MD An­der­son gets $215M in im­munother­apy push

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Todd Ack­er­man todd.ack­er­ twit­

MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter has been se­lected for a lead­ing role in a new fed­eral ini­tia­tive to ad­vance the reach of treat­ment that uses the body’s im­mune sys­tem to fight can­cer.

As part of a $215 mil­lion pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship an­nounced by the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health Thurs­day, MD An­der­son will re­ceive fund­ing to help iden­tify and test chem­i­cal sig­na­tures in the body that of­fi­cials hope will pre­dict which pa­tients will ben­e­fit from im­munother­apy, a new fron­tier of can­cer treat­ment pi­o­neered by the Hous­ton re­search hos­pi­tal’s Jim Al­li­son.

“We have seen dra­matic re­sponses from im­munother­apy, of­ten erad­i­cat­ing can­cer com­pletely for some can­cer pa­tients,” Dr. Fran­cis S. Collins, direc­tor of the NIH, said in a state­ment. “We need to bring that kind of suc­cess — and hope — for more peo­ple and more types of can­cers, and we need to do it quickly. A sys­tem­atic ap­proach like (this part­ner­ship) will help us to achieve suc­cess faster.”

The part­ner­ship is the first ini­tia­tive an­nounced un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­volv­ing the Can­cer Moon­shot, the fed­eral ef­fort to ac­cel­er­ate can­cer re­search ini­ti­ated by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and led by Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

Dra­matic re­sponses from im­munother­apy fol­lowed Al­li­son’s dis­cov­ery that a pro­tein on the im­mune sys­tem acts as a brake in­stead of an ac­cel­er­a­tor. He sub­se­quently devel­oped a drug to free the brake, un­leash­ing the im­mune sys­tem to at­tack the can­cer. The break­through re­vi­tal­ized the field and led to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of other brakes and devel­op­ment of other drugs. Sud­denly, a sub­set of pa­tients with can­cers that typ­i­cally kill in less than a year be­gan beat­ing the disease. How­ever, a ma­jor­ity of pa­tients do not yet ben­e­fit from the ap­proach.

Un­der the new ini­tia­tive, MD An­der­son will get $11 mil­lion over five years to con­duct tu­mor anal­y­sis and im­mune mon­i­tor­ing in im­munother­apy clin­i­cal tri­als con­ducted by mul­ti­in­sti­tu­tional net­works. Such anal­y­sis and mon­i­tor­ing aims to iden­tify biomark­ers that could guide fu­ture treat­ment.

“We want to im­prove im­mune mon­i­tor­ing to bet­ter un­der­stand the mech­a­nisms that lead tu­mors to re­spond to or re­sist treat­ment so we can de­velop new, bet­ter strate­gies for pa­tients,” said Dr. Ig­na­cio Wis­tuba, MD An­der­son’s chair of trans­la­tional molec­u­lar pathol­ogy and the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of its piece of the part­ner­ship.

The NIH is pro­vid­ing $160 mil­lion of the fund­ing and 11 phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies are con­tribut­ing $1 mil­lion a year over five years. The com­pa­nies are Ab­bVie, Am­gen, Boehringer In­gel­heim, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, Cel­gene Cor­po­ra­tion, Ge­nen­tech, Gilead, Glax­oSmithK­line, Janssen/ John­son & John­son, No­var­tis, and Pfizer.

MD An­der­son is one of four cen­ters se­lected to con­duct tu­mor anal­y­sis and mon­i­tor­ing. The oth­ers are Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute in Bos­ton, Stan­ford Can­cer In­sti­tute in Cal­i­for­nia and the Mount Si­nai School of Medicine in New York.

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