City of Hope awarded $7.5M to develop treatment for rare cancer

April 3, 2019 | by Zen Vuong

Christiane Querfeld, M.D., Ph.D. Christiane Querfeld, M.D., Ph.D.
City of Hope recently received $7.5 million in grant awards to study a rare type of blood cancer that affects the skin: cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL).
 
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded two grants valued at $6.3 million over five years to City of Hope’s Steven Rosen, M.D., and Christiane Querfeld, M.D., Ph.D., so that they can develop improved therapies for CTCL, a disfiguring, incurable cancer that affects about 3,000 new individuals each year. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) also gave the pair two individual grants totaling $1.2 million over three years. Rosen and Querfeld will approach the problem from different angles in their respective laboratories.
 
City of Hope is creating a national model for how to treat CTCL,” said Rosen, City of Hope's provost, chief scientific officer and the Morgan & Helen Chu Director’s Chair of the Beckman Research Institute. “Symptoms can include large, disfiguring plaques and tumors on the skin, or a red rash that may cover the entire body. You can’t imagine the joy in patients’ eyes when our experimental treatments mollify CTCL symptoms. We are grateful for the trust the federal government and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have in us and our results.”
 
A world-renowned independent research and treatment center for cancer and diabetes, City of Hope has one of the nation’s most distinguished skin lymphoma programs, which is housed in the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center. Established by donors Emmet and Toni Stephenson, along with their daughter Tessa Stephenson Brand, the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center attracts experts to City of Hope and drives life-giving research and care. Its multidisciplinary Cutaneous Lymphoma Program includes dermatologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, dermatopathologists, nurses, social workers and supportive care services.
 
Querfeld, chief of dermatology and director of City of Hope’s Cutaneous Lymphoma Program and a Schwartz Ward Family Foundation LLS Scholar, has been studying and treating patients with CTCL for 17 years. She will use her grants to advance her clinical phase 1/2 trial that looked at immune checkpoint PD1/PD-L1 inhibition. Her team will map the communication network among the disease’s cellular, molecular and immunological microenvironment. Blocking or silencing certain communication networks could eliminate tumors or cancers, she said.   
 
“The result of this newly funded study will allow physicians to use personalized medicine for certain patients with CTCL,” Querfeld said. “We will identify potential therapeutic targets and correlative markers that help guide immunotherapy treatments.”
 
Querfeld was mentored by Rosen, City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair, when she first entered the research world. CTCL has been one of Rosen’s research foci since the 1980s. He has identified novel groups of targets to advance the development of therapeutic compounds for this disease. His NCI and LLS grant awards will build the foundational knowledge scientists need to develop targeted drug therapies for people with CTCL. Specifically, he will look at molecular regulators like p38γ, a protein kinase that is overexpressed in CTCL cells, but not in healthy immune T cells.
 
Conventional treatments for CTCL work for a few months, and only about 30 percent of patients respond to treatment, Querfeld said.
 
“The goal Dr. Rosen and I have in our respective labs is to develop life-changing treatments for people who have CTCL,” said Querfeld, who sees these patients at City of Hope’s Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center every Wednesday.
 
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