Stand Up To Cancer and the Farrah Fawcett Foundation Announce New HPV Translational Research Team Grant
Research efforts will investigate approaches to develop novel immune therapies for HPV-associated cancers
SAN DIEGO — Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) and the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, along with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), SU2C’s Scientific Partner, announced the formation of a research team dedicated to HPV-related cancers during a press event today at the AACR Annual Meeting 2014, held here April 5-9. The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation is supporting the translational research team by making an additional gift to Stand Up To Cancer.
Ellis L. Reinherz, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Immunobiology and co-director of the Cancer Vaccine Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass., and Robert I. Haddad, M.D., disease center leader for head and neck oncology at Dana-Farber, will lead the research project titled “Therapeutic CD8 vaccines against conserved E7 HPV epitopes identified by MS.”
The SU2C-Farrah Fawcett Foundation Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Translational Research Team Grant will provide $1.2 million in funding over three years for this innovative project. It will focus on patients with HPV-driven cancers (including anal, cervical, and head and neck cancers) who relapse following initial therapy, and for whom few therapeutic options are available, and will provide a novel approach to improving outcomes in this population.
“It’s estimated that more than 30,000 HPV-associated cancers occur each year in the United States alone,” said Sherry Lansing, SU2C co-founder, founder of the Sherry Lansing Foundation, and chairperson of the Entertainment Industry Foundation Board of Directors. “Research into new therapies that will benefit patients is urgently needed.”
“Farrah was committed to the struggle against anal cancer and other forms of cancer,” said Alana Stewart, chief executive officer and president of the Farrah Fawcett Foundation. “We are very pleased to continue Farrah’s legacy by supporting this important scientific initiative.”
“Our mother Paulette passed away in 2010 at the age of 53 after being treated for HPV-related anal cancer with the same, antiquated chemotherapy cocktail first administered to patients in the 1970s,” said Justine Almada, executive director of the HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation. “By collaborating with other organizations who share our urgency for a cure, we hope to overcome barriers to therapeutic progress and end the suffering caused by HPV, which causes 5 percent of all cancers worldwide.”
Research Team Selection Process and Project Information
The proposals for the SU2C-Farrah Fawcett Foundation Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Translational Research Team Grant were reviewed by a panel of renowned scientists. The committee was co-chaired by Waun Ki Hong, M.D., FACP, D.M.Sc. (hon.), and Lawrence D. Piro, M.D. Hong is division head and professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, an American Cancer Society professor, and a Samsung distinguished university chair in cancer medicine. Piro is the president and chief executive officer of The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute and professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.
The process began with a call for ideas by the AACR in September 2013, and eight finalists were invited to submit full proposals. Of the finalists, the committee recommended funding of the Reinherz and Haddad team. The team proposes to develop new vaccines and other immunotherapeutic approaches that stimulate cancer-killing immunity as treatments for patients with HPV-associated cancers, including cancers of the anus, cervix, and head and neck.
“Our project involves the development of vaccines that stimulate specific immune cells to attack HPV-driven cancer cells,” said Reinherz. “While current vaccines effectively prevent HPV infection from taking place in unexposed individuals, they are unable to offer protection to those already exposed subjects either at risk of developing a tumor or with an existing cancer. Our vaccine is uniquely designed to attack the cancers even after tumor formation and, importantly, without causing collateral damage to normal tissues. The strategy is to 1) identify the tumor target, 2) activate specific immune cells, and 3) deploy these effectors at the tumor site for selective destruction of the cancer.”
The researchers have developed a highly sensitive ion physics method to find “tags,” called epitopes, on cancer cells that are entirely specific for the cancer and hence not found on the normal cells in the body. These tags can signal to receptors on a specific type of immune cell, called a cytolytic T lymphocyte (CTL), to attack and kill the cancer once CTLs are programmed by vaccination to do so in the patient’s body. One CTL target that the team has already identified has been incorporated into a new therapeutic vaccine that will be tested on patients in a clinical trial as part of this research grant. The team will also use their epitope-identification technology to find other epitopes for the development of additional immunotherapeutic agents. Finally, they will identify the T cell receptors on CTL that provide the best immune response in order to re-engineer the patients’ own immune cells in the laboratory for use as a cancer treatment.
“We are focusing in particular on patients with an HPV-driven cancer who have relapsed after their initial therapy,” said Haddad. “These patients have few therapeutic options today, and we aim to provide a new and targeted approach to improving outcomes for them. Our expectation is that a therapeutic vaccine would also be less toxic than conventional chemotherapy currently being used in clinical practice.”
The project is expected to begin July 2014.
The AACR is responsible for administering the grant and provides ongoing scientific oversight to ensure that progress is being made. Since the launch of SU2C, the AACR has played an integral role as SU2C’s Scientific Partner by providing scientific leadership, expert peer review, grants administration, and oversight of progress.