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Dr. Leo Stamatatos
Dr. Leo Stamatatos Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Leo Stamatatos gets funding to manufacture, test first Hutch-developed HIV vaccine candidate

Dr. Leo Stamatatos, an immunologist in Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to begin manufacturing an HIV vaccine candidate designed to stimulate the production of broadly neutralizing antibodies and to test the experimental vaccine in human clinical trials.

It will become the first HIV vaccine candidate developed at Fred Hutch to reach the clinical trial phase. The trials will be conducted by the publicly funded, Hutch-based HIV Vaccine Trials Network, or HVTN, the largest global network striving to develop vaccines to prevent HIV/AIDS. Manufacturing the vaccine candidate is expected to take about two years.

The trials would be for proof of concept, to show whether researchers can, for the first time in humans, stimulate the right B cells to start the process of making broadly neutralizing antibodies, long considered the “holy grail” of HIV vaccine research because they defend against infection by a broad spectrum of HIV strains. VIDD Director Dr. Julie McElrath has called the approach “the next wave” of HIV vaccine research.

The NIH funding is a supplement to a $9.9 million grant over seven years awarded in 2014. Stamatatos began work on developing the vaccine candidate while at Seattle Biomed, now the Center for Infectious Disease Research. He and his lab moved to Fred Hutch in October 2014.

“This effort requires a lot of diverse expertise,” Stamatatos said. “Just being here at the Hutch, it’s super. The expertise is here, and the willingness is here, and the support is here. It’s the right place to test the vaccine.”

So far, in the 30 years since the AIDS virus was identified, only one vaccine candidate has shown any protection at all, reducing the risk of contracting HIV by 31 percent. It elicits a type of antibody that works by a different mechanism. Earlier this year in South Africa, the HVTN began testing a new version of that vaccine that has been modified to boost potency and durability. One potential use of the vaccine candidate Stamatatos is developing would be to combine it with this or other vaccine candidates, adding to the effect of each.

Dr. Lu Chen
Dr. Lu Chen Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Lu Chen authors largest study yet to examine breast cancer disparities

Dr. Lu Chen, a researcher in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has authored the largest study to date to examine disparities in breast cancer treatment in the U.S. The paper, co-authored by Dr. Christopher Li, also of the PHS Division, was published Tuesday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

The researchers found that minority women are more likely to have aggressive subtypes of breast cancer and were less likely to receive guidelines-based standard of care as compared to non-Hispanic white women.

“The treatment for breast cancer is currently dependent on the type of breast cancer, defined by the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2 status. This is the reason why we think it’s important to look at the disparities by subtype,” Chen said.

Breast cancer is classified into several different subtypes based on histological, molecular, and genetic features. Previous studies have addressed the disparities by stage of disease and survival rates, but have not characterized them by subtypes.

“We found that there is a consistent pattern of late diagnosis and not receiving recommended treatment for some racial and ethnic groups across all breast cancer subtypes,” she said.

Chen and colleagues drew on data from 18 U.S. population-based cancer registries participating in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program of the National Cancer Institute. The data include demographic characteristics, stage, tumor grade and size, primary treatment, and health insurance status of 102,064 U.S. women, plus their tumor subtypes, hormone receptor (HR) status, and human epidermal growth factor 2-neu (HER2) status.

Prior studies on breast cancer disparities have generally involved smaller, more localized data, Chen said.      

The researchers found that non-Hispanic white women were more likely to have smaller tumors, and more likely to have the less-aggressive HR+/HER2- subtype of breast cancer, compared with African-American women, who were more likely to have large tumors, more likely to have the aggressive triple-negative breast cancer, and 40 to 70 percent more likely to be diagnosed at stage 4 of all subtypes of breast cancer. Hispanic white women were 30 to 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed at stage 2 and/or stage 3 across all breast cancer subtypes.

The disparities continued across all stages of disease. Compared with non-Hispanic whites, women of all other racial and ethnic groups were more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced stages of breast cancer, the researchers found.

“Given the racial and ethnic disparities, targeted, culturally appropriate interventions in breast cancer screening and care have the potential to reduce the disparities and close the existing survival gaps,” Chen said.

The study was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Amit Sharma
Dr. Amit Sharma Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Amit Sharma wins Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) award

Dr. Amit Sharma, an investigator with the Overbaugh Lab in the Human Biology Division, has been awarded a two-year grant from amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

The fellowship grant, which comes with nearly $150,000, is typically awarded to postdoctoral investigators under the mentorship of an experienced HIV/AIDS researcher as a way to encourage them to pursue a career in HIV/AIDS research and enhance the development of their career.

Sharma studied molecular genetics, virology and infectious diseases at Ohio State University before coming to Fred Hutch two years ago. He currently works under Dr. Julie Overbaugh, whose lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms of HIV transmission and pathogenesis. Overbaugh’s team is currently working on developing a better HIV model that will give researchers the tools they need to build a truly effective HIV vaccine. Sharma’s focus will be on engineering a simian HIV virus that will work for these vaccine studies.

Sharma said working with Overbaugh has been both inspiring and enlightening.

“She has been an amazing and excellent mentor,” he said. “I’ve published three papers with her so far and have another one currently in review. And I’m learning from her the intricate details of grant writing, publications, experiment design and a lot of other things that will round me out and make me ready for a faculty position in two years.”

Overbaugh offered congratulations and said Sharma is tackling a “high risk, high payoff” project: identifying new interferon-induced host factors that restrict HIV replication.

“This award recognizes Amit’s amazing productivity at every stage of his career and will allow him to develop a research project that can shape his future research direction,” she said. 

Dr. Harlan Robins
Dr. Harlan Robins Fred Hutch file

Dr. Harlan Robins of Adaptive Technologies among ‘100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs’

Goldman Sachs this week recognized Dr. Harlan Robins, a computational biologist in the Public Health Sciences Division and co-founder and chief scientific officer of Adaptive Biotechnologies, as part of the “100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs of 2015” at its Builders + Innovators Summit in Santa Barbara, California.

Robins received the honor along with his brother Chad Robins, co-founder and chief executive officer of Adaptive, a Seattle-based spinoff of Fred Hutch that offers high-throughput T- and B-cell receptor sequencing to customers in academia and industry.

The Robins brothers built Adaptive based on a groundbreaking technology platform that profiles the adaptive immune system and revolutionizes the way researchers discover, diagnose and treat disease.

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