The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Invests $40.3 Million in New Research to Find Cures for Hematologic Malignancies


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The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has announced it has committed $40.3 million in new research investments to advance the most promising blood cancer science at leading academic and medical centers around the world, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Weill Cornell Medicine; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; MD Anderson Cancer Center; Fondazione Centro San Raffaele; and South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute. This $40.3 million investment, comprising 75 new research grants, will fund a diverse array of research to find better treatments and cures for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and other blood cancers.

The LLS acts as a catalyst for collaboration among academic researchers, biotechnology companies, and the government, to push the envelope on the newest research approaches, including immunotherapy and precision medicine. The LLS supports basic research to large-scale clinical trials, with the goal of accelerating treatments and cures to the 1.2 million people in the United States living with a blood cancer.

The key areas of focus for these research grants follow.

Going on the Offensive Against AML

This new investment comes on top of other major research initiatives underway at the LLS, including the launch of its Beat AML Master Trial, a collaborative precision medicine clinical trial for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This disease has seen little change in the standard of care in more than 40 years. The trial involves multiple treatment arms at various cancer centers and is employing advanced genomic technology to deliver investigational targeted therapies to patients more quickly.

The Master Trial is part of a multipronged approach, which includes the following topics:

  • Resistance to Therapy: A commitment of $5.5 million to fund 11 new grants at academic centers to advance treatments for AML. Among them is one of three prestigious Specialized Center of Research grants being awarded by the LLS this year. A Specialized Center of Research team led by Tak Mak, PhD, of the University Health Network Toronto, is studying the mutations that cause AML and lymphoma to understand resistance to therapy.
  • Inherited Genetic Abnormality: A new collaboration with The Babich Family Foundation to invest $1.8 million to study an inherited genetic abnormality in a protein known as RUNX1, which increases a person’s risk of developing AML. Grants will be announced by July 2017.
  • Starving Cancer Cells: A new LLS Therapy Acceleration Program commitment to support The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s clinical trial for a novel approach to treat AML by starving the AML cancer cells. This trial is underway.

Immunotherapy

The LLS is investing more than $11 million in research to harness the power of the patient’s own immune system to kill cancer. The Society is expanding its large commitment to a novel approach to chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell immunotherapy, in which the T cells of a patient with lymphoma are being genetically reprogrammed and reintroduced into the patient to find and attack cancer cells.


We have assembled a world-class science team to take advantage of the recent developments in immunotherapy to apply them to innovative treatment strategies for patients with lymphoma.
— Anas Younes, MD

A Specialized Center of Research study led by Anas Younes, MD, and colleagues, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is designed to advance new-generation CAR T cells that contain activated T cells and direct them to shut down the immune defense mechanisms of the blood cancer cell at the same time.

“For almost 2 decades, the standard therapy and cure rate of patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma have not significantly changed,” said Dr. Younes. “With the LLS [Specialized Center of Research] grant, we have assembled a world-class science team to take advantage of the recent developments in immunotherapy to apply them to innovative treatment strategies for patients with lymphoma. Our goal is to change the standard of care and to improve treatment outcomes.”

The LLS is also collaborating with the Rising Tide Foundation for Clinical Cancer Research to fund $2.4 million of translational research designed to further harness the immune system. Four $600,000 grants at Stanford University, Baylor College of Medicine, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the University of Sydney (Australia) will apply a further understanding of the immune system to clinical trials that activate the immune system in patients with leukemia and lymphoma.

Precision Medicine

Ari Melnick, MD, of Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, is leading a third new Specialized Center of Research team to study the molecular differences that make some patients with lymphoma resistant to treatment, with a goal of developing treatments that overcome resistance to chemotherapy or effective treatments that do not require chemotherapy.

Another such project, led by Madhav Dhodapkar, MD, of Yale University, will study targeted approaches to treat the rare blood cancer monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, a rare, frequently a precursor to multiple myeloma, through a $600,000 Translational Research Program grant, a program that expedites promising research from the laboratory into treatments. “It is an honor to receive this grant,” Dr. ­Dhodapkar said. “It will enable us to gain fundamental insights into how myeloma develops and explore new approaches to target it in the clinic.”

LLS 2017 Research Portfolio

  • Career Development Program: The LLS is investing in today’s young scientists through this program, which awarded 26 new grants, totaling nearly $7.4 million.
  • Translational Research Program: The LLS is expediting promising research from the laboratory into actual treatments through this program, which awarded 28 grants, totaling nearly $17.5 million.
  • Specialized Center of Research: One of LLS’s most ambitious research programs, it brings together leading scientists from multiple institutions and multiple disciplines to collaborate on solving the most challenging problems in blood cancers. This year, the LLS awarded 3 grants, totaling $12 million.
  • New Idea Award: The LLS funds innovative approaches that may fundamentally change the understanding, diagnosis, and/or treatment of blood cancers and related premalignant conditions. This year, the LLS awarded 10 grants, totaling $750,000.
  • Therapy Acceleration Program: The LLS also invests approximately $10 million a year through this strategic program, with 17 projects currently in the pipeline.
  • Other Collaborators: The LLS has significant collaborations with other organizations, including the Rising Tide Foundation for Clinical Cancer Research, through which there is joint support for immunotherapy projects; the Babich Family Foundation, seeking to support research in the RUNX1 mutation in AML; the Myeloproliferative Neoplasms Research Foundation; and the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation. ■


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