Researchers Advancing Blood Cancer Therapies Receive $42.75 Million in Grants From The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Society's Prestigious Specialized Center of Research Program Hits $159 Million Mark

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Oct. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society today announced it has awarded four new Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grants, the Society's most ambitious and synergistic research initiative, bringing the program's total funding to $159 million since its inception in 2000.

Three of this year's SCOR recipients will receive $1.25 million per year for five years, for a total of $6.25 million, and one will receive $1.05 million per year for five years, for a total of $5.25 million. In addition, the Society is renewing three existing SCORs for five more years.

The innovative SCOR program brings together teams of researchers representing different disciplines in a collaborative effort to discover new approaches to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. Awards go to those groups that best demonstrate outstanding scientific promise and the synergy that will occur from their combined efforts.

"The four SCOR recipients selected this year have assembled teams that are pursuing new targets for drug therapy," said Marshall Lichtman, M.D., the Society's executive vice president, Research & Medical Programs. "In addition to lymphoma, acute myelogenous and lymphocytic leukemia, two understudied problems, infant leukemia and the myeloproliferative diseases are being investigated. The latter diseases are essentially three different forms of chronic myelogenous leukemia. A recently described mutation common to the myeloproliferative diseases provides an opportunity to develop the first specific treatment of these disorders. These SCOR grants represent an impressive addition of outstanding scientists and scientific goals to the Society's Specialized Centers program."

The recipients for 2006 are:

Frederick W. Alt, PhD., Howard Hughes Medical Investigator at Children's Hospital Boston; Janeway Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School; Scientific Director of the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research. Dr. Alt received the Society's de Villiers International Achievement Award last year for his seminal work in immune cell function, genetic instability in cancer, and the DNA repair process that can prevent cancer-causing mutations. His SCOR will focus on the causes of B cell lymphomas and the development of new therapies for these tumors. To develop more effective treatments, Dr. Alt's team will focus on two fundamental properties of malignant B cells: B cell receptor (BCR) signaling and DNA repair-associated genetic abnormalities. They will identify pre-disposing genetic factors that are likely to serve as molecular targets for new therapies. The SCOR team also includes researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Carolyn A. Felix, MD, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. Felix's research concentrates on improving the dismal outcome for infants with leukemia -- these blood cancers are characterized by chromosomal abnormalities called translocations which involve the breakage and abnormal recombination of a gene called MLL (Mixed Lineage Leukemia) with one of many partner genes. Dr. Felix's SCOR team will characterize the MLL leukemia stem cell from which all other leukemia cells derive, identify and develop agents that specifically target cells with MLL translocations, and learn in which infants these new drugs are most likely to be effective. Her team comprises researchers from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Center at Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University and Tulane University. The multi-faceted, multi-institutional team will collaborate with and access critical resources of the Children's Oncology Group in order to streamline advancement of new agents from the laboratory to affected infants.

Anthony Green, MD, PhD, FRCPath, University of Cambridge, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research Haematology. Prof. Green studies normal hematopoietic stem cells and the way they can give rise to haematological malignancies including the myeloproliferative disorders (MPDs). Research has shown that defects in one gene, JAK2, are present in most but not all patients with an MPD. This and other molecular discoveries will help develop new approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders. Prof. Green's SCOR, based in the United Kingdom, will bring together and provide infrastructural support for researchers from the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research, the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, the Sanger Institute and Addenbrooke's Hospital. The SCOR will also benefit from Prof. Green's role as coordinator of the largest randomized MPD clinical trial and from collaboration with the UK MPD Study Group, a national network of MPD physicians.

Michael Thirman, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Leukemia Biology, University of Chicago. Dr. Thirman's work is focused on critical genetic changes in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). His SCOR will develop and test novel agents that can target and disrupt the molecular pathways that result in the transformation of blood cells into cancer cells. The researchers will study the role of several genes that are critical to the development of leukemia and lymphoma. They will focus on the development of peptides and small molecules that can penetrate cancer cells and target pathways that are essential to survival. His SCOR is a collaboration with researchers from the University of Chicago, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and University of California San Diego.

In addition to the four new centers, the Society has renewed three SCORs led by Carl June, MD, University of Pennsylvania, whose SCOR is working on developing new immunotherapies for adults and children with blood cancers; Stephen Nimer, MD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, whose team is working toward understanding how fusion proteins cause leukemias and might serve as new therapy targets; and Jerry Adams, PhD, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, whose SCOR is trying to understand how the cell death process called apoptosis is blocked in blood cancer cells so that new, targeted drugs can be developed to effectively kill cancer cells.

SCOR is one of three integrated research programs established by the Society. The Career Development Program provides stipends to investigators of exceptional promise in the early stages of their careers, and the Translational Research Program encourages and supports outstanding investigative research that shows strong promise of translating biomedical knowledge into new treatments. The Society also bestows the Stohlman Scholar Award, given to scientists who hold faculty-level or equivalent positions at major research institutions and who are in the fifth year of their research.

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