March 13, 2019
Funding that makes a difference for cancer patients
BY Ron Gilmore
Whether it is new clinical trials for pediatric cancers or programs designed to increase access to smoking cessation programs for low-income pregnant women, there are few areas related to cancer prevention, treatment or research untouched by the funding received by MD Anderson from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).
MD Anderson and its projects have been fortunate to have received $447.6 million, or nearly 20 percent of total CPRIT awards. It has meant vital funding for recruitment of top cancer researchers –such as 2018 Nobel Prize Laureate Jim Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology – and many other scientists who daily bring new findings and important discoveries to the field of oncology research.
“It is simply not possible to underscore the impact that CPRIT has had on cancer research and prevention and clinical programs,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., MD Anderson president. “It is literally a gift from the people of Texas that allows for significant new developments and to ensure that we have the very brightest minds at work here at MD Anderson, as well as at other Texas cancer research institutions.”
Since its inception in 2009, CPRIT has awarded $2.26 billion in grants for cancer research, the agency began making awards after Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a 2007 constitutional amendment committing $3 billion to the fight against cancer. Programs made possible with CPRIT funding have reached Texans from all 254 counties of the state, brought more than 170 distinguished researchers to Texas, advanced scientific and clinical knowledge, and provided more than 5.2 million life-saving education, training, prevention and early detection services to Texans.
In total, CPRIT funding has enabled MD Anderson to recruit 30 distinguished cancer researchers including established investigators, first-time tenure track and rising stars, as well as two National Academy of Science members.
One researcher, Michael Andreeff, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Leukemia, is pursuing a CPRIT-funded study of leukemia and bone marrow to better understand relapse in acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
“CPRIT funding allows us to investigate AML in its bone marrow microenvironment. Much progress has been made in deciphering the oncogenic signaling pathways in leukemia cells and we were rewarded with drugs that specifically target these “miswired” leukemia networks,” said Andreeff.
“However, the bone marrow environment is critical for generating leukemia and for the survival of leukemic cells after therapy since the resistant cells reside there and cause relapse. We are taking a three-pronged approach that identifies and perhaps reverses hypoxia in the bone marrow using the oxidative phosphorylation inhibitor developed through the Institute for Applied Cancer Science.”
Andreeff’s research team was able to disrupt the leukemia interactions in the bone marrow by genetically modifying T and natural killer cells to target and kill leukemia cells.
Key areas of support by CPRIT have included:
- $22 million for cancer prevention and tobacco control, health care training and education, evidence-based prevention, colorectal cancer testing, and other preventive efforts.
- Nearly $40 million for core facilities for proteomics and metabolics, integrated single-cell genomics, pediatric solid tumor comprehensive data resource, precision oncology decision support, protein array and analysis, flow cytometry and cell imaging, and next generation sequencing.
- Clinical trials exploring new treatments in many cancer areas, including melanoma, breast, lymphoma, leukemia, as well as pediatric cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and medulloblastoma.
- Research funding for study of early detection approaches, which explore novel biomarkers and biological indicators for ovarian, colon, pancreatic, lung, liver and other cancers.
- Support for MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, helping to recruit Moon Shot leaders such as Andy Futreal, Ph.D., and 2018 Nobel Laureate Jim Allison, Ph.D., and providing opportunities for investigators to expand MD Anderson projects and programs.
- Cancer prevention efforts in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where increased cervical cancer screenings and preventive treatments are making a difference in the lives of patients in a region where mortality rates are 30 percent higher than the rest of the state.
In addition, CPRIT has provided nearly $20 million to support Magnolia Tejas Corporation, a Houston-based subsidiary of Magnolia Neuroscience Corporation, which was launched by MD Anderson and Accelerated Life Science Partners, to develop novel targeted therapy based on MD Anderson discoveries.