By Ellen Zimmerman
The Therapeutics-Focused Research Program will advance the understanding of the causes and progression of pancreatic cancer and will identify new potential therapies. This grant program will stimulate research to stretch the limits of our current understanding of pancreatic cancer treatment; promote collaboration; and identify novel therapeutic approaches and drug targets.
Fifty proposals underwent a rigorous review process by external pancreatic cancer experts; 10 projects were selected for funding—an investment of $11.2 million over the next three years.
“We are committed to advancing the best science to transform pancreatic cancer into a curable disease,” shared Linda Tantawi, CEO, Lustgarten Foundation. “The Therapeutics-Focused Research Program is critical to expanding the research in pancreatic cancer biology and enabling leading researchers and clinicians to collaborate to make new discoveries and advancements, giving patients and their families hope.”
The selected projects span four critical focus areas in pancreatic cancer biology:
Desmoplastic stroma: Discovering how the stroma—the supportive tissue surrounding the pancreatic tumor—may block treatments from reaching the tumor and design therapies to penetrate this barrier. Four grants were awarded to:
- Gregory Beatty, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, is using a novel approach to identify mechanisms of immune resistance and to sensitize tumors to cellular immune therapies. If successful, he could identify new approaches to improve CAR T cell immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer patients.
- Douglas Fearon, MD, is building on his prior Lustgarten-funded research to explore mechanisms to make pancreatic tumors more sensitive to immunotherapy by blocking the signals that exclude immune cells from tumors. If successful, he will identify new potential drug targets.
- Claus Jørgensen, PhD, University of Manchester, is conducting a novel screen for new drug targets based on stromal stiffness.
- Mara Sherman, PhD, Oregon Health & Science University, is conducting fundamental research into the origin the stroma, and if successful, her research will highlight novel cellular targets for new approaches to block progression of early-stage tumors.
Metabolic Dysregulation: Determining ways to stop tumor cell growth by blocking the abnormal metabolic pathways used by pancreatic cancer cells. Four grants were awarded to:
- James Johnson, PhD, University of British Columbia, is working on a combination of basic translational and clinical research to explore the link between pancreatic cancer and dysregulated sugar metabolism that if successful could lead to new approaches to control the progression of pancreatic cancer.
- Alec Kimmelman, MD, PhD, New York University School of Medicine, is examining metabolic changes as a driver for metastases. His research could lead to insights into pathways and processes controlling metastases in pancreatic cancer.
- Matthew Vanderheiden, MD, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is continuing his Lustgarten-funded research exploring metabolic interaction of the tumor and the body. His research could lead to new approaches to improve outcomes in pancreatic cancer by treating enzyme deficiencies more effectively.
Chronic inflammation: Understanding and discovering how to block the inflammatory signals that can lead to pancreatic cancer and other pancreatic diseases in response to environmental triggers. Two grants were awarded to:
- Mandar Muzumdar, MD, Yale University School of Medicine, will investigate the link between obesity and inflammation, which may lead to better understanding of triggers and potential targets for interception.
- David Pellman, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is building on previous Lustgarten-funded research to explore the source of mutations in pancreatic cancer using organoids, possibly leading to new drug targets.
Early Metastasis: Preventing the spread—or metastasis—of cancer by isolating metastatic triggers in cancer cells and the stroma. One grant was awarded to:
- Andrew Lowy, MD, University of California, San Diego, is working to validate novel drug targets to block metastasis, which could lead to a new drug discovery program.
Lustgarten-funded science has been a driving force in every major advancement in pancreatic cancer research. Through groundbreaking initiatives like the Therapeutics-Focused Research Program, we are accelerating progress and fostering new discoveries, providing the potential for more tomorrows for all pancreatic cancer patients. Learn more about the Lustgarten Foundation’s extensive research program.