Good News: $8.8 million NIH grant; Evergreen Fund to accelerate commercialization of research; Hutch United co-chair receives fellowship

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Dr. Nicole Robinson
“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. Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

New Evergreen Fund to accelerate commercialization of research

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, former director of the Basic Sciences Division at Fred Hutch and currently an advisory member in that 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.

Pilot Projects

  • 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 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

  • Drs. Barry Stoddard, member in the Basic Sciences Division, and Phil 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. 

— By Jonathan Rabinovitz / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Christopher Li
The new $8.8 million NIH grant is jointly led by investigators from ColoCare’s multiple collaborating institutions, including Fred Hutch's Dr. Christopher Li, pictured, and Dr. Neli Ulrich, a former Fred Hutch epidemiologist and now senior director of population sciences at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Fred Hutch file

$8.8 million NIH grant to help expand study of colorectal cancer outcomes

The National Institutes of Health awarded the ongoing ColoCare Consortium an $8.8 million grant, its largest ever, to study how lifestyle and other factors impact colorectal cancer outcomes. Fred Hutch is the founding institution of the seven-member consortium and houses one of the ColoCare tissue banks and data repositories.  

This new grant is jointly led by investigators from ColoCare’s multiple collaborating institutions, including Dr. Christopher Li at Fred Hutch and Dr. Neli Ulrich, a former Fred Hutch epidemiologist and now senior director of population sciences at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Other consortium members include the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa; Heidelberg University in Germany; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles; Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; and the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis.

ColoCare was initiated in 2007 by Ulrich, Dr. Bill Grady, a Fred Hutch cancer epidemiologist and gastroenterologist, and Hutch clinical researcher Dr. George McDonald. They collaborated with Hutch researchers Drs. Johanna and Paul Lampe as well as others at the University of Washington. Grady and Li are currently the principal investigators of the Fred Hutch ColoCare site.

“I am very grateful for the support Fred Hutch and Drs. John Potter, Mark Groudine, and Lee Hartwell gave to me a long time ago to start this study,” Ulrich said.  

ColoCare is a prospective cohort study that enrolls newly diagnosed colorectal cancer patients and collects detailed lifestyle, medical history, and cancer treatment information and ascertains a wealth of biospecimens. These biospecimens include blood, saliva, fecal matter, and tissue samples collected during surgery from men and women with colorectal cancer. Goals of the study are to identify factors that predict both short-term and long-term survival among colorectal cancer patients, including inherited genetic and tumor characteristics that affect early diagnosis and treatment response, and health behaviors that patients adopt.

Li is also leading a large, recently funded grant from the National Cancer Institute to discover novel blood-based biomarkers that could be useful for the early detection of colorectal cancer recurrences using ColoCare patient data and biospecimens.

Colon cancer can be highly curable when found early, but remains the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined. Current screening tests for the disease are effective but invasive. Along with improving personalized cancer prevention and better understanding the connections between obesity, adipose tissue and the progression of this cancer, ColoCare researchers hope to develop a simple, effective test that will improve the identification of colorectal cancer recurrences.

The $8.8 million grant will be used to grow the biorepositories for colorectal cancer patients that currently power the study, and it will fold in three new study sites; the University of Tennessee, Washington University, and Cedars-Sinai.

The new sites will help to expand both the geographic and ethnic diversity of the tissue banks, increasing the number of Hispanic and African-American participants. Investigators hope to increase the number of participants from 1,400 to more than 4,000. Fred Hutch’s biorepository currently has data and specimens from 364 active participants.  

“This is quite important because we’ll be able to expand the cohort to include far more minorities, and it also allows us to expand the infrastructure in ways that will support a variety of new scientific directions,” said Dr. Christopher Li. “Plus it gives us five more years of stable funding. We’re very excited.”

By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Erin dela Cruz
Erin dela Cruz is a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. David Fredricks of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Hutch United co-chair Erin dela Cruz receives fellowhip from American Society for Microbiology

Fred Hutch researcher Erin dela Cruz, who promotes scientific inclusion as co-chair of Hutch United, received a national fellowship designed to boost the number of graduate students from underrepresented groups who are completing doctoral degrees in microbiological sciences.

The American Society for Microbiology selected dela Cruz for the ASM Robert D. Watkins Graduate Research Fellowship. The honor spans the years 2016 to 2019. Each fellow is awarded up to $21,000 in an annual stipend for three years to conduct research.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen,” said dela Cruz, a graduate student in the Fredricks Lab, which is based in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division.

“The ASM Watkins Fellowship aims to produce future scientists who will be engaged in activities to support diversity,” dela Cruz said. “As such, I believe I was chosen in no small part because of my involvement with Hutch United’s efforts to support mentorship, provide role models, promote an inclusive environment and celebrate diversity here at Fred Hutch.”

Hutch United is a Fred Hutch organization dedicated to promoting underrepresented and self-identified minority scientists at the institution. The group’s new fellowships, which fund one graduate student and one postdoctoral fellow for up to two years, are the most inclusive of their kind among top cancer centers, organizers said. The fellowships were developed through a group effort among Hutch United members — all of them volunteers.

The fellowship program welcomes applications from trainees who identify as racial and/or ethnic minorities, disabled, women, transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, veterans, non-U.S. citizens and individuals with low socioeconomic backgrounds. The fellowships “set the Hutch apart from other cancer centers as a leader in promoting inclusiveness in the biomedical workforce,” dela Cruz said.

Officials at the American Society for Microbiology — composed of 48,000 scientists and health professionals — received and assessed 34 fellowship applications. They awarded 10 fellowships. The society’s mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.  

— By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Hutch Award winner Dustin McGowan
Miami Marlins relief pitcher Dustin McGowan is the winner of the 52nd Hutch Award. John Mersits / CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

Marlins pitcher Dustin McGowan named winner of 52nd Hutch Award

Miami Marlins reliever Dustin McGowan, who wears an insulin pump on the mound to regulate the effects of Type 1 diabetes, is the winner of the 52nd Hutch Award.

The honor is given annually to the Major League Baseball player who most embodies the fighting spirit and competitive fire of Fred Hutchinson, a standout pitcher and manager whose death inspired the birth of the Seattle-based cancer center.

McGowan, diagnosed with diabetes in 2004, wears the insulin pump velcroed to the inside of his uniform. It controls his blood glucose levels during games, sustaining his energy and allowing him to pitch more innings.

Last season, McGowan posted a 2.82 earned run average for the Marlins relief corps, logging 67 innings in 55 games. He recorded 63 strikeouts and finished 24 games.

McGowan, 34, will receive the honor at the 2017 Hutch Award Luncheon Jan. 25 at Safeco Field. Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rice is the keynote speaker. Over the past 17 years, the event has raised more than $5.4 million to support life-saving research.

Past recipients of the Hutch Award include Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey, George Brett, Johnny Bench, Raúl Ibañez and, in 2016, St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright.

McGowan’s oldest daughter is also a Type 1 diabetic. They decided to encourage other families and motivate children diagnosed with the disease. McGowan and his family host meet and greets at Diabetes Research Institute in South Florida, answering questions, signing autographs and taking pictures with all of the kids. McGowan has also treated children and parents to a night at the ballpark where he and his family got to know the guests.

— By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

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