SU2C and its collaborators announce four teams to intercept cancer at earliest stages

SU2C, the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, LUNGevity, and American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE Commit $16.6 Million to New Approach

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), joined by the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, LUNGevity, and the American Lung Association, announced today four teams of top researchers who will carry out an attack on cancers of the lung and pancreas using a radical new approach of “interception” of cancers at very early stages, when they can be more successfully treated.

“The SU2C Cancer Interception initiative is focused on developing both the technologies needed to find cancer or pre-cancerous activity at its earlier possible juncture, and the treatments to stop its progression,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, institute professor at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Nobel laureate, and chairman of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee. “This could save many lives and avoid untold human suffering.”

The announcement was made here at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the National Cancer Institute, and the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer.  AACR is the Scientific Partner of SU2C.

“The development of cancers, like heart disease, can be intercepted with risk-reducing agents in the same way that cancers can be treated with drugs or that cardiovascular disease can be intercepted with antihypertensive agents, statins, and other risk-reducing drugs,” said Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and author of a seminal 2011 article on cancer interception published in Cancer Prevention Research, an AACR journal. “This new commitment by SU2C and its collaborators is an important step in the development of cancer interception.”

SU2C was joined by the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, LUNGevity, and the American Lung Association and its LUNG FORCE initiative in funding four research teams, two each on cancers of the pancreas and lung, to a total of $16.6 million. Selected by blue-ribbon Stand Up To Cancer Joint Scientific Advisory Committees in a process managed by AACR, the teams are:

  • SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Dream Team: Intercepting Pancreatic Cancer in High-Risk Cohorts. Funding: $7 million. Leader: Anirban Maitra, MBBS, scientific director of the Sheikh Ahmed Pancreatic Cancer Research Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.  Co-leaders: Michael G. Goggins, MD, professor of pathology, medicine and oncology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; and Scott M. Lippman, MD, director of Moores Cancer Center, University of California San Diego Health.
  • SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Translational Research Team: Developing Novel Approaches to Treat and Evaluate Early Pancreatic Cancer. Funding: $2.6 million. Leader: David P. Ryan, MD, chief of the division of hematology and oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston. Co-leader: Alec Kimmelman, MD, PhD, chair of radiation oncology at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone.
  • SU2C-LUNGevity-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception Dream Team: Intercept Lung Cancer Through Immune, Imaging, and Molecular Evaluation (InTIME). Funding: $5 million.  Leader: Avrum Spira, MD, professor of medicine, pathology and bioinformatics, and director of the Boston University-Boston Medical Center Cancer Center. Co-leader: Steven Dubinett, MD, associate vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and director of the lung cancer research program at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • SU2C-LUNGevity-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception Translational Research Team: Blood-based Early Interception of Lung Cancer. Funding: $2 million. Leader: Lecia V. Sequist, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine, and director of the Center for Innovation in Early Cancer Detection (CIECD) at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Co-leader: Maximilian Diehn, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology, Stanford University School of Medicine.

The four teams cover a range of approaches to the very early detection and treatment of cancer.

The SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Dream Team will perform genetic screening on family members of 2,000 people who already have pancreatic cancer for their own risk of developing it. Positive mutation carriers will then be tested with highly sophisticated and sensitive imaging techniques to detect smaller cancers missed by the human eye. A smaller group of people with pre-cancerous lesions in the pancreas will be given a vaccine intended to induce the body’s own immune system to attack the cancer. Finally, the team aims to develop a blood test for pancreatic cancer that can be used for people at high risk, such as those with new-onset diabetes.

"By focusing on individuals at high risk of pancreatic cancer, we hope to intercept the disease process at a very early stage when it can be more successfully treated, and thus save many lives," Maitra said.

The SU2C-LUNGevity-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception Dream Team will develop diagnostic tools, such as nasal swabs, blood tests, and radiological imaging, to confirm whether lung abnormalities found on chest imaging are benign lung disease or lung cancer. To protect against recurrence of disease that has already been successfully treated, new blood tests will help identify patients at the earliest stages of recurrence, enabling timely interventions such as immunotherapy.

“We plan to develop technology that can, in a very sensitive way, pick up the small amount of DNA that might be present in the blood of someone who’s harboring a lung cancer deep within their lung tissue – a noninvasive way of measuring a person’s risk of having lung cancer,” Spira said.

The SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Translational Research Team will test new and intensive preoperative treatments to allow more patients to achieve a complete resection (surgical removal) and eradicate micrometastatic disease. The team will conduct a clinical trial to evaluate the addition of losartan, a drug that may enhance the efficacy of the chemotherapy FOLFIRINOX in pancreatic cancer patients by altering the tumor microenvironment. The team will also evaluate the addition of immunotherapy to FOLFIRINOX and losartan. It will also use organoids – tiny colonies of living cells – to determine if they can be used to predict patient response to FOLFIRINOX and other therapies.

“We want to intercept the disease when it is still localized and make patients good candidates for surgery,” Ryan said. “Then the surgeons can go in and get it all out so there is no cancer left behind.”

The SU2C-LUNGevity-American Lung Association Lung Cancer Interception Translational Research Team will develop Lung Cancer Interception Assay (LCIA) that can be used in conjunction with low-dose CT scans, based on blood-based assays that examine circulating tumor cells and circulating tumor DNA. After completing pilot testing as part of this Translational Research Grant, the team plans to move the LCIA forward to larger, prospective clinical trials.

“It’s extremely frustrating that we’re not technically able to find lung cancer earlier in the majority of patients,” Sequist said. “We need to change the paradigm that we use to identify patients so that they are found early enough to offer them curative treatment. If we really want to save more lives from lung cancer, we have to exponentially improve our diagnostics.”

“We are pleased to once again join forces with Stand Up To Cancer,” said Robert Vizza, PhD, the Lustgarten Foundation’s vice chairman, research. “If we are able to diagnose patients earlier and increase the number of patients who can have surgery, we will significantly increase survival rates.”

“Finding lung cancer early, when it is most treatable, is a critical step to saving thousands of lives,” said Andrea Ferris, president and CEO of LUNGevity. “Our programmatic focus and investment in finding better ways to detect, diagnose, and now intercept lung cancer in its earliest stages is strengthened by this collaboration with SU2C and the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE. It is our goal to find noninvasive, widely available diagnostic and early detection tools that will dramatically change outcomes for people with lung cancer.”

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, and one of the reasons the disease is so deadly is because lung cancer diagnosis occurs in the later stages, when it is less likely to be curable,” said American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer. “To save lives, we must catch the disease sooner. The concept of intercepting lung cancer before it starts is revolutionary and could truly turn the tide against this terrible disease and save lives.”

Lung cancer is by far the leading cancer killer in the United States, with nearly 156,000 deaths expected in 2017, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). More than 222,000 cases are expected to be diagnosed this year. The five-year survival rate is estimated to be 18 percent.

Cancer of the pancreas is considered one of the deadliest cancers because the rate of people surviving five years from diagnosis is very low – only about 8 percent. While pancreatic cancer accounts for only 3 percent of all cancers diagnosed, it causes 7 percent of all cancer deaths. About 54,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States in 2017, and about 43,000 will die from it, according to the NCI.

The lung and pancreas Interception Dream Teams bring to 22 the number of Dream Teams launched by SU2C since the first Dream Teams were awarded in 2009. The new Translational Teams bring the number in that category to nine. SU2C has also awarded 46 Innovative Research Grants (IRGs) to individual scientists, and a host of other grants and awards to encourage innovative and collaborative cancer research, with funds committed by philanthropic, organizational, corporate, and individual donors, as well as nonprofit groups working with SU2C.

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