Public Release: 

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation awards over $3.1M to top clinical investigators

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

New York, NY (July 3, 2017) - The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation named five new Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators at its spring 2017 Clinical Investigator Award Committee review. The recipients of this prestigious three-year award are outstanding early career physician-scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research at major research centers under the mentorship of the nation's leading scientists and clinicians. Each will receive $450,000 to support the development of his/her cancer research program.

The Foundation also awarded Continuation Grants to three Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators. Each award will provide an additional two years of funding totaling $300,000. The Continuation Grant is designed to support Clinical Investigators who are approaching the end of their original awards and need extra time and funding to complete a promising avenue of research or initiate/continue a clinical trial. This program is possible through the generous support of the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation.

"The quality of research being proposed by our new Clinical Investigators is exceptionally strong, and we are thrilled to be able to continue our proud tradition of funding first-rate early career physician-scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research," said Yung S. Lie, PhD, Deputy Director and Chief Scientific Officer at Damon Runyon. "It is deeply satisfying to know that today we are helping to launch the careers of tomorrow's brightest cancer researchers."

The Clinical Investigator Award program is specifically intended to help address the shortage of physicians capable of translating scientific discovery into new breakthroughs for cancer patients. Through partnerships with industry sponsors and its Accelerating Cancer Cures initiative, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has committed over $59 million to support the careers of 93 physician-scientists across the United States since 2000.

2017 Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators:

Vinod P. Balachandran, MD

Despite our best current treatments, 95% of patients with pancreatic cancer, including those at the earliest stages, die within 5 years of diagnosis. By 2020, pancreatic cancer will become the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., and new therapies are urgently needed. T cells are highly specialized cells of the immune system designed to protect the human body from infections and cancer. Very few T cells recognize pancreatic cancer; however, recent work showed that these T cells play a very important role in controlling the spread of pancreatic cancer. Patients whose tumors have higher proportions of T cells survived over 3-times longer than patients who did not. Vinod's group has unique access to these extremely rare patients that survived on average 6 years with pancreatic cancer and whose tumors have 12-times as many activated T cells as patients who have more typical poor outcomes. He has discovered that their exceptional survival is linked to T cells recognizing novel cancer proteins that make these cancers resemble infections. His research will focus on understanding these unique cancer proteins in long-term survivors, with the goal of developing novel immunotherapies to treat all patients with pancreatic cancer. Dr. Balachandran works under the mentorship of Steven D. Leach, MD, and Jedd M. Wolchok, MD, PhD, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York.

Adrienne A. Boire, MD, PhD

Leptomeningeal metastasis, or spread of cancer cells into the spinal fluid, is a devastating complication of cancer resulting in rapid neurologic disability and death. With little mechanistic information to guide treatment decisions, efforts at treatment are too often futile. To address this critical knowledge gap, Adrienne will employ a translational approach to analyze patient samples utilizing multiple, complementary, orthogonal molecular strategies as tools for discovery. This approach will be coupled with hypothesis-driven mouse models to assemble coherent molecular mechanisms that describe cancer cell interactions with their microenvironment. This mechanistic work will suggest new targets for therapeutic intervention, paving the way for novel treatment approaches. Dr. Boire works under the mentorship of Joan Massague, PhD, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York.

Gavin P. Dunn, MD, PhD

Glioblastoma remains the most aggressive brain tumor diagnosed in patients, and it is clear that new treatment strategies are needed. There is significant optimism around the use of approaches that stimulate a patient's immune system to treat brain tumors. Gavin focuses on identifying the specific components of a patient's brain tumor that the immune system recognizes and determining whether there are regional differences in this immune recognition. He hopes that this work will increase our understanding of how the immune system recognizes brain cancers and will increase our understanding of how to rationally design personalized vaccines to treat these tumors. Dr. Dunn works under the mentorship of John F. DiPersio, MD, PhD, and Robert D. Schreiber, PhD, at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Piro Lito, MD, PhD

Therapies that directly target cancer-promoting oncoproteins have revolutionized the treatment of cancer. Cancers, however, are primed to adapt and evolve in the presence of treatment, resulting in an ability to resume growth despite the presence of therapy. Utilizing cutting-edge new techniques that allow the determination of genetic alterations in single cancer cells, Piro aims to understand the principles that govern the evolution of resistance during therapy and identify novel therapeutic interventions that halt this process. His specific focus will be on resistance of lung cancer and melanoma to BRAF-targeted therapies. Dr. Lito works under the mentorship of Neal X. Rosen, MD, PhD, and Charles M. Rudin, MD, PhD, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York.

Mark G. Shrime, MD, MPH, PhD

Mark is a cancer surgeon and health economist. He is examining one of the hidden barriers to surgical oncology access in head and neck cancer--that of non-medical costs. For 81 million people every year, surgery leads to catastrophic impoverishment, but only 40% of that is due to the direct medical costs of surgery. The rest is due to the hidden costs of transportation, food, and lodging necessary to get surgery. He proposes to design and optimize a cash transfer for patients with head and neck tumors in a low-income West African country. The effects of this cash transfer on surgical oncology utilization will then be tested in a randomized, controlled trial. These findings could apply globally to improve access to cancer care. Dr. Shrime works under the mentorship of John G. Meara, MD, DMD, MBA, at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, Massachusetts.

2017 Clinical Investigator Continuation Grants:

Joshua Brody, MD

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
Mentors: Nina Bhardwaj, MD, PhD and Miriam Merad, MD, PhD
"Flt3L-primed 'in situ' vaccination for low-grade lymphoma - Phase I/II study of intratumoral injection of rhuFlt3L and poly-ICLC with low-dose radiotherapy [NCT01976585]"

L. Elizabeth Budde, MD, PhD

City of Hope, Duarte, California
Mentor: Stephen J. Forman, MD, FACP
"Targeting CD123 using chimeric antigen receptor T cells for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia"

Stephen Oh, MD, PhD

Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
Mentor: Daniel Link, MD
"Targeting aberrant signaling pathways in myeloproliferative neoplasms"

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About the Foundation

To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today's best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research. The Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists. Twelve scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, and others are heads of cancer centers and leaders of renowned research programs. Each of its award programs is extremely competitive, with less than 10% of applications funded. Since its founding in 1946, the Foundation has invested over $327 million and funded over 3,600 young scientists. This year it will commit over $17 million in new awards to brilliant young investigators.

100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from its Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets Service and endowment.

CONTACT

Yung S. Lie, PhD
Deputy Director and Chief Scientific Officer
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
yung.lie@damonrunyon.org
212-455-0521

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