Cancer Program News

Pelotonia and Spielman Fund Dollars Contribute to 11 New Cancer Research Grants at Ohio State

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) has announced 11 new grants awarded through the 2013 Intramural Research Program (IRP).

These multiyear grants, which total $1.4 million and represent creative approaches to understanding and curing cancer, are a way to help teams of scientists at Ohio State start projects that can later attract larger grants from external sources, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Nine of the 11 new grants are classed as Idea Grants and two are classed as Protocol Specific Research (PSR) Grants.

Funding comes primarily from dollars raised by Pelotonia, an annual grassroots bicycle tour established in 2009 to raise money for cancer research at Ohio State, but also from the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at the OSUCCC – James, matching support from Ohio State’s College of Engineering, and support from the local American Cancer Society, as well as from the OSUCCC’s NCI support grant.

“Asking questions that lead to brilliant ideas is at the root of scientific discovery,” says Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, director of the OSUCCC and CEO of The James. “Quantum leaps in science are made by this type of innovative thinking, but funding for the early pursuit of such initiatives is hard to obtain. With unwavering commitment, our community has rallied behind Pelotonia to raise money and provide Ohio State with resources to recruit the best and the brightest minds, to have the tools, technology and instrumentation needed to conduct the research, and to fund new, bold ideas – ideas that without the support of Pelotonia would likely remain unexplored.”

Since Pelotonia began four years ago, 40 Idea Grants have been awarded to teams of OSUCCC – James researchers at an investment exceeding $4 million.

The Idea Grants cover an array of studies, such as using “liquid biopsy” for early detection of lung and liver cancers, and devising critically needed improved therapies for patients with triple- negative breast cancer.

In addition to IRP grants, the OSUCC – James also has awarded about $1 million a year through Pelotonia money to propel the careers of the University’s youngest cancer researchers – from undergraduates to graduate students to postdoctoral fellows – as they conduct exciting projects in the labs of faculty mentors.

Drug Shows Potential as Safe and Effective for Chronic Leukemia, Mantle Cell Lymphoma

John ByrdTwo clinical studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine with an accompanying editorial suggest that the novel agent ibrutinib shows real potential as a safe, effective, targeted treatment for adults with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and for patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).

Both studies, co-led by the OSUCCC – James and MD Anderson Cancer Center, were published in the Journal’s June 19, 2013 online edition.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and Ibrutinib

Results from this phase Ib/II trial showed an overall response rate (complete and partial) of 71 percent. At 26 months the estimated progression-free survival rate was 75 percent and overall survival was 83 percent.

“Essentially all CLL patients respond well to ibrutinib, which lacks many of the side effects of chemotherapy and frequently produces long-lasting remissions even in patients with high-risk genetic lesions,” says study co-leader John C. Byrd, MD, director of the Division of Hematology and a CLL specialist at the OSUCCC – James.

CLL is the most common form of adult leukemia with an estimated 15,000 Americans diagnosed annually. It is a cancer of B cells, which are a major component of the immune system along with T cells. Ibrutinib (PCI-32765) is the first drug designed to target Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, a protein essential for CLL cell survival and proliferation. Ibrutinib kills malignant B cells but has little effect on healthy T cells – unlike other CLL therapies. This leaves an important arm of the immune system largely intact, enabling patients to remain healthier during treatment.

Mantle Cell Lymphoma and Ibrutinib

Results from this phase II trial showed an overall response rate of 68 percent, with 21 percent of patients achieving a complete response and 47 percent achieving a partial response. Estimated overall survival was 58 percent at 18 months.

“This is remarkable because the last agent approved by the Food and Drug Administration for MCL had a 30- percent response rate,” says senior author Kristie Blum, MD, associate professor of medicine and head of the OSUCCC – James lymphoma program. “This trial suggests that ibrutinib could significantly improve the landscape of therapy options for MCL.”

MCL is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a malignancy that is expected to strike nearly 70,000 Americans in 2013. About 7 percent of those cases will be MCL, a cancer of white blood cells called B lymphocytes, or B cells.

Currently, oncologists treat MCL using combination chemotherapy or intensive chemotherapy plus immunotherapy, followed by stem-cell transplantation.

Raphael Pollock, MD, PhD, to Lead Ohio State’s Division of Surgical Oncology

Raphael PollockRaphael E. Pollock, MD, PhD, known and respected worldwide as a gifted cancer surgeon and researcher and a passionate educator of physicians-in-training, will become a professor and director of the Division of Surgical Oncology in The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center College of Medicine, Department of Surgery. Pollock will also serve as the chief of surgical services of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Pollock’s appointment is effective Sept. 1. He comes to Ohio State after 31 years at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he held several leadership roles, the most recent being chief of surgery.

Dr. Pollock’s clinical practice and laboratory research focus on soft tissue sarcoma, a rare cancer in adults but rather prevalent in children. He has published widely on sarcoma surgery and treatment, and his funded research includes sarcoma molecular biology and the development of novel therapeutics for this group of diseases. His laboratory work involves the discovery of oncogenes and tumor-suppressor genes in soft tissue sarcoma.

Dr. Pollock is principal investigator of an $11.5 million National Cancer Institute grant to support collaborative sarcoma translational research. The NCI Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant, awarded to the Sarcoma Alliance for Research Through Collaboration last fall, represents the largest award ever to study sarcoma. The sarcoma SPORE grant research will now be located at the OSUCCC – James, where Pollock aims to grow the sarcoma program and train residents and fellows in treatment of this cancer.

As director of the Division of Surgical Oncology, Pollock will expand on the tremendous foundation built by William Farrar, MD, over the last two decades. A professor and surgical oncologist at Ohio State for 25 years, Farrar will continue to direct The Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center and serve as medical director of credentialing at the OSUCCC – James.

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