ellen Stovall Award can be found here.


IU researchers awarded $2.3 million to continue studies on CIPN

Indiana University School of Medicine cancer researchers who have been working to lessen the side effects caused by chemotherapy have been awarded $2.3 million to continue their studies.

Jill Fehrenbacher and Mark Kelley are recipients of the five-year grant (1R01CA231267) from NCI, which will enable them to continue their studies on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

The researchers will test the effectiveness of a small, targeted molecule called APX3330 to prevent or reverse CIPN caused by cancer drugs in tumor-bearing mice.

“For patients with CIPN, this might be an option for pain relief or neuropathic symptom relief in the future,” said Fehrenbacher, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Cancer Center. “Alternatively, for patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments, it might be something we can administer alongside the chemotherapy drugs so they never develop CIPN.”

Currently, there are no effective treatments or preventive treatments against neuropathy because researchers don’t yet understand all of the mechanisms that lead to it. It is believed that neuropathy develops over time as a cumulative effect of chemotherapy that alters the function of sensory neurons, which are responsible for detecting pain and touch.

In 2017, Kelley, associate director of basic science research at the IU Simon Cancer Center, was first awarded a $2.9 million grant (1R01CA205166) from NCI to study CIPN. Fehrenbacher is also a co-principal investigator of that initial grant. That grant was awarded because Kelley, Fehrenbacher, and colleagues had previously demonstrated in the lab that increasing the repair activity of a protein called APE1/Ref-1 decreased neurotoxicity.

The aims of the 2017 grant are to study, in detail, the mechanisms by which APE1 alters the function of the sensory neurons. Interestingly, they also found that APX3330 was effective in reducing APE1’s ability to facilitate the growth and spread of tumors in mice models, therefore this new drug has the potential to block the advancement of cancer and CIPN.

APX3330 is currently in phase I trials, supported by Apexian Pharmaceuticals, to test its safety for people. Kelley is a co-founder and chief scientific officer at Apexian, which plans to advance APX3330 for phase II trials for anti-tumor and anti-CIPN studies.

APX3330 was developed based on Kelley’s nearly three decades of cancer research.

 NCI awarded both grants as part of its Provocative Questions initiative, a program aimed at promoting cancer-related research on important yet understudied areas or research questions that have proven difficult to address.


UVA researchers awarded $1.8 million to test breast cancer approach

A husband-and-wife team at the University of Virginia Cancer Center have been awarded more than $1.8 million from NCI (R01 CA214594-01A1) for their effort to improve radiation therapy and breast surgery for patient with early-stage breast cancer.

Radiation oncologist Timothy Showalter and breast cancer surgeon Shayna Showalter are leading an interdisciplinary effort to evaluate a technique they have developed at UVA called Precision Breast Intraoperative radiation therapy. Precision Breast IORT seeks to improve on conventional breast IORT by making it more targeted, more powerful, more personalized and potentially more effective.

“The Precision Breast IORT program leverages UVA’s unique CT-on-rails brachytherapy suite to address the technical limitations of other IORT techniques,” said Tim Showalter, co-principal investigator. “This work represents a unique collaboration between surgery and radiation oncology, with important support from the Health System.”

Precision breast IORT adds high-powered imaging to radiation therapy to better direct the radiation, and it effectively doubles the dose patients can receive to the tumor bed when compared with conventional IORT. IORT reduces weeks of radiation treatments into a single dose given at the time of breast-preserving surgery.

The UVA doctors and their colleagues wanted to find ways to better tailor the cancer treatment to each patient, so Precision Breast IORT incorporates advanced CT image guidance to allow doctors to avoid radiation to healthy tissue and to spare the heart, lungs and other organs. The researchers hope the approach will produce improved outcomes in terms of quality of life, the effect on the immune system and the cosmetic appearance of the breast.

The researchers established the safety and feasibility of Precision Breast IORT in a phase I clinical trial. They are now conducting a phase II trial at UVA and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia to evaluate the overall effectiveness of Precision Breast IORT as well as the effects on the immune system for both IORT and traditional whole-breast irradiation.

With their new, five-year grant, the Showalters plan to evaluate Precision Breast IORT in terms of:

  • Five-year breast cancer recurrence rates. They hypothesize that those rates may be lower than with conventional IORT.

  • The effect on the immune system. They want to see if Precision Breast IORT can avoid the immune-dampening effects of radiating the entire breast.

  • How it compares to other treatment options. They plan to evaluate its effect on the risk of cancer recurrence, its cost effectiveness and other factors, and how those outcomes compare with existing options.

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.