HPV-Related Cancers Research Projects
MOON SHOTS PROGRAM
HPV-Related Cancers Flagship Projects
Our research projects address the crucial issues facing patients with cancers caused by HPV, including cervical, oropharyngeal, penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers, by focusing our largest efforts on the approaches that have near‐term measurable success. These research efforts are aimed at preventing the development of these cancers through HPV vaccination and improved screening methods, uncovering the biological features associated with these cancers and using novel clinical trials to develop new treatment options for patients.
Prevention and screening
Improving HPV vaccination rates and developing new screening methods
Identifying vulnerable features of HPV-related cancers that can be targeted with therapies
Immunotherapy and novel trials
Developing and designing clinical trials that will improve treatment options for HPV-related cancers
Cancers that are caused by infection with HPV can be prevented through vaccination, but less than 50% of young people receive the HPV vaccination. For individuals that weren’t vaccinated in childhood, new screening methods need to be developed to detect non-cervical HPV-driven cancers and access to cervical cancer screening must be improved in underserved populations. The HPV-Related Cancers Moon Shot® team seeks to address these issues by improving prevention and screening efforts.
Vaccinating teenagers against HPV may be the key to wiping out HPV-related cancers. To improve the rate of vaccination of kids, the Moon Shot® team is focusing on educating healthcare providers, promoting social awareness and acceptance, enacting policy change and developing infrastructure and support for large-scale HPV vaccination. Many of these efforts are coordinated in partnership with Cancer Prevention and Control Moon Shot® platform. We’re educating medical practitioners about the importance of vaccination at the local, state and national level through professional presentations to health care providers and through medical school curriculum. To remove the stigma surrounding HPV and encourage vaccination, we’re using mass reach social media campaigns and mobilizing HPV-related cancer survivors to share their stories. We’re also impacting policy and legislation. Our Moon Shot experts served as resource witnesses on Senate Bill 200, which was passed in 2015 and requires the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop a strategic plan to reduce the mortality associated with HPV-related cancers. To translate this legislation into actionable results, we’re participating in the development of this strategic plan and are also generating fine-tuned economic models to ensure our large-scale vaccination efforts are financially feasible.
Our Moon Shot team is also identifying ways to improve screening methods for cervical cancer and developing new screening methods for non-cervical HPV-related cancers. We’ve initiated a unique program called Project ECHO that uses a telementoring approach to provide health care providers in rural and underserved communities with specialist advice regarding best practices for cervical cancer screening, diagnosis and early cancer management. Early-stage oropharyngeal disease often eludes routine detection, and routine screening for anal and penile cancers has not been developed. We’re initiating and conducting studies to identify the most effective screening methods for these types of cancers.
At the cellular level, very little is known about the mechanisms of progression of HPV-driven cancers. The HPV-Related Cancers Moon Shot team aims to demystify the biological underpinnings of these cancer types through genomic sequencing and proteomic analysis. These studies will offer information about how these cancers develop resistance to current therapies and may identify new therapeutic targets to prevent and treat HPV-related cancers.
Many of the tissue types associated with HPV-related cancers have not been sequenced, making them excellent candidates for discovery-driven studies. Our Moon Shot team is partnering with the Cancer Genomics Laboratory Moon Shot platform to sequence the genome of HPV-driven cancer tissue samples. This effort will enable us to identify the genes that are altered to drive drug resistance in these cancers and determine ways in which we can exploit these mechanisms to prevent resistance.
Standard therapies for HPV-driven cancers are effective, but can have negative impacts on a patient’s quality of life, including late and permanent toxicities. We’re using large-scale integrative analyses to identify novel targets, drugs or drug combinations that target HPV-driven cancers specifically. The development of treatment approaches that target the cancer more effectively could transform clinical outcomes and enhance a patient’s quality of life treatment.
Identifying gene targets, drugs or drug combinations is only the first step in developing novel therapies; they must also be thoroughly tested in the preclinical setting. To do this, we partner closely with the Center for Co-Clinical Trials (CCCT) Moon Shot platform. We’re developing a pipeline that uses patient-derived laboratory models to evaluate promising therapies. By testing these promising therapies in preclinical models that closely resemble a patient’s cancer, our Moon Shot team can make calculated decisions about which drugs should continue through the drug development process and are the most likely to succeed in enhancing clinical outcomes for HPV-driven cancers.
Our Moon Shot team is aiming to bring novel, less toxic and more effective treatment options for HPV-related cancers into the clinic. We’re doing this by incorporating the most promising drug candidates from our Discovery flagship project into well-designed clinical trials. Many of these trials are focused on rare, under-recognized HPV-related cancer types, including anal, penile, vulvar and vaginal, and unique patient populations, including HIV+ individuals.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer and has led to major breakthroughs in the treatment of several cancer types. Since HPV-related cancers have specific signatures related to the HPV virus, immunotherapy for HPV holds great promise. Our Moon Shot team is extending the impact of this treatment approach to HPV-related cancers. To do this, we’re identifying the mechanisms that these cancers use to dampen a patient’s immune response and use immunotherapies, or therapy combinations, to enhance the immune activity towards HPV-related cancers. Our preclinical studies are currently testing checkpoint inhibitor drugs, which release the brakes on the immune system, and adoptive cellular therapies, which enhance the anti-tumor activity of powerful immune cells, for their effectiveness against treating HPV-related cancers.