Tag Archives: American Association for Cancer Research

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TGen’s Barrett awarded $200,000 research grant

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) awarded a $200,000 grant today to Dr. Michael Barrett of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Dr. Barrett, an Associate Professor in TGen’s Clinical Translational Research Division, was one of 14 “outstanding scientists” across the nation named to receive a total of $5 million in grants for pancreatic cancer research.

The grants were announced during the AACR Annual Meeting 2014 in San Diego, April 5-9. With more than 34,000 members, AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research.

Specifically, Dr. Barrett was one of five scientists to receive a 2014 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network-AACR Innovative Grant, “intended to promote the development and study of novel ideas and approaches in basic, translational, clinical, or epidemiological research that have direct application and relevance to pancreatic cancer.”

Dr. Barrett’s project, “Genomic drivers of therapeutic responses in metastatic disease,” will investigate the molecular underpinnings of how and why pancreatic cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
“The fundamental hypothesis of this application is that distinct clonal tumor populations that arise during the natural history of pancreatic cancer mediate the clinical responses in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Barrett said.

“The vision of our work is to bring together advanced genome technologies and the clinical resources available through TGen and our various collaborators to make an immediate impact in the lives of patients with pancreatic cancer and other malignancies,” said Dr. Barrett, who also is a consultant with the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center-Arizona.

The grants support research into high-priority areas in an effort to reach the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s goal to double pancreatic cancer survival by 2020.

“The most promising science has been selected for funding through a rigorous peer-review process. This year’s grant recipients hail from leading institutions throughout the country and range from early career investigators continuing to build the field of pancreatic cancer leaders to more senior scientists,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Their collective efforts have the potential to answer important questions that could lead to significant scientific advances for pancreatic cancer, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. We look forward to working with our new grantees and welcoming them to our team.”

Pancreatic cancer annually takes the lives of more than 38,000 Americans, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. A staggering 75 percent of those diagnosed die within the first year, and only 6 percent survive more than five years.

“Pancreatic cancer is among the most deadly of cancers,” said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), and Chief Executive Officer of AACR. “With death rates steadily climbing over the past decade, more research into pancreatic cancer is urgently needed. The AACR is, therefore, proud to be partnering with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to support cutting-edge scientific research projects that have the potential to lead to major breakthroughs in the prevention, detection, and treatment of this devastating disease.”

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in collaboration with the AACR, introduced the grants program in 2003, and has since awarded 108 research grants totaling more than $22 million to bright and motivated scientists across the country with the goals of developing a pipeline of researchers dedicated to studying the disease, supporting innovative ideas and approaches, and enabling the organization to reach its 2020 goal.

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TGen-Scottsdale Healthcare battle tumor growth

The safety and preliminary efficacy of a new class of tumor fighting drugs were reported by Scottsdale Healthcare’s Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Early results from the phase I, first in-human study of an RNA interface (RNAi) drug were announced during the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2013, April 6-10, in Washington, D.C. The drug, TKM-080301 (also known as TKM-PLK1) is being developed by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation.

The study was conducted at Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare, a partnership with TGen. It found that the RNAi drug acts by silencing the PLK1 gene involved in tumor growth and can be safely administered in humans.  Most patients tolerated the drug well; some showed therapeutic benefit.

“RNAi therapies are a unique approach to cancer treatment as they have the potential to ‘turn off’ the genes’ coding for proteins involved in cancer cell division,” said Dr. Ramesh K. Ramanathan, Medical Director of Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center Clinical Trials at Scottsdale Healthcare and deputy director of the Clinical Translational Research Division of TGen. “Using a lipid nanoparticle, the RNAi drug can be delivered to a cancer cell to block the expression of specific proteins involved in tumor growth.”

TKM-080301 targets a specific gene called polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1), which codes for a protein involved in tumor cell growth. Prior research has shown that high levels of PLK1 are present in many types of cancer, including many of the more aggressive forms.

“Our preclinical results have shown that by decreasing PLK1 levels in cancer cells, we can stop tumor growth and kill the cancer cells,” Dr. Ramanathan said.

He and his colleagues have been enrolling patients with advanced solid tumors or lymphoma into the ongoing multicenter, open-label, dose-escalation study. Sequential cohorts of three to six patients have been assigned to escalating doses of TKM-080301 as a 30-minute intravenous infusion. To date, the researchers have assigned 23 patients to the drug at doses ranging from 0.15 mg/kg per week to 0.9 mg/kg per week.

The most common drug-related adverse events have been mild to moderate and include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Dose-limiting toxicities were observed at the 0.9 mg/kg per-week dose. One patient with a history of asthma experienced shortness of breath and hypoxia; another patient had thrombocytopenia. The researchers subsequently reduced the maximum dose to 0.75 mg/kg per week.

Two patients have been assigned to TKM-080301 for more than six months and have shown no evidence of cumulative toxicity. One of these patients has stable disease and the other has a durable confirmed partial response.

“RNAi therapies, such as the one used in our study, have the potential to make a significant and broad impact on how we treat cancer because we have the ability to target virtually any protein involved in the disease,” Ramanathan said. “This approach has the potential to augment the currently available cancer treatments to improve outcomes for the patient.”