Dr. Roland Walter receives grants from Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for acute leukemia research
Dr. Roland Walter, a clinical researcher at Fred Hutch, has received two awards to develop new treatments for acute leukemia: one from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, or ALSF, and another from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, or LLS.
From the ALSF, Walter received a 2015 Innovation Award Grant. He is among 22 investigators to receive such funding, which will provide him with $250,000 over the next two years.
From the LLS, he received a Translational Research Program Award for $600,000 over the next three years.
Both awards will support Walter’s research on developing new antibody-based treatments for acute leukemia, which are blood cancers from which many children and adults will eventually die despite aggressive therapies. There is thus a critical need for new drugs for these tumors.
For more than 30 years, proteins (so-called "antibodies") that recognize tumor cells have been envisioned as “magic bullets” for cancer patients but so far have been largely ineffective against acute leukemias. One strategy to render antibodies more active is to modify them so that they recognize leukemia cells and, simultaneously, normal immune cells (typically T-cell lymphocytes), which then selectively kill the attached cancer cell.
Promising results with one "bispecific" antibody, blinatumomab, were recently reported in some patients with acute leukemia who had failed intensive chemotherapy. However, because of their small size, these antibodies are quickly eliminated by the kidneys and need to be given via infusion pump over several weeks. Also, for unknown reasons, about half of the patients still do not benefit from these antibodies.
“Recognizing these limitations, our goal is to develop novel, highly active bispecific antibodies that have longer half-lives and can be given in a simple and safe fashion in the clinic,” Walter said.
Through studying how exactly these bispecific antibodies kill leukemia cells, Walter and colleagues will not only better understand which patients are most appropriate for these agents but also be able to develop combination treatments that may overcome resistance so that more patients can benefit from them.
“Together, by optimizing bispecific antibodies, our investigations have the potential to significantly improve the treatment options and outcomes for patients with acute leukemia,” he said.
Fred Hutch research collaborators will include Drs. Jim Olson, Christopher Mehlin and Colin Correnti from the Olson Lab (Clinical Research Division), Dr. Roland Strong (Basic Sciences Division) and Dr. Benjamin Hoffstrom of the antibody-development facility in Shared Resources.
Initial funding for this work was made possible by a pilot award from the Bezos family (sic) Immunotherapy Initiative.
"Especially at times when federal research funding is very limited, our work depends on support from philanthropic sources and foundations," Walter said.