The GastroIntestinal Research Foundation Awards Grants to Two Cancer Research Powerhouses

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Treating and curing cancer remains an urgent health research priority. The GastroIntestinal Research Foundation (the Foundation) has made bold and innovative grant awards to advance the development of immunotherapies and personalized vaccines for colorectal cancer. With a focus on improving patient outcomes, it has identified and evaluated science from across the country, including two recent awards to the MD Anderson Cancer Clinic at the University of Texas and Mayo Clinic. 

The Foundation's Executive Director, Jackie Casey, said, "The Foundation designed CA CURE to get vital research dollars quickly into the hands of investigators. Far too many people are developing cancer, many after living with a digestive disease such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's, fatty liver disease, and others. Research is the pathway to preventing and curing cancer. With focused funding on immunotherapies and vaccines and by taking multiple shots on goal with multiple research grants, we hope to see new successful treatments on the horizon."     

The Foundation awarded a $3.5 million grant over the next three years to MD Anderson to conduct three interrelated projects designed to improve survival in patients with BRAF-mutated (BRAFmut) colorectal cancer (CRC), seen in about 10% of patients and with poor survival prognosis. These projects will evaluate treatment combinations to block common ways that BRAFmut tumors escape treatment by targeting defects in DNA repair. The research will identify optimal treatment regimens for these tumors. Project 2 will evaluate the diversity of BRAFmut tumors over time and between patients to understand the changes in BRAF biology over multiple lines of therapy. Innovative methodologies will allow tracking of individual cancer cells to compare these changes after targeted therapies. Project 3 will identify novel immunotherapy combinations in tumors without DNA repair defects. An ongoing clinical trial combining immunotherapy and targeted therapy will be expanded. This trial examines treatment-related changes in the immune response in and around the tumor, by examining patient tumor biopsies, to determine if the observed immune responses are related to the clinical response. 

Dr. Scott Kopetz, the lead investigator on this research project, said, "One of our greatest strengths is moving today's most promising laboratory findings into new, more effective, treatments. Collectively, this work will support translation of these findings into new clinical trials and provide support for novel treatment approaches in the clinic. Like the GI Research Foundation, we are committed to improved patient outcomes, and we are grateful for its support."  

The Foundation awarded a $6 million grant over the next three years to Mayo Clinic to conduct three translational projects with a focus on individualized molecularly-targeted therapies to enhance survival and potentially cure metastatic CRC. Project 1 will conduct a clinical trial focused upon vaccinating CRC patients against multiple mutated proteins (neoantigens) specific to a patient's own tumor. This strategy is called neoantigen vaccination and uses a novel homegrown bioinformatics workflow for neoantigen detection from tumor DNA/RNA sequencing data. Unlike most cancer treatments, vaccines have little to no side effects and greatly improve anti-tumor responses to other FDA-approved immunotherapies. Dr. Keith Knutson, an expert in cancer immunotherapy, is the principal investigator of this project. Project 2 aims to develop a novel chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy that arms T cells to target a specific protein expressed on the outer cell membrane of CRC tumor cells. The project, which will also include an early-phase clinical trial, is led by Dr. Saad Kenderian, an expert in CAR T engineering and CAR T clinical trials. Lastly, Project 3 is focused on developing precision medicine drug combinations that target multiple patient-specific tumor mutations. The study will use innovative CRC patient tumor tissue-derived preclinical 'avatar' models, each with unique mutational signatures, to develop cancer-killing drug combinations that can be readily advanced to patients into the clinic. This project is led by Dr. John Copland, whose expertise is in the development and clinical translation of novel combination molecular inhibitors.  

Co-principal investigators, Drs. Copland, Knutson and Kenderian, said, "Our labs' overarching goals are to explore novel cancer genes, to better understand molecular mechanisms of cancer formation and tumor progression, as well as the immune system, to develop effective molecular-targeted therapeutics with less toxicity and improved patient outcomes. We are grateful for the GI Research Foundation grant as it will allow us to take successes in the study of other cancers and apply them to colorectal cancer." 

About the GastroIntestinal Research Foundation 

In 1961, the GI Research Foundation was founded by grateful patients and friends of the late Dr. Joseph B. Kirsner, a pioneer in gastroenterology, who devoted his life to medicine, teaching, and patient care. Since then, in partnership with University of Chicago Medicine Digestive Diseases Center and with gifts from generous donors, the Foundation has given millions to support research. Your donation will drive improved treatment of, help discover prevention pathways for and ultimately cure digestive diseases.  

Source: GastroIntestinal Research Foundation

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About Gastro Intestinal Research Foundation

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About the GastroIntestinal Research Foundation

In 1961, the Foundation was founded by grateful patients and friends of the late Dr. Joseph B. Kirsner, a pioneer in gastroenterology, who devoted his life to medicine, teaching, and patient care. Since then, in partnership with University of Chicago Medicine Digestive Diseases Center, GIRF has given millions to support research to improve treatment of, seek cures for and prevent digestive diseases.

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