Stephan Grupp, Ph.D., M.D.

Funded by the Dick Vitale Gala in Memory of John Saunders

Immunotherapy has given hope to many patients with previously incurable cancers. One of the strongest new immunotherapy techniques is CD19-targeted cell therapy. This is a method of engineering T cells from a patient to attack their own cancer. B-ALL, a type of leukemia, is the most common cancer in kids. In B-ALL, CD19-targeted cell therapy has put over 90% of relapsed patients into remission within a month of receiving these engineered T cells. One problem is that some patients’ cancers learn to hide the CD19 target that these engineered T cells see. The lack of the target allows the cancer to hide from the T cells and come back. This can happen in more than 20% of patients. With this grant, we will explore an alternative target called CD22. CD22 is on more than 90% of B-ALL cells. We will use a combination of CD19-targeted T cells and a drug called inotuzumab that attacks CD22 to prevent the cancer cells from coming back, even if they can hide the CD19 target. We will also develop T cells to target CD22. First, we will move forward with a combination approach using the CD19 cells and the CD22 drug in B-ALL patients. Later, we may use T cells against both CD19 and CD22. Currently, bone marrow transplant is the best option for kids with relapsed disease, but this comes with many risks. As we increase the number of patients remaining in long-term remission with these cell therapies, we can see a future where fewer patients need to undergo the risks of bone marrow transplant.

Michael Zinner, M.D.

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

Baptist Health South Florida is developing Miami Cancer Institute into a destination cancer center known for its leading clinical care, exceptional patient experience, advanced clinical research and state-of-the-art technology – including the first proton therapy center in South Florida, Latin America and the Caribbean.  To accelerate its mission of hope, caring and innovation, Miami Cancer Institute has announced plans to join the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance, a dynamic partnership that will ultimately enable cancer patients to access potential breakthrough therapies right here in South Florida.

Tian Zhang, M.D.

Funded by friends of TK and Virginia Wetherell

Metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) – prostate cancer which is resistant to androgen deprivation therapy – can be often aggressive and lethal. The androgen receptor (AR) has an important role in the disease course of prostate cancer, since both enzalutamide and abiraterone acetate improve overall survival by exerting effects on the AR pathway. Our preclinical data shows that AR can increase proteins that are needed maintaining copper balance, such as the copper transporter protein, which we found in prostate cancer samples. To take advantage of the copper biology in prostate cancer, we performed a “conditional lethal” screen for drugs that exert their cancer-killing effects based on the presence of copper. This screen identified disulfiram “Antabuse”, as a potential drug for prostate cancer. Antabuse has been tested before in prostate cancer but never in the presence of copper. Mouse models of prostate cancer have shown that those cancer masses can shrink when Antabuse is given along with copper. Therefore, we propose to study the combination of Antabuse and intravenous copper, to find the safety profile for this combination of drugs. In addition, we will study the copper uptake of these patients’ prostate cancers using a radiolabeled copper PET scan. These studies will allow us to see whether the baseline copper uptake of a patient’s prostate cancer is linked to their response on the combination of Antabuse and intravenous copper.

Kenneth Westover, M.D., Ph.D.

V Scholar Plus Award- extended funding for exceptional V Scholars

Cancer is an abnormal state wherein cells become uncontrolled in their ability to divide, grow and cross tissue borders. These cellular processes are governed by an array of signaling proteins including KRAS. Mutations in the KRAS protein result in uncontrolled signaling leading to cancer. KRAS mutations are some of the most common causes of many types of cancer. However, researchers have struggled to discover ways of treating tumors driven by mutant KRAS. The goal of this project is to develop new drugs that directly target mutant KRAS proteins. We will focus on two mutations. One is common in lung cancer, KRAS G12C. The other is common in gastrointestinal cancers, KRAS G13D.

Michael Weber, Ph.D.

Funded by Virginia Vine 2016

“Precision medicine” aims to develop better treatments by understanding the molecular causes of disease. This is essential in cancer because each type (breast, brain, or blood cancer, for example) represents dozens of different kinds of cancer at the molecular level. And each of these different molecular sub-types requires different treatments.

Based on research of the past twenty years, we understand a great deal about what drives cancers. Many drugs have been devised that specifically target these causes – molecular “smart bombs.” However, the cancer cells rapidly adapt and find escape routes. Drugs that seem to work ultimately fail. We get many hopeful responses but few cures.

Our research seeks to identify and block these escape routes. We look at the molecular changes inside cancer cells after drugs are applied, and we then use other drugs to “slam the door” so the cancer cannot escape treatment. Our approach is already proving successful: We are testing one of these combinations in people to treat Mantle Cell Lymphoma. We propose to look at similar cancers that might benefit from this approach. We also want to better understand ways that cancer cells might escape from our combination treatments. Our goal is to improve responses to therapy and turn temporary responses into real cures.

Eliezer Van Allen, M.D.

Funded by the Stewart J. Rahr Foundation PCF Challenge Award: 

co-funded by The Prostate Cancer Foundation and

the 2016 V Foundation Wine Celebration Fund a Need

Nearly all patients with metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) develop resistance to androgen targeting agents and ultimately succumb to their disease. Recent discoveries by our group and others have demonstrated that a significant proportion of these patients harbor somatic or germline genomic defects in DNA repair defects, and targeting this genomically defined subset with therapies affecting this pathway may impact patient care. The goal of this project is to definitively characterize the genomic and functional landscape of DNA repair defects in mCRPC, clinically test the hypothesis that tumors harboring DNA repair defects preferentially benefit from immune checkpoint blockade, and explore innovative strategies to augment the efficacy of these agents through genomic and preclinical approaches. The project described herein is the first to comprehensively bridge the DNA repair and immuno-oncology fields to directly impact patients with advanced prostate cancer. We propose an integrated strategy that leverages advances in clinical genomics, trial design, and preclinical modeling methodology pioneered by our team. Furthermore, our proposal will be the first to specifically enable immune checkpoint blockade treatment strategies for mCRPC. In summary, this project will catalyze our understanding of how DNA repair defects impact advanced prostate cancer, and how deep knowledge about these events may enable clinical development of a transformative new class of immunotherapies that are greatly needed for advanced prostate cancer patients.

Hatem Soliman, M.D.

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

This project attempts to use advanced analytical software (IBM’s Watson) to provide a comprehensive picture of our metastatic breast cancer patient population over a 5 year period at the Moffitt Cancer Center. The projects aims are to capture this dataset over the course of a year and enter in many different data points about the patients. These data points describe what this population of patients looks like from the perspective of an oncologist determining how many of them are eligible for any given trial that they have open. With this information we can use Watson to generate a detailed report to help us understand what types of patients we see, how those groups have changed over time, and most importantly what trials can we seek out to best match up with the patients we see at our center. The goal is to use data analysis to help us plan what mix of different trials we need to open in the future to best serve our patients’ needs.

Charles Perou, Ph.D.

Funded in honor of Nick Valvano by a challenge grant with

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Personalized medicine for cancer patients is a current goal of biomedical research. A few gene expression-based assays have already proven to have clinical utility (i.e. value), especially for breast cancer patients (see 2016 ASCO biomarker guidelines). Therefore the continued discovery and clinical development of additional gene expression assays could be an important aspect for furthering personalized treatments. Here we propose to develop a new generation of gene expression-based assays for possible use in cancer care. The goal of this proposal is to further develop and test a genome-wide RNA-sequencing assay and it’s companion bioinformatics tool, for the automated classification of a tumor according to 300 different expression signatures. These signatures span a broad range of biological phenotypes including the microenvironment (immune cells, fibroblasts), tumor features (growth factor signaling pathways), and of cancer stem cells. Some of these 300 signature may eventually be of clinical value, and so in this proposal we will create a new technological platform with linked bioinformatics, to provide these signatures as new potential biomarkers for future clinical testing.

Chad Pecot, M.D.

Funded in partnership with

the Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina

utilizing Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Fund matching funds

While newer treatments for some types of lung cancers have improved patient survival, similar advances in squamous cancers of the lung, head and neck have been slow. Recent studies of the genes that characterize squamous cancers have revealed they are very complicated with no clear “smoking gun” way of attacking them. However the use of new therapies that activate the immune system has demonstrated exciting promise in squamous cancers.

We have found a new class of squamous cancers whose tumors take advantage of the immune system. We have created a list of genes that identifies patients with these types of cancers. This is the basis for a clinical trial we are developing. However, an important unmet need in North Carolina is an improved understanding of squamous cancers in black patients.

We believe that our list of genes will help determine whether black patients will benefit from immune therapies. We also believe that the amount of CD14 protein in their tumors, which is found on certain immune cells, will be helpful for a clinical trial we are creating. Building off of ongoing and upcoming clinical trials, the objectives of this proposal are to determine in black patients with squamous cancers whether our gene signature predicts for benefit to immune therapies already available to our patients. We also plan to find out whether the CD14 protein on these tumors will be useful for a clinical trial we are developing.

Jesse Nodora, Dr PH

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

The reasons why cancer patients do or do not participate in cancer (clinical trials) research are complex. Often this is due to the lack of awareness of which studies are occurring by both the patient and their primary care clinicians.

Another very important reason is that patients, especially patients that do not speak English, are not invited to participate because the research team does not have non-English speakers or study materials in the patient’s language. We at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center (MCC) have the opportunity to better understand and address low clinical trials participation among our largest under-represented racial/ethnic group, Hispanics. Working with a multidisciplinary team of physicians and non-physician scientists we propose to inform key organizations in the South Bay of San Diego, a Hispanic-dense geographic area, about specific breast cancer clinical trials.

Further, we will assess the reasons (barriers) for study participation among Hispanic MCC breast cancer patients.  By focusing on minority breast cancer patients, the V Foundation funds complement and expand our emerging efforts to increase minority clinical trials enrollment (accrual) and related outreach and inform how to intervene with MCC patients, providers, and leadership. We are particularly interested in targeting Hispanic breast cancer patients because they are the largest minority group in San Diego and Imperial counties, the regions served by the MCC, and our accrual data show that this is the single group that remains under-represented in our therapeutic clinical trials.

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