publication date: May. 22, 2020

In Brief

UChicago Medicine receives $10M to develop a center for cellular therapy

The University of Chicago Medicine received $10 million to develop personalized therapies for hard-to-treat cancers.

The gift, by the Jonas family, establishes the David and Etta Jonas Center for Cellular Therapy at UChicago Medicine, named for David Jonas and his late wife, Etta.

Researchers at the center will work to improve cellular therapy, CAR T-cell therapy.

Through the David and Etta Jonas Center for Cellular Therapy, researchers at UChicago Medicine will work to improve the therapy’s overall effectiveness and extend its benefits to a roader group of patients, including those with difficult-to-treat cancers.

The Jonas family’s gift will provide infrastructure and funding to advance research initiatives. The Jonas Center will enable:

  • Recruitment of leaders in T cell biology and cell engineering,

  • Expand research and clinical trials infrastructure,

  • Acquisition of specialized technology and equipment necessary to translate discoveries made in the laboratory to the clinic; and

  • An annual lecture that brings together leaders in cellular therapy and fosters dissemination of the latest innovations in the field.

Researchers at the center will advance work by Hans Schreiber, professor of pathology at the University of Chicago, who has developed a new method for personalized T-cell therapy. By characterizing a patient’s T cell receptors, Schreiber can use personalized medicine to accurately target the tumor’s unique antigens.

Schreiber’s approach has the potential to treat other cancer types including hard-to-treat solid tumors. Through a collaboration with Michael Bishop, professor of medicine and director of the Cellular Therapy Program, and Amittha Wickrema, professor of medicine, researchers at the Jonas Center can accelerate Schreiber’s method and develop the therapy in clinical trials for patients with metastatic solid tumors. 

“This gift will allow us to translate these groundbreaking discoveries made in the laboratory into novel cancer therapies, which have the potential to treat not just blood cancers, but also solid tumors,” Kenneth Polonsky, dean and executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago, said in a statement.

In addition, Bishop and his colleagues seek to predict how a patient will respond to the therapy in advance. This way, a patient’s T cells could be sequenced prior to undergoing treatment. In cases where the patient’s T cells are deemed unfit, the researchers aim to develop interventions to improve their fitness.

This gift represents the single largest donation to UChicago Medicine for cellular therapy research.


Peter C. Adamson named global development therapeutic area head of oncology and pediatric innovation at Sanofi

Peter C. Adamson was named global development therapeutic area head of oncology and pediatric innovation at Sanofi. Based in Cambridge, MA, Adamson will lead the global development in cancer, and will work with leaders across therapeutic areas to further pediatric drug development efforts.

Adamson joins Sanofi from the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was professor of pediatrics and pharmacology, and held the Alan R. Cohen Endowed Chair in Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. For almost 10 years prior to joining Sanofi, Adamson chaired the Children’s Oncology Group, an NCI-supported international consortium of more than 220 centers that conduct clinical-translational research, including large-scale clinical trials, in children and adolescents with cancer.

Adamson is board certified in hematology/oncology and clinical pharmacology. He was appointed by President Obama to the National Cancer Advisory Board, where he continues to serve. Adamson also served on the blue-ribbon panel for the Beau Biden National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.


Vassiliki Papadimitrakopoulou named clinical development leader of Pfizer Oncology

Vassiliki Papadimitrakopoulou was named clinical development leader of Pfizer Oncology and will join Pfizer Sept. 23.

Papadimitrakopoulou specializes in personalized genomics-driven cancer therapies, immunotherapies, translational research and cancer chemoprevention. She comes to Pfizer from MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she was professor of medicine in the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology. There, she led clinical and translational research projects focused on the development of biomarker-based targeted therapies to overcome therapeutic resistance in advanced disease.

Papadimitrakopoulou was recently a member of the FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee and has served as co-principal investigator on the Master Lung Protocol (Lung-MAP) study, an umbrella trial simultaneously testing multiple precision medicines in squamous cell lung cancer, supported by NCI and run through patient advocacy organizations, pharmaceutical companies (including Pfizer) and public institutions.


CPRIT awards $56M in grants

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded new grants totaling over $56 million and consisting of 13 academic research recruitment awards and a product development research award.

“Special recognition is given for first-time recruitment awards to the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the new School of Veterinary Medicine at Texas Tech University in Amarillo, and the Jane and Robert Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston,” Wayne Roberts, CPRIT chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Four Academic Research Established Investigator grants were awarded, including one to the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station for a leader in mechanobiology and advanced mathematical image analysis for the study of cancer.

MD Anderson Cancer Center received two awards for an expert in positron emission tomography radiochemistry and an internationally regarded researcher who focuses on the role of oncogene addiction in cancer and its impact from translation to targeted therapy. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center received a grant for a researcher with a highly innovative program that targets cancer vulnerabilities for the development of novel cancer therapies.

MD Anderson and UT Southwestern each received a Rising Star award. First-Time, Tenure Track Faculty awards were made to Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor University, MD Anderson, Texas Tech University, UTHealth Houston, and UT Southwestern.

CPRIT’s recruitment awards are used to establish the finest cluster of cancer researchers in the world. Recruits accepting the awards are given the “CPRIT Scholar” designation.

CPRIT awards three types of recruitment grants: Established Investigators for senior research faculty with distinguished professional careers and established cancer research programs; Rising Stars for early-stage investigators who have demonstrated promising continued and enhanced contributions to the field; and First Time, Tenure Track Faculty for emerging investigators pursuing their first faculty appointment who are expected to make outstanding contributions in cancer research.

Additional information on CPRIT Scholars at Texas institutions is available here.

A Company Relocation Product Development Award was given to Invectys USA Inc., a French biopharmaceutical company developing innovative anti-cancer products in immunotherapy based on leading technology from Institut Pasteur in Paris. Invectys seeks to advance its novel CAR T platform to conduct early stage clinical studies in Texas.

Company Relocation awards seek to support early stage “startup” and established companies in the development of innovative products and services with significant potential impact on cancer patient care. Recipients of the Company Relocation Product Development Award must relocate to Texas within one year upon receipt of the award.

Recipients of academic research grants are:

Recruitment of Established Investigators Awards* – Four grants totaling $22,073,674

  • Dean Felsher, Recruitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center from Stanford University – $6,000,000

  • Tanmay Lele, Recruitment to Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station from the University of Florida – $5,073,674

  • Henry Charles Manning, Recruitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center from Vanderbilt University Medical Center – $6,000,000

  • Wenyi Wei, Recruitment to UT Southwestern Medical Center from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School – $6,000,000

Recruitment of Rising Stars Awards* – Two grants totaling $8,000,000

  • Veronika Fedirko, Recruitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center from Emory University – $4,000,000

  • Ken Wang, Recruitment to UT Southwestern Medical Center from Johns Hopkins University – $4,000,000

Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards* – Seven grants totaling $11,900,000

  • Klementina Fon Tacer, Recruitment to Texas Tech University from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – $1,400,000

  • Robert Hillman, Recruitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center from MD Anderson Cancer Center – $2,000,000

  • Jason Lee, Recruitment to Baylor College of Medicine from the University of Colorado, Boulder – $2,000,000

  • Matthew Parker, Recruitment to UT Southwestern Medical Center from the University of California, Berkeley – $2,000,000

  • Liela Romero, Recruitment to Baylor University from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – $2,000,000

  • Eric Von Nostrand, Recruitment to Baylor College of Medicine from the University of California, San Diego – $2,000,000

  • Megan Whisenant, Recruitment to UT Health Science Center at Houston from MD Anderson Cancer Center – $500,000

* Recruitment grants awarded indicate only approval to negotiate offers; at the time of release candidates have not accepted offers.

Awarded product development research grants:

Company Relocation Product Development Research Awards – One grant totaling $14,196,990

  • Invectys USA, Inc.

  • CARGo: a CAR T cell program targeting HLA-G – a novel immune checkpoint and tumor specific antigen for advanced clear cell renal and ovarian carcinomas – $14,196,990


NCCN Foundation awards leading young investigators advancing cancer research

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the NCCN Foundation announced five new recipients for the 10th annual NCCN Foundation Young Investigator Awards Program.

The honorees will receive up to $150,000 in funding to study ways to improve care and help find cures for people with breast, colorectal, pancreatic, and small cell lung cancer, as well as pediatric acute myeloid leukemia. The NCCN Oncology Research Program managed the selection process and will oversee the projects, which will each extend for the next two years.

The 2020 NCCN Foundation YIA recipients are:

  • Agnieszka Czechowicz, assistant professor of pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine: “Development of anti-hKIT Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cells as a Dual Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Conditioning and Immunotherapeutic Agent for Cure of Pediatric Acute Myeloid Leukemia.”

  • Wade T. Iams, assistant professor of medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center: “Quantifying Minimal Residual Disease in Patients with Small Cell Lung Cancer.”

  • Shivan Mehta, assistant professor of medicine, University of Pennsylvania: “Choice Architecture and Mailed Colorectal Cancer Screening Outreach in a Community Health Setting.”

  • Mustafa Raoof, assistant clinical professor, City of Hope Beckman Research Institute: “Targeting Transcription-Replication Conflicts in KRAS-driven Pancreatic Cancer.”

  • Jennifer Y. Sheng, assistant professor in oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: “An Adaptive Nutrition and Exercise Weight loss (A-NEW) Study for Breast Cancer Survivors.”


G. David Roodman receives $1.6M from NCI for multiple myeloma bone disease therapies

G. David Roodman, an Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher, received a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study ways to build bone and decrease tumor growth in multiple myeloma bone disease.

G. David Roodman, distinguished professor at IU School of Medicine, is leading the research to investigate a molecule developed with collaborators at the University of Pittsburgh that could repair bone, decrease tumors and improve outcomes for multiple myeloma patients on specific targeted therapies.

Previously, Roodman and colleagues had shown the importance of the marrow microenvironment on the growth of the tumor cells in the bone destructive process. They, with collaborators at the University of Pittsburgh, developed a small molecule called XRK3F2 to target that bone disease. Animal models and preclinical tissue models have shown that the molecule could have an important role also in stopping drug resistance in myeloma cells.

“This grant allows us to look at using a small molecule to show how we can overcome resistance to some of the most potent drugs that are in use for myeloma,” Roodman said in a statement. “Many patients develop drug resistance over time, and it becomes very difficult to treat them.”

Among newer treatments developed for multiple myeloma are proteasome inhibitors, including the drugs Bortezomib and Carfilzomib. In models developed by Roodman’s research team, the XRK3F2 molecule enhanced the effects of these drugs in preclinical models of multiple myeloma.

The molecule also caused new bone formation in animal models, which could lead to treatments for healing bone lesions. There are no safe therapies to build bone mass that are approved for multiple myeloma bone disease.

Roodman and his team will further explore the XRK3F2 molecule to understand the mechanism responsible for its effects on multiple myeloma cells and its potential for new therapies for the disease.


MD Anderson and Innovent Biologics to develop anti-PD-1 therapy in rare cancers

MD Anderson Cancer Center and Innovent Biologics Inc. signed an agreement to co-develop TYVYT (sintilimab injection), Innovent’s anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody, in rare cancers in the U.S.

The joint development will focus on advancing sintilimab as an effective immune checkpoint inhibitor for patients with rare cancer types. This research will be enabled by MD Anderson’s experience conducting clinical trials of rare cancers.

Under the agreement, Innovent and MD Anderson will co-fund the development activities for sintilimab, which may include multiple clinical research studies to be conducted by MD Anderson. MD Anderson plans to develop an approach, upon commercialization in rare diseases, to allow royalty payments it receives on sales of the product in the U.S. to be used to fund care for uninsured patients.

Innovent seeks to pursue approval of sintilimab by FDA for multiple rare cancer indications in addition to larger cancer indications for sintilimab.

TYVYT (sintilimab injection) was approved in 2018 by the National Medical Products Association in China for the treatment of relapsed or refractory classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma after second-line or later systemic chemotherapy, where it is being evaluated in additional clinical trials for solid tumors.

“We are conducting more than 20 related clinical trials including over 10 registration clinical trials,” Michael Yu, founder, chairman and CEO of Innovent, said in a statement.

Copyright (c) 2020 The Cancer Letter Inc.