TGen, Penn earn $18M grant from Stand Up to Cancer

May 27, 2009

By hammersmith

Daniel Von Hoff, one of the world’s foremost experts on pancreatic cancer, is no stranger to multi-million-dollar, high-profile cancer studies. But even for Dr. Von Hoff, $18 million and publicity furnished by Katie Couric, Bud Selig, and Sheryl Crow isn’t standard fare.

Dr. Von Hoff, physician-in-chief of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and Craig B. Thompson, director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, have been named co-leaders of a pancreatic cancer “Dream Team,” funded with an $18 million grant from Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), a year-old philanthropic organization created by scientists and members of the entertainment industry.

The award to TGen and Penn–the largest in SU2C’s $74 million initial round of grants–will fund a study entitled “Cutting off the Fuel Supply,” which will examine what nutrients pancreatic-cancer cells require to grow. Dr. Von Hoff and Dr. Thompson will lead a team developing tests and clinical trials, built on advanced imaging techniques, to better understand tumor cells’ mechanism for finding fuel.

  “We want to do something dramatic,” Dr. Von Hoff said. “It is going to take a tremendous amount of real thinking power to make that difference, so it is a dream come true to be able to put this team together to work towards this goal.”

SU2C, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, was founded in 2007. Major League Baseball was the organization’s first major donor, and in September, 2008, ABC, CBS, and NBC jointly televised an hour-long special featuring more than 50 entertainers to raise funds for the “Dream Team” research groups. Over the next several months, the networks’ news divisions devoted additional attention to the cause.

“Scientists need more money for research and easier ways to work together,” said Sherry Lansing, board chair of the Entertainment Industry Foundation and a member of the SU2C Executive Leadership Council. “And the entertainment industry has unique resources that can be called upon to help make every American aware that each and every one of us has a role to play in advancing cancer research.”

From 237 applications, five “dream teams” of researchers were selected. Along with the pancreatic-cancer study, teams include: “An Integrated Approach to Targeting Molecular Breast Cancer Molecular Subtypes and Their “Resistance” Phenotypes,” “Targeting the PI3K Pathway in Women’s Cancers,” “Bioengineering and Clinical Applications of Circulating Tumor Cells Chip,” and “Bringing Epigenetic Therapy to the Forefront of Cancer Management.” Administration of the grants is being performed by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

“There is a strong emphasis on collaboration, a strong emphasis on innovation, and a strong emphasis on being engaged in clinical studies with patients,” said Nobel laureate and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Phillip A. Sharp in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dr. Sharp chaired the SU2C scientific advisory committee that chose the grant recipients.

Dr. Von Hoff, a past president of AACR, also serves as chief scientific officer for TGen Clinical Research Services (TCRS) at Scottsdale Healthcare, which will serve as one of the grant’s primary clinical research sites, along with sites at Penn and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Mark Slater, vice president of research for Scottsdale Healthcare, said in the Phoenix Business Journal that patients are already being recruited for the study’s clinical trials, and he noted the benefit the local community will see.

“We’re ready to go. We currently have about 40 new first-in-human agents we are studying,” he said in the Business Journal. “We have access to the best possible agents and the best possible care right here in our area.”

For more information:

Scottsdale Healthcare, TGen join $18M pancreatic cancer study,” Phoenix Business Journal, 05/27/2009

TGen scientist lands $18M to fight cancer,” Arizona Republic, 05/27/2009

Penn researcher to help lead pancreatic cancer effort,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 05/27/2009

TGen media release, 05/27/2009