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Cancer Dream Team

Date: 05/27/2009

Lewis Cantley, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and a research pioneer whose discovery of a molecular pathway known as PI3K has led to one of the most promising avenues for the development of personalized cancer therapies, will lead one of five scientific "dream teams" that have been awarded grants totaling $73.6 million from a national coalition called Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C).

A charitable initiative created by the Entertainment Industry Foundation and administered through the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), SU2C was created one year ago with the goal of getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated timeframe. Following a rigorous selection process, five scientific groups -- comprised of more than 300 individuals from 20 institutions and headed up by seven leaders, four co-leaders and 27 principal researchers, as well as patient advocacy representatives -- were awarded the three-year grants. Cantley's team will receive a $15 million grant.

Cantley, together with co-leaders Charles Sawyers, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Gordon Mills, MD, PhD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, will work with a group of more than 20 esteemed scientists from the country's leading cancer research institutions to investigate the role that PI3K mutations play in women's cancers, specifically breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. A key component of their work will focus on developing new approaches to more accurately predict which patients will respond positively to PI3K pathway inhibitors, a group of targeted cancer therapies currently being tested in clinical trials around the country.

Institutions represented on the Cantley Dream Team include Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Columbia University and Vall d'Hebron Oncology Research Institute, as well as BIDMC. The team's Principal Investigators include Carlos Arteaga, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.; Jose Baselga, MD of Vall d'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain; Thomas Roberts, PhD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Ramon Parsons, MD, PhD, of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University in New York.

"I'm honored and privileged to lead this outstanding group of investigators," said Cantley, who is also Chief of the Division of Signal Transduction at BIDMC and William Bosworth Castle Professor of Medicine and a co-founder of the Systems Biology Department at Harvard Medical School. "By taking the unique approach of collaborating not only across multiple institutions but also across multiple diseases, we aim to encourage the exchange of materials and ideas between scientists and clinicians with the ultimate goal of accelerating drug approvals and providing new and efficient techniques for personalized cancer treatments."

Adds Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who chaired the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee overseeing the selection of the five scientific Dream Teams, "Recent advancements in basic science and technologies have placed us on the cusp of important discoveries that can revolutionize the fight against cancer. SU2C aims to capitalize on that progress and is pushing it forward at what will be an extraordinarily quick pace. The Dream Teams bring together leading laboratory scientists and physicians, collaborating in ways that are unprecedented with a laser-like focus on research that has enormous potential to help patients and save lives."

Collectively, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer affect more than 3 million women throughout the U.S. with more than 200,000 new cases reported each year. Knowing that genetic aberrations in the PI3K pathway are the most frequent events underlying women's cancers, Cantley, Sawyers and Mills assembled this pioneering group of basic, translational and clinical scientists working on this molecular pathway.

"One of our key roadblocks remains an inability to design and implement clinical trials that match patients to the targeted therapies most likely to inhibit their own tumors," says Cantley. As with other 'targeted therapies,' it's likely that only a fraction of patients who enter trials testing PI3K inhibitor agents will actually benefit from these drugs, he notes, adding that without being able to accurately predict in advance which patients will see benefits, many women will be given therapies that not only produce no results, but also cause unnecessary complications.

"Our goal for this project is to identify the specific biomarker molecules that will predict which patients will be most likely to benefit from PI3K inhibitor drugs, either as single agents or in combinations with other drugs," he adds. "And because of the extraordinary level of collaboration created through the formation of this "Dream Team,' this goal seems imminently possible."

SU2C was created exactly one year ago through the efforts of the entertainment industry, and the majority of funds that are being awarded to the five Dream Teams were raised in connection with an SU2C telethon in September 2008 that was simultaneously broadcast on the ABC, CBS and NBC television networks.

A summa cum laude graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Cantley obtained a doctorate in biophysical chemistry from Cornell University in 1975. He completed postdoctoral research at Harvard from 1975 to 1978 when he joined the department of biochemistry and molecular biology as an assistant professor. Prior to his appointment at Harvard Medical School, Cantley was Professor of Physiology at Tufts University School of Medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Cell and the Journal of Cell Biology. He is the recipient of the 2005 Pezcoller Foundation-American Association for Cancer Research International Award for Cancer Research.

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Ave
Boston, MA 02215

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