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Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation awards $2.7M to 7 top young clinical investigators

New York, NY -- The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation named 4 new Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators at its April 2009 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 cancer research program.

For the first time, the Foundation also awarded Continuation Grants to 3 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, and Connie and Robert Lurie.

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. In partnerships with industry sponsors (Eli Lilly and Company, Genentech, Merck, Novartis and Siemens Medical Solutions), the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has committed more than $32 million to support the careers of 48 physician-scientists across the United States since 2000.

2009 Clinical Investigator Awardees

Andrew L. Feldman, MD

Dr. Feldman's research focuses on defining the role of the transcription factor IRF4 in T-cell lymphomas (TCLs), aggressive cancers that are fatal in the majority of patients. He proposes that IRF4 represents a rational therapeutic target for TCLs and aims to develop new strategies to block IRF4 in lymphoma cells. Novel targeted therapies for TCL could greatly improve the outcome for patients with this disease.

Dr. Feldman works under the mentorship of Stephen M. Ansell, MD, PhD, and Ahmet Dogan, MD, PhD, at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

William Y. Kim, MD [Merck Investigator]

Bladder cancer is a prevalent and deadly disease, the fourth most common cancer in men. Dr. Kim is conducting a clinical trial examining the efficacy of erlotinib/Tarceva, an EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) inhibitor drug, in bladder cancer. His goal is to define predictors of patient response to erlotinib and other EGFR inhibitors and determine how to best coordinate EGFR inhibition with chemotherapy. These studies should have direct clinical impact on this deadly disease, allowing the treatment of patients most likely to benefit while minimizing unnecessary toxicity in those unlikely to respond.

Dr. Kim works under the mentorship of Charles M. Perou, PhD, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

C. Ryan Miller, MD, PhD [Genentech Investigator]

The most common and deadly primary brain tumor is glioblastoma (GBM), which is comprised of a spectrum of disease subtypes that develop along distinct molecular pathways. Dr. Miller aims to use comparative analyses of GBM from both humans and mouse models 1) to develop diagnostic assays to classify human GBM, 2) to define new targets for preclinical drug development, and 3) to define the molecular changes in GBM after standard-of-care therapy. The ultimate goal of the research is to inform the next generation of clinical trials for patients with specific molecular subtypes of GBM.

Dr. Miller works under the mentorship of Charles M. Perou, PhD, and Terry Van Dyke, PhD, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Vu H. Nguyen, MD [August M. Watanabe, MD, Investigator]

Dr. Nguyen's goal is to develop novel ways of controlling donor T immune cell activity to prevent acute graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) in cancer patients treated with bone marrow transplantation. His hypothesis is that regulatory T cells (Treg) can be used to suppress GvHD while preserving beneficial anti-tumor immunity. This work could have significant translational implications by reducing GvHD-associated mortality, thus improving the success of bone marrow transplantation in treatment of hematologic cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.

Dr. Nguyen works under the mentorship of Thomas F. Gajewski, MD, PhD, at The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

2009 Clinical Investigator Continuation Grants

Renier J. Brentjens, MD, PhD [Lilly Investigator]

Dr. Brentjens is leading an innovative Phase I trial using patients' own genetically modified immune T cells to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). His Continuation Grant will be used to complete this trial, while also initiating a related clinical trial to treat pediatric patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). These are patients for whom all other treatment options have been exhausted.

Dr. Brentjens works under the mentorship of Michel Sadelain, MD, PhD, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York.

Patrick A. Brown, MD [Lilly Investigator]

Dr. Brown is leading two national Phase I/II clinical trials focused on the first use of a small molecule inhibitor drug for the treatment of two types of pediatric leukemias, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). He is also developing a new test to predict patient response to this drug. The Continuation Grant will be used to complete these trials, which may lead to improved outcome for children with this disease.

Dr. Brown works under the mentorship of Donald Small, MD, PhD, at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Andrea L. Cox, MD, PhD

Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection often leads to liver cancer, the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Dr. Cox is involved in several clinical trials to develop a HCV vaccine, which, if successful, has the potential to have a significant impact on society. The Continuation Grant will allow completion of the trials and pursuit of further studies on how HCV escapes detection by our immune system.

Dr. Cox works under the mentorship of Drew M. Pardoll, MD, PhD, at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.


Contact: Yung S. Lie, Ph.D.
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

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