SEATTLE, Dec. 26 -- Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center announced its first-ever grants from its newly established Evergreen Fund to spur researchers’ efforts to advance bold ideas toward creating or partnering with a commercial entity.
A total of $1 million was awarded to eight Fred Hutch research projects ranging from the development of new immunotherapies for cancer to finding new treatments for HIV/AIDS.
“The Evergreen Fund is an innovative, bold initiative by the Hutch to promote commercialization of its latest research into lifesaving therapies for cancer and other diseases,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch. “We firmly believe it will lead to new ventures and partnerships that will significantly improve outcomes in the battle to defeat cancer and other diseases. It’s a new chapter in our ongoing commitment to creating enterprises that will be game-changers for global health.”
The recipients were selected from dozens of applications in a process overseen by the 26-member Advisory Committee that includes venture capitalists, intellectual property lawyers, Fred Hutch leaders and top executives from biotech, medtech and pharmaceutical firms.
“The Evergreen Fund will provide critical funding to advance the work of eight commercially-viable projects within Fred Hutch,” said Dr. Niki Robinson, Vice President, Business Development and Industry Relations. “We are so excited to create the possibility for advancing and accelerating these important studies, and have assembled an amazing advisory committee of scientific, industry and venture leadership who has helped us select the most promising projects for funding.”
In this inaugural round of grants, the Evergreen Fund divided its awards into two levels: Pilot and Beyond Pilot. The former, according to the Request for Proposals, is “for big and bold ideas with commercial application that don’t yet have data to determine validity. It will provide up to $50,000 in direct funding with a maximum of six months of timing from start of project.”
The RFP says that Beyond Pilot Awards are “for work that already has promising data, an identified commercial path forward, and needs further development to attract external financial support. “ These grants are for a two-year period and provide up to $200,000. Recipients of Pilot Awards are eligible to apply for Beyond Pilot Awards upon completion of their projects.
The $1 million is part of a previous gift for commercialization projects made by Pamela Becker and her husband Dr. Jim Roberts, the former director of Fred Hutch's Basic Scienses Division and currently an advisory member in the division. (Roberts, who is also founder and chief scientific officer at Matrix Genetics, serves on the Evergreen Fund Advisory Committee.) The Hutch has committed internal funds from licensing and royalty revenue to keep the program sustainable.
"The Evergreen Fund is a launching pad for some of the Hutch’s most exciting commercial ideas,” said Roberts. “We designed it to help make current Hutch innovations ready for the marketplace and also to retain value in order to perpetually support future innovation."
Dr. Alice Chen, Vice President at Accelerator Corporation and an Advisory Committee Member, added: “I truly enjoy working with the Fred Hutch commercialization team to support the Evergreen Fund and stay connected with exciting projects emerging from the Hutch. I look forward to leveraging the capabilities of Accelerator to support the Hutch in this important translational effort.”
Grant recipients were notified of their awards on Dec. 16. Here are the eight projects from the Evergreen Fund’s inaugural round.
- Dr. David MacPherson, assistant member in the Human Biology Division, Synthetic lethal screening to identify genetic vulnerabilities associated with L-MYC in small cell lung cancer.
- Small cell lung cancer is characterized by high rates of metastasis and resistance to chemotherapy, and treatment options have not improved in three decades. This project will use cell lines derived from mouse models of small cell lung cancer to identify genetic vulnerabilities through inactivating every gene in the genome by the CRISPR technology. The goal of the project is to identify druggable genes and pathways to identify a new therapeutic target for small cell lung cancer treatment.
- Dr. Taran Gujral, assistant member in the Human Biology Division, Developing anti-Wnt5 antibodies for treating hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer mortality worldwide with few treatment options outside of surgical resection. This project builds on the discovery of a new genetic pathway that drives metastasis in liver cancer, with the goal of developing neutralizing antibodies against this pathway as a treatment for liver cancer.
- Dr. Andrew McGuire, associate in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Evaluating novel HIV-1 vaccine immunogens in humanized mice.
- McGuire is working on a novel approach to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies to trigger an immune response that will ultimately lead to development of an effective HIV-1 vaccine
- Dr. Shannon Oda, postdoctoral fellow in the Clinical Research Division, Universal enhancement of adoptive T cell immunotherapy by mutation of CD3 binding motifs within the T cell receptor.
- Oda and Dr. Philip Greenberg, head of immunology at Fred Hutch, are developing next generation approaches to improve the efficacy of engineered T cell immunotherapy. T cell immunotherapy uses a patient’s own immune cells that are engineered with a cancer-targeting receptor to specifically destroy cancer cells. The goal of this proposal is to enhance their signaling capacity so these engineered cells can exert optimal anti-cancer activity.
Beyond Pilot Projects
- Dr. Barry Stoddard, member in the Basic Sciences Division, and Dr. Philip Bradley, associate member in the Public Health Sciences Division, Development and application of engineered circular tandem repeat protein scaffolds for protein arrays, stabilization and delivery.
- Stoddard and Bradley are developing a unique platform of circular toroidal protein (cTRP)-based products for use in cell culture applications that require stimulation, expansion, and identification of human T-cells and stem cells. The cTRP-based products have unique structural properties, and the potential to reduce the time and cost of manufacture for any company creating cell-based therapeutics.
- Dr. Amanda Paulovich, member in the Clinical Research Division, Developing a comprehensive immune phenotyping panel for commercialization and use in immunotherapy clinical trials.
- Paulovich is developing a platform to measure key components of the immune system to identify new drug targets, new combinations of existing drugs, and enable clinical research for immunotherapy drugs in clinical development. By utilizing a next generation protein quantification platform, the proposals aims to develop an assay panel to simultaneously measure 45 key targets to get a global scan on the tumor and its environment.
- Dr. McGarry Houghton, associate member in the Clinical Research Division, CAR-T cell therapy for small cell lung cancer.
- Houghton is developing a patient specific T cell therapy that expresses a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that is engineered to recognize a newly discovered target that is expressed on small cell lung cancer. This project has the potential to be the first disease modifying therapy for these patients in which standard chemotherapy and surgery are ineffective.
- Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem, member in the Clinical Research Division, Novel clinical protocol to purify and gene-modify hematopoietic stem cells for therapeutic applications.
Worldwide millions of people suffer from malignant, genetic, or infectious blood diseases such as leukemia and HIV/AIDS. The Kiem lab has identified a stem cell population using preclinical small and large animal models to demonstrate this population of cells can quantitatively predict engraftment and repopulation of blood cells. The goal of the proposal is to translate this into clinical practice and overcome major barriers that limit the broad utilization of gene-modified hematopoietic stem cell transplants.
At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.