Public Release: 

UCSD cancer researcher awarded $16.5 million grant to create national leukemia research consortium

University of California - San Diego

The National Cancer Institute has awarded a $16.5 million program project grant to an internationally recognized cancer researcher at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to establish and lead a national research consortium to study chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in an entirely new way. This is among the largest grants ever received at UCSD.

The consortium will be led by Thomas J. Kipps, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UCSD Cancer Center's Translational Oncology Program and professor of medicine at UCSD School of Medicine.

"I very much appreciate the encouragement and help of individuals at the NCI in establishing this consortium, in particular Drs. Bruce Cheson and Roy Wu," said Kipps. Bruce D. Cheson, M.D., is head of the Medicine Section of the NCI's Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program (CTEP). Roy S. Wu, Ph.D., is the health scientist administrator at CTEP.

"This is an exciting new approach to basic and clinical research," said Cheson. "These investigators have put their egos and agendas aside and joined forces in a major collaborative effort with the goal of curing CLL."

The consortium is unique in that it brings together the nation's top scientists from different disciplines -- genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology and pharmacology -- to conduct an integrated program of basic and clinical research focused on a single disease. CLL is the most common adult leukemia, striking about 10,000 to 12,000 Americans a year, and is currently incurable. On average, patients survive six to seven years (background attached).

The consortium, which involves nine leading institutions, includes six projects and three cores (service centers). Five of the projects involve laboratory-based studies designed to yield new insights into the distinctive biology of CLL. The sixth project involves a multi-centered clinical program to conduct clinical trials of promising new agents developed at the member institutions and under study in the five other projects. (details attached)

"By cross-fertilizing ideas, we expect to generate new insights and novel ways of attacking this relentless disease," said Kipps. "While our ultimate goal is to cure CLL, we also believe that the insights we gain will shed beneficial light on other types of cancers."

Members located around the U.S. hold "virtual" meetings in which they post slides and other information on the consortium's Web site and discuss by phone conferencing. The consortium is also creating a sophisticated national tissue bank, which collects blood samples on many different CLL patients. This makes it possible for different member scientists to study the same tissue from different angles, thus providing a multi-faceted analysis that has greater potential for unraveling the mysteries of CLL.

"The idea is to provide a forum in which investigations on the genetics and biochemistry and immunology can be done on the same specimen," said Kipps. "So, for example, if we find a certain gene associated with CLL, we can now attempt to determine if that's related to an abnormality in a biochemical pathway, an immunological defect, or resistance to a certain drug. In this way, we can more rapidly develop a comprehensive understanding of the disease and then focus our efforts in the right direction."

These focused efforts will translate into new clinical trials, and the consortium will make these early trials available to more patients for whom standard treatment has failed. Usually, clinical trials are not widely available until they reach the final phases of testing (Phase III), making it necessary for patients to travel long distances in order to participate in the earlier phases.

More rapid accrual into Phase I and II clinical trials speeds the entire process of bringing promising new therapies from the laboratory to patients everywhere, creating new standards of care.

"Creating a multidisciplinary consortium of distinguished people and institutions represents an exceptional achievement," said David Tarin, M.D., Ph.D., director of UCSD Cancer Center. "This powerful convergence of skills will inevitably make a significant contribution to the treatment of patients with this disease."


For further information on the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research Consortium, visit the Web site:

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Research Consortium Participating Institutions:

The Burnham Institute
La Jolla, CA

Dana Farber Cancer Institute
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA

Johns Hopkins University
Oncology Center
Baltimore, MD

Long Island Jewish Medical Center
Division of Hematology/Oncology
New Hyde Park, NY

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, TX

Ohio State University Cancer Center
Columbus, Ohio

Thomas Jefferson University
Kimmel Cancer Institute
Philadelphia, PA

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
UCSD Cancer Center
La Jolla, CA.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Hematology/Oncology Service
Washington, D.C.

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