SU2C announces $3.25 million in grants to find new treatments for head and neck cancers

Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) today announced $3.25 million in grants from four national nonprofits to fund research to find new treatments for head and neck cancers, which are newly diagnosed in about 65,000 Americans every year.

The grants include contributions of $1.5 million each from the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund and the Farrah Fawcett Foundation. The American Head and Neck Society and the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance are each providing $125,000 to support the project.

The grants will support new approaches to treating head and neck cancers, especially those associated with Fanconi anemia and human papillomavirus, or HPV. Fanconi anemia is a rare inherited disease that often leads to bone marrow failure and cancer; the incidence of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in people with Fanconi anemia is 500- to 700-fold higher than in the general population and treatment options are limited. HPV is a very common virus that can cause cancer, including cancer of the throat; approximately 45,300 people with HPV will get a cancer diagnosis every year in the U.S.

Head and neck cancers associated with Fanconi anemia or HPV have something in common: genetic defects that cause Fanconi anemia, as well as genetic changes resulting from HPV infection, both adversely affect DNA repair systems, which can lead to cancer.

“These grants will collectively benefit people with Fanconi anemia and their families in a meaningful and impactful way" said Mark Quinlan, executive director of the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, which funds research on the disease and provides support services to those affected by Fanconi anemia. “We're excited to join the other funders and Stand Up To Cancer on this project, which will facilitate the collaboration between experts from multiple fields to help tackle some of the biggest challenges associated with head and neck cancers."

“The investment that we make today will eventually make a difference for the tens of thousands of people who are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every year,” said Alana Stewart, president and chief executive officer of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, which funds research for HPV-related cancers. “HPV is responsible for 5% of the world’s cancers. Since we believe the mechanism of cancer development by HPV may be similar at various disease sites, we feel this team will have great impact on our mission. We are thrilled to be part of this important work.”

“Bringing together this group of donors provides a unique opportunity to unite researchers who typically take different approaches to understand underlying molecular mechanisms that lead to various forms of head and neck cancers," said Lee Helman, MD, Director of the Osteosarcoma Institute and vice-chair of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee. Helman will lead the Head and Neck Cancer Research Team joint scientific advisory committee. “This is the type of collaboration that Stand Up To Cancer fosters and it's wonderful to see how this model leads to new ways to approach questions in cancer biology and treatment.”

Head and neck cancers can appear in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, thyroid gland, throat or larynx. Experts estimate there are about 550,000 cases of various kinds of head and neck cancer diagnosed around the world each year, with 300,000 annual deaths due to the cancers. About 65,000 new cases, not counting thyroid cancer, are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. Research has also shown that the incidence of head and neck cancer is increased in Black people and that the 5-year survival rate for Black people is decreased compared to white people. Black patients are also typically diagnosed with more advanced head and neck cancer.

In all races and ethnicities, men have higher rates of HPV-associated cancers of the oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils) than women. Black and Hispanic men and women have lower rates of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancers than white and non-Hispanic men and women. In addition to oropharyngeal cancers, HPV can also cause anal, cervical, penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers.

"There's so much work to be done to make progress in treating head and neck cancers," said Christina Kasendorf, executive director of the American Head and Neck Society, which works to encourage research and better treatment for head and neck cancers. "We know that the funding of brilliant scientists who can focus on doing pioneering work will make a difference.”

Oral, head and neck cancers together make up the sixth most common cancer diagnosed worldwide. We need to find better ways to diagnose and treat these cancers. That’s why we are so happy to be part of this collaboration.”

Amanda Hollinger, Executive Director, Head and Neck Cancer Alliance

The research team will be entitled the Stand Up To Cancer-Fanconi Anemia Research Fund- Farrah Fawcett Foundation Head and Neck Cancer Research Team and the researchers will be brought together in an innovative way. After a request for applications, scientists will be selected to attend a two-day Ideas Lab, scheduled for early 2021. The Ideas Lab will be structured to help leading scientists from different disciplines explore how they could work together to make progress on understanding head and neck cancers. At the end of the meeting, the researchers will be invited to write formal proposals and suggest a budget for a three-year grant.

Stand Up To Cancer has released a Request for Applications; interested researchers should apply by March 22, 2021, to take part in the Ideas Lab. Scientists from all areas of oncology, along with biology, engineering, chemistry, physics and other disciplines, are encouraged to apply.

Applications will be evaluated by a Head and Neck Cancer Research Team joint scientific advisory committee to decide on invitations to the Ideas Lab. That committee, which is led by Helman and includes representatives from each of the funding organizations, will also select and oversee the Head and Neck Cancer Research Team.

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