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$18 million awarded to TGen and University of Pennsylvania for pancreatic cancer research

PHOENIX, Ariz. May 27, 2009 The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) will receive $18 million to research pancreatic cancer, Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) announced today.

Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, TGen's Physician-In-Chief, and Dr. Craig B. Thompson, Director of the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn, are co-leaders of SU2C pancreatic cancer "Dream Team,'' which will lead a three-year investigation into new approaches to treating pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

"We want to do something dramatic. 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,'' said Dr. Von Hoff, who also is Chief Scientific Officer for TGen Clinical Research Services (TCRS) at Scottsdale Healthcare, a primary clinical research site for TGen and the SU2C grant.

The $18 million to TGen and Penn was the largest single grant among five awards, totaling $74 million, announced by SU2C, a philanthropic group created by cancer scientists and members of the entertainment industry a year ago today to quickly turn scientific discoveries into ways to care for cancer patients.

The goal of the pancreatic cancer Dream Team research project "Cutting Off the Fuel Supply'' is to develop tests, using advanced imaging techniques, to determine what nutrients pancreatic cancer cells require to fuel their growth and survival. Understanding the cell's fuel supply will help scientists develop more individualized treatments with fewer side effects.

TGen and its clinical partner at TCRS will launch a series of innovative clinical trials in advanced pancreatic cancer. These clinical trials will be designed to deprive pancreatic tumors of crucial nutrients, thereby cutting off the fuel supply.

TCRS is located at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center in Scottsdale. Other clinical sites in the study are at Penn in Philadelphia and at John Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The TGen-Penn team will combine translational methods developed at the University of Pennsylvania with individualized-therapies emphasized by TGen to rapidly move laboratory findings to bedside treatments, benefiting pancreatic cancer patients as quickly as possible. They will test the drugs in combination with existing standard chemotherapy, with the hope of improving quality of life while increasing the percentage of patients surviving beyond one year.

Since its inception in 2002, TGen has pioneered cutting-edge research in genomic medicine, enabling physicians to design targeted and individualized therapies for patients suffering from cancer and other debilitating diseases.

About Dr. Daniel Von Hoff

In addition to his positions at TGen and Scottsdale Healthcare, Dr. Von Hoff is Chief Scientific Officer for US Oncology, and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona. His major interest is in the development of new anticancer agents. Dr. Von Hoff's work focuses on the development of molecularly targeted therapies for patients with pancreatic and other advanced cancers. He is serving a six-year term on the National Cancer Advisory Board and has served on the FDA's Oncology Advisory Committee. Dr. Von Hoff is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research, was on the AACR and the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Board of Directors, and is a fellow of the American College of Physicians.

About Dr. Craig Thompson

In addition to his position at the Abramson Cancer Center, Dr. Thompson is the Associate Vice President for Cancer Services at the University of Pennsylvania Heath System, director of the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute and the John H. Glick professor of medicine and cancer biology at the university's School of Medicine. His research focuses on how alterations in the control of cell metabolism contribute to cancer cell development and survival. He has contributed to the development of new treatments for autoimmune diseases and leukemia.

About pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and it remains one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Over 90 percent of patients die within the first year of diagnosis. Recent advancements have had little impact, and a new approach is desperately needed.

Using modern tumor imaging, it is possible to monitor a tumor's glucose utilization and such tests are now routinely used in clinical practice. In most cases, the more glucose a tumor is using, the more advanced the tumor and the greater likelihood of spread. Similarly, if a tumor is using less glucose as a response to chemotherapy, then it is a good indication that the tumor is responding to treatment.

Pancreatic cancer presents a unique challenge because it is addicted to another molecule, glutamine, rather than glucose. Glutamine is an amino acid that helps build muscle mass and is used by some cells for energy. When cancer feeds or metabolizes excess amounts of gluatamine, it can lead to extreme weight loss by robbing other cells of this important nutrient, a condition from which many pancreatic cancer patients suffer. In addition, the waste that is a by-product of this process generates an intense reaction from surrounding normal cells, which then secrete growth factors that help tumor cells grow. Cancers that use excess glutamine are often resistant to standard forms of chemotherapy, another characteristic of pancreatic cancer.

About the Dream Teams

The five Dream Teams culled from 237 submissions are comprised of seven leaders, four co-leaders and 27 principal researchers from more than 20 leading institutions, with more than 300 individuals participating:

  • "Cutting off the Fuel Supply: A New Approach to the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer" $18 million Leaders: Craig B. Thompson, M.D., Director, Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., Senior Investigator and Physician in Chief at the Translational Research Genomics Institute (TGen).

  • "An Integrated Approach to Targeting Molecular Breast Cancer Molecular Subtypes and Their "Resistance" Phenotypes" $16.5 million Leaders: Joe W. Gray, Ph.D., Life Sciences Division Director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Dennis J. Slamon, M.D., Ph.D., Director of Clinical/Translational Research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

  • "Targeting the PI3K Pathway in Women's Cancers" $15 million Leader: Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., Chief of the Division of Signal Transduction at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Co-Leaders: Charles L. Sawyers, M.D., Director of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Gordon B. Mills, M.D., Ph.D., Chair, Department of Systems Biology, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

  • "Bioengineering and Clinical Applications of Circulating Tumor Cells Chip" $15 million Leader: Daniel A. Haber, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center; Co-Leader: Mehmet Toner, Ph.D., Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Harvard Medical School.

  • "Bringing Epigenetic Therapy to the Forefront of Cancer Management" $9.12 million Leader: Stephen B. Baylin, M.D., Deputy Director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins; Co-Leader: Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Urology and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, University of Southern California.

Collectively, the research that will be done through the Dream Team projects could impact the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of cancers in adults and children across ethnicities including, but not limited to pancreatic, breast, ovarian, cervical, uterine, brain, lung, prostate, rectal and colon. These represent two-thirds of all U.S. cancer deaths; 562,340 people are expected to die of cancer this year in the U.S., where on average 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. Worldwide, cancer annually kills nearly almost 8 million.

"(S)cientists need more money for research and easier ways to work together; 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," said Sherry Lansing, Board Chair of the Entertainment Industry Foundation and a member of the SU2C Executive Leadership Council. "From the person who can give five dollars to the philanthropist who can give millions, we are all connected to the devastation that cancer causes in our families, and together, we can Stand Up to end it."

On behalf of Stand Up To Cancer, the 28,000-member American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will be responsible for administering the grants.


Contact: Steve Yozwiak, TGen Senior Science Writer
The Translational Genomics Research Institute

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