$2.5 million grant from The Marcus Foundation funds clinical trials on aggressive cancers

May 6, 2013
DUARTE, Calif. — A grant from The Marcus Foundation will support the efforts by City of Hope scientist Hua Eleanor Yu, Ph.D., and her colleagues to test an innovative treatment for brain tumors and lymphomas. The therapy works through a two-part process that simultaneously takes apart the tumors’ support network while stimulating the immune system to attack the cancerous cells.

This approach devised by Yu, co-leader of the Cancer Immunotherapeutics Program, and colleagues has already demonstrated its effectiveness in preclinical studies, and the grant, totaling $2.5 million, will help advance it into human clinical trials. That research will assess the therapy’s effectiveness against both glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive type of brain tumor, and subtypes of B-cell lymphoma. Both cancers are hard to treat with standard therapy.

Co-investigators for this trial, the first of its kind in humans, include Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and the director of the T Cell Immunotherapy Research Laboratory; Behnam Badie, M.D., director of the Brain Tumor Program; and Marcin Kortylewski, Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology.

“This vital grant from The Marcus Foundation will enable us to turn promising study results into potentially lifesaving treatments for the thousands facing brain tumors and lymphomas,” said Michael A. Friedman, M.D., chief executive officer and Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair at City of Hope. “With fewer public resources available for research due to stagnant government funding and the impact of sequestration, this philanthropic support will allow us to push forward with innovative ideas that could become tomorrow’s cures.”

In previous studies, Yu and her team identified a protein called STAT3 that has been shown to promote tumor growth. Activation of the protein maintains a tumor-supportive microenvironment and disables immune cells surrounding the tumor, preventing them from attacking the cancerous cells. Yu’s approach uses two molecules to disrupt this environment. One molecule, called Stat3 siRNA, disables STAT3 production; the other molecule, a small snippet of DNA called CpG, binds to the tumor cells and can stimulate immune cells. When attached to one another and delivered together, the molecules can home in on the tumors to dismantle their defenses and trigger the immune system to attack the cancerous cells.

Both molecules have been tested independently for the treatment of cancers, but this will be the first assessment of the CpG-Stat3 siRNA combination.

“This therapy approach has been shown to be successful in mouse models, with results indicating that it inhibits glioblastoma multiforme tumor growth while elevating its sensitivity to chemotherapy; in B cell lymphoma, this approach has led to the self-destruction of tumor cells,” Yu said. “Thanks to the grant of The Marcus Foundation, we can start to bring this paradigm-shifting method to treat these cancers in humans.”

Yu and her team aim to begin clinical trials around October 2014 for both diseases.

“We have been involved with the research programs at City of Hope for many years,” said Bernie Marcus, chairman of The Marcus Foundation. “We are particularly excited about Dr. Yu’s unique approach to these very difficult cancer diseases and feel this investment has great potential.”

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be more than 100,000 new cases of brain tumors and lymphomas in 2013; the diseases are expected to cause more than 34,000 deaths this year.

About The Marcus Foundation
The Marcus Foundation focuses on Jewish causes, children, medical research, free enterprise and the community. It was established in 1989 by Bernard Marcus, founder of The Home Depot Inc., the world’s largest home improvement retailer.
H. Chung So
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About City of Hope
City of Hope is a leading research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Designated as a comprehensive cancer center, the highest recognition bestowed by the National Cancer Institute, City of Hope is also a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, with research and treatment protocols that advance care throughout the nation. City of Hope’s main hospital is located in Duarte, Calif., just northeast of Los Angeles, with clinics in Antelope Valley and South Pasadena. It is ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" in cancer by U.S.News & World Report. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a pioneer in the fields of bone marrow transplantation and genetics. For more information, visit www.cityofhope.org or follow City of Hope on  , , , Breakthroughs Blog or  .