Tip Sheet: Making clinical trials more inclusive, measuring COVID vaccine protection and new HIV vaccine results

Summaries of recent Fred Hutch research findings and other news

SEATTLE — September 1, 2021 — Below are summaries of recent Fred Hutch research findings and other news.

Health disparities

Cancer clinical trials exclude too many patients: That’s changing
Enrollment in new cancer therapy clinical trials has returned to normal, at least within the SWOG Cancer Research Network. But far too many cancer patients can't participate due to overly restrictive trial criteria, say leading cancer organizations and scientists like Dr. Joseph Unger of Fred Hutch, whose new study in JAMA Network Open showed there was little evidence of enrollment reductions to treatment trials during the entire first year of the pandemic. You can follow Dr. Unger on Twitter to stay up to date with his latest studies.
Media contact: Claire Hudson, crhudson@fredhutch.org

Cancer Health Equity Now: Policies for health equity
A new podcast episode from Fred Hutch’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement features discussions around policies for health equity in Washington state. The episode is hosted by Danté Morehead, a Fred Hutch community health educator, with guests Dillon van Rensburg, community health educator for rural populations, and Senator Emily Randall of Washington’s 26th district.
Media contact: Kat Wynn, kwynn@fredhutch.org

Cancer research

Measure 170 times, cut once: High-throughput drug screening for multiple myeloma
Multiple myeloma is a highly heterogeneous disease, with 63 known common mutations. Despite the availability of numerous approved drugs, varying responses to those drugs mean that the disease remains incurable. Researchers at Fred Hutch recently published their results in creating a screening system for multiple myeloma to better help patients and doctors make treatment decisions.
Media contact: Molly McElroy, mwmcelro@fredhutch.org

New computational method opens window into immune cell behavior
Immune cells have many jobs to do, including providing a critical component to cancer treatment. Specialized receptors of a type of immune cell called a T cell help regulate T cells’ activity and immune roles. A new computational method published in Nature Biotechnology could help bring into focus the hidden biological patterns that link T-cell receptor, or TCR, gene sequences and T-cell function. The researchers envision using the tool to better understand complex groups of T cells and how they respond to a tumor.
Media contact: Molly McElroy, mwmcelro@fredhutch.org

Could gene twins team up against cancer?
In a new Cell Reports study, Fred Hutch scientists describe an approach that uncovers gene duplications. About two-thirds of human genes have a duplicated copy that shares overlapping functions. Cancer cells take advantage of this by relying on one gene twin to keep going if the first is lost. The new approach could help discover targets for cancer drugs by revealing which gene pairs play a role in cancer.
Media contact: Molly McElroy, mwmcelro@fredhutch.org


Researchers pinpoint 'correlates of protection' for Moderna vaccine
In the race to develop new and better vaccines and boosters to block COVID-19, scientists are eagerly seeking laboratory tests that can measure immune responses to quickly show how well these shots are working, instead of waiting months for results of clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people. Now, a group of top scientists, including Dr. Peter Gilbert, a biostatistician at Fred Hutch, reports that they have defined such measurements — or correlates of protection — for the widely used Moderna mRNA vaccine.
Media contact: Claire Hudson, crhudson@fredhutch.org

New concerns about coronavirus evolution in immunosuppressed patients
In the wake of findings that COVID-19 virus variants are more likely to spring from patients with weakened immune systems, leading medical experts are calling for heightened precautions in the treatment of such individuals and the development of better, more intensive therapies to help them fully recover from their disease.
Media contact: Claire Hudson, crhudson@fredhutch.org

Science Says: Navigating work, school and well-being in a world transformed by COVID-19
In early August, scientists on the front lines of COVID-19 discussed the latest on the pandemic. Moderated by Dr. Tom Lynch, Fred Hutch president and director, topics included the impact the delta variant will have on back to school, cancer research and the future of the pandemic.
Media contact: Kat Wynn, kwynn@fredhutch.org


Experimental HIV vaccine provides insufficient protection in preventing HIV
A Phase 2b HIV vaccine clinical trial, known as the Imbokodo study, will discontinue enrollment because a statistically significant difference between the vaccine and placebo arms of the study was not observed. The HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is based at Fred Hutch and helped conduct the trial, will continue to follow participants in the vaccine study and analyze immunological correlates data. Dr. Larry Corey, who co-leads the HVTN, pointed out that this data may help researchers understand the immune response needed from future HIV vaccines.
Media contact: Anna Altavas, aaltavas@fredhutch.org

A new path forward: A potential route to effective HIV vaccines
Finding vaccines to provide protection against the variety of HIV strains found around the globe has proven elusive, with many strains representing immense genetic diversity. HIV as a virus is also highly mutable and capable of evading therapies designed to eradicate it. New research from Fred Hutch suggests that broadly neutralizing antibodies developed in rare cases may hold the key to creating an effective HIV vaccine.
Media contact: Claire Hudson, crhudson@fredhutch.org

Awards and other notable news

Two Fred Hutch postdocs named 2021 Damon Runyon Fellows
Two postdoctoral researchers at Fred Hutch, Drs. Edie Crosse and Chiang-Ho Chang, are among the 17 early career scientists announced as fellows of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. With her funding, Crosse aims to uncover early mechanisms of the blood cancers known as myelodysplastic syndromes, or MDS, that new drugs could target to prevent disease progression to leukemia. Chang is studying rapidly evolving proteins called protamines that condense DNA within sperm cells. Protamines control how genes are turned on and off within sperm and are also found in many cancer cells.
Media contact: Molly McElroy, mwmcelro@fredhutch.org

Seeking to expand targeted therapy for lung cancer
Targeted therapies have transformed outcomes for lung cancer patients. After reduced smoking rates, drugs that take aim at signature alterations in tumor cells are the main reason that the death rate has dropped for people diagnosed with lung cancer. Recently, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center lung cancer researcher Dr. Alice Berger received a National Institutes of Health MERIT Award that will support her efforts to extend these advances to more patients with this cancer.
Media contact: Molly McElroy, mwmcelro@fredhutch.org

Obliteride 2021 unites record number of participants worldwide
On Saturday, Aug. 14, more than 5,000 people worldwide rode their bikes, cooked, kayaked and more for Fred Hutch’s annual Obliteride. From Seattle to Singapore, the community fundraiser united people to honor loved ones, have fun and raise money for lifesaving research. Participants of all ages and abilities from 42 countries, all 50 U.S. states and six continents chose their own activity and fundraising goals and have raised more than $3 million to date.
Media contact: Kat Wynn, kwynn@fredhutch.org

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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 National Cancer Institute-funded 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 and the COVID-19 Prevention Network.