CTI BioPharma and Fred Hutch announce international research fellowship in blood cancers; Dr. Julie Overbaugh receives $2.5M NIDA grant for HIV research; Dr. Johnnie Orozco wins grant to develop less-toxic cancer treatment; Dr. Philip Greenberg named editor-in-chief of Cancer Immunology Research; CFO Randy Main receives AIRI lifetime achievement award
Seattle-based CTI BioPharma Corp. and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center today announced the establishment of a new $1.5 million research endowment fund – The CTI BioPharma International Postdoctoral Research Fellowship – intended to foster international collaboration in translational research and support advancements in the fields of hematology and immunobiology.
The CTI BioPharma fellowship and endowment fund was established in memory of Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, a pioneering Fred Hutch clinical researcher and Nobel laureate who pioneered bone-marrow transplantation to treat leukemias and other blood cancers.
“Establishing this endowed international visiting fellowship to Fred Hutch stems from our commitment to translate scientific discoveries into innovative therapies that cure patients with blood-related cancers,” said Dr. James A. Bianco, co-founder, president and CEO of CTI BioPharma who himself was a research fellow at Fred Hutch, working alongside Thomas in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “After all, changing the future of cancer medicine starts with the support of today’s innovative ideas,” he said.
This fellowship and endowment will provide seed funding to support the research efforts of promising, young physician-researchers from around the world. Fred Hutch will receive endowment funding over three years to identify and select proposed research projects from medical researchers currently working at international institutions based outside of the U.S. Both CTI BioPharma and other institutions or organizations can donate additional funding to the endowment at any time, per the approval of Fred Hutch.
“Endowment funding is essential to keeping our research and clinical programs moving forward in order to find new cures and save lives,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch. “Support, such as through the establishment of this CTI BioPharma fellowship and endowment fund, allows doctors and scientists to develop and manage their programs and to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Without the support from companies such as CTI BioPharma, many potential lifesaving medicines would not make it from the research bench to patients.”
For more information about the endowment or to apply or to review the selection criteria, please visit www.fredhutch.org/CTIfellowship.
Dr. Julie Overbaugh, a researcher in Fred Hutch's Human Biology Division, has been named a Director’s Pioneer Avant-Garde Scientist by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The honor comes with a $2.5 million grant, which she will use to explore the barriers to developing a preclinical model of HIV infection that better mimics the human infection and immune response.
Avant-Garde Awards provide scientists “a lot of flexibility that allows us to identify gaps [in our knowledge] and what we might bring to these problems that you don’t get to do with other grants,” Overbaugh said. The grants are awarded to scientists exploring new areas of research related to drug abuse and are designed to allow for maximum creativity and flexibility for the scientist.
The envelope protein of the human and simian hybrid viruses used in lab models of HIV infection, known as SHIVs, differ in key ways from the envelope proteins in HIV variants that circulate in humans. Overbaugh proposes to develop a better HIV model that will give researchers the relevant information they need to build a truly effective vaccine.
Previously, Overbaugh's team had compared the envelope protein of HIV and lab-adapted SHIV and pinpointed key molecular differences in these proteins, as well as the target molecules they use to infect cells. These alterations allow lab-adapted SHIV strains, but not the original HIV, to easily infect cells in the preclinical model. Overbaugh proposes several strategies for generating a model of HIV that better mimics human infection, including identifying possible mutations in the envelope gene that enhance infection in the lab without sacrificing key immune-stimulating properties. She and her colleagues also plan to explore the usefulness of other model organisms.
This work builds on her long-standing efforts to define the mechanisms of HIV transmission. “We want to make sure models for HIV prevention and vaccine development capture the biology of HIV infection in humans so that findings from them translate prevention HIV efforts in humans,” she said.
Dr. Johnnie Orozco has been awarded a five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to support the preclinical development of a less-toxic method to prepare patients for a transplant of blood-forming stem cells.
Although transplants of such stem cells are often the best treatment option for advanced blood diseases, such as leukemia, current regimens use highly toxic total-body irradiation and high-dose chemotherapy as a pre-transplant treatment to wipe out the patient’s faulty stem cells in the bone marrow.
Orozco, a clinical research associate in the Fred Hutch lab of Dr. Oliver Press, uses mouse models to study a much more targeted form of irradiation called alpha radioimmunotherapy. This treatment could offer patients better outcomes after transplantation by reducing toxicity associated with total-body irradiation. It works through the delivery of radioactive isotopes straight to a patient’s diseased bone marrow. The radioactive isotopes are designed to deliver a powerful yet focused dose of radiation only to targeted cancer cells, leaving healthy organs untouched.
“Targeted therapies are often better tolerated than systemic therapies and usually equally effective if not more effective,” Orozco said.
With this project, Orozco aims to compare the effectiveness and safety of this new approach to that of less-targeted forms of irradiation, determine the lowest effective dose, and characterize the mechanisms through which the radioactive molecules kill target cells.
“This is yet another example of innovative, novel approaches to treat blood cancers,” he said. Orozco expects his findings to inform the design of clinical trials of alpha radioimmunotherapies for blood cancers that are being developed by Fred Hutch colleagues under a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Cancer Institute announced earlier this year.
Orozco’s project is in the context of haploidentical, or partially matched, transplantation, in which transplant donor and recipient do not share all of the genetic markers used for matching. Haploidentical transplantation is particularly important for the many people of racial and ethnic backgrounds who are in need of a transplant but cannot find a fully matched donor among the disproportionately non-Hispanic white donors in transplant registries.
The $845,000 award is a career-development grant for researchers from backgrounds that are underrepresented in science. It aims to support the research of early-career investigators until they can successfully win their first large-scale, independent research award and to increase the diversity of the cancer research workforce. Press is Orozco’s mentor for this grant.
Dr. Philip Greenberg, head of the Immunology Program at Fred Hutch, has been named editor-in-chief of Cancer Immunology Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. He joins newly appointed fellow editor-in-chief, Dr. Robert Schreiber, in setting goals and determining editorial strategy for the journal.
“Cancer Immunology Research has as its goal becoming the publication forum for the breadth of investigators and clinicians engaged in or interested in immunology, particularly as it relates to cancer,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg and Schreiber succeed Dr. Glenn Dranoff as the founding editor-in-chief of the journal, which AACR launched in 2013.
Greenberg, also a professor of medicine and oncology at the University of Washington, has dedicated his career to understanding the fundamental principles underlying a T cell’s ability to recognize and eliminate tumor cells, to distinguish cancer cells from normal cells, and to maintain function in the tumor microenvironment. His lab, based in Fred Hutch’s Clinical Research Division, develops cellular and molecular approaches to manipulate cellular immunity and overcome obstacles to effective immunotherapy. He and his colleagues are translating their findings in the lab to the treatment of cancer patients, with a particular emphasis on adoptive therapy with genetically engineered T cells.
Greenberg’s honors include the William B. Coley Award from the Cancer Research Institute and the Team Science Award for Career Achievements from the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer, among many others.
Fred Hutch Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Randy Main on Wednesday received the 2015 John Pratt Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual meeting of the Association of Independent Research Institutes, or AIRI, in Washington, D.C.
The AIRI board of directors established the award “in recognition of the dedication and service to AIRI by someone who has displayed unique qualities and longstanding commitment that have significantly contributed to the strength, influence and stature of AIRI.”
Main has served AIRI in many capacities over the years, including president and treasurer. He also has played crucial roles on its government affairs, budget and investments and program-planning committees.
Main has been Fred Hutch's CFO since 1984 and has broad responsibility for all financial operations, capital structure and expense management.
He is a board member and treasurer of the Seattle Institute for Biomedical and Clinical Research, is a board member of Labkey Software Inc., is a past board member and treasurer of the Association of American Cancer Institutes, and is a past board member of the Washington State Tobacco Settlement Authority, which is authorized by the state legislature to securitize future revenues from the settlement agreement with the tobacco industry.
Main's awards and honors include being named Chief Financial Officer Year by the Puget Sound Business Journal for his financial stewardship of the Hutch.