Fred Hutch at AACR: New targets for cancer therapies, experts available in diversity and cancer screening tests — and Fred Hutch’s Philip Greenberg becomes AACR president

SEATTLE — April 6, 2023 — Experts from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center will present their latest findings on targets in RIT1-driven cancers, ROR1 CAR T-cell immunotherapy, interplay of the microbiome and genetics in colorectal cancer and more at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, to be held April 14-19 in Orlando, Florida. 

Other meeting highlights include:

  • Philip Greenberg, M.D. of Fred Hutch will become AACR president.

  • Public health researcher and biostatistician Ruth Etzioni, Ph.D. will discuss new and emerging tests for early detection of cancer.

  • Christopher Li, M.D., MPH, a national leader in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at cancer centers, will share best practices and strategies to enhance diversity. 

Below are highlights of work to be presented, and you can follow Fred Hutch’s AACR updates on Twitter #AACR23.

For media requests during AACR, please contact Molly McElroy:

AACR news

Meet and Greet: Meet the editors-in-chief of Cancer Immunology Research
Monday, April 17, 2023, 9:30-10:30 a.m. 

Meeting: Meet the 2023-2024 AACR President, Philip Greenberg
Tuesday, April 18, 2023, 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Fred Hutch’s Philip Greenberg, M.D., one of two editors-in-chief of AACR’s Cancer Immunology Research, will participate in an April 17 discussion of the scope and types of research manuscripts they’re looking to publish. Greenberg, currently president-elect of AACR, will become AACR president during the meeting and be at the April 18 “Meet the 2023-2024 AACR President” session. He leads the Program in Immunology at Fred Hutch and holds the Rona Jaffe Foundation Endowed Chair.  

Early detection and screening

Educational session: How can we realize the promise of novel technologies for early cancer detection?
Presentation: Developing realistic expectations for new cancer screening tests
Friday, April 14, 2023, 3:01-3:21 p.m.
Presenter: Ruth Etzioni, Ph.D.

Public health researcher and biostatistician Ruth Etzioni, Ph.D. will join an educational session to talk about novel cancer screening tests based on liquid biopsies, with a particular focus on multi-cancer early detection testing. She said that while there are some studies that show how well the tests detect different cancers, the extent to which this will translate into lives saved is still unclear. Etzioni, who holds the Rosalie and Harold Rea Brown Endowed Chair at Fred Hutch and received a $7.4 million National Cancer Institute grant to study cancer diagnostics, will discuss the process by which population screening leads to reduction in cancer deaths, why some past cancer screening trials have led to disappointing results and what needs to be done now to generate convincing evidence that population screening using the new tests will reduce cancer deaths. 

Precision oncology

Educational session: Tumor heterogeneity: Rapid autopsy to longitudinal biopsies
Presentation: Intra and inter-tumor heterogeneity across cancer metastases: A reality check for targeted therapeutics and the utility of non-invasive biomarkers
Saturday, April 15, 2023, 3:16-3:33 p.m.
Presenter: Peter Nelson, M.D.

In a session on the use of rapid autopsies to understand cancer metastasis, Peter Nelson, M.D. will discuss the impact of tumor heterogeneity on treatment resistance. Nelson, who is a prostate cancer expert and is the vice president of Precision Oncology at Fred Hutch, will also explain how studies of metastatic tumors improve our understanding of molecular imaging such as PET scans as well as minimally-invasive diagnostic methods including circulating tumor DNA. Nelson directs the Stuart and Molly Sloan Precision Oncology Institute at Fred Hutch and holds an endowed chair with the same name.  

Session: Small cell lung cancer: Moving biology to the clinic
Presentation: Measuring and modulating SCLC transcriptional heterogeneity from murine models to clinical trials
Monday, April 17, 2023, 1:00-1:20 p.m.
Presenter: Joseph Hiatt, M.D., Ph.D. (On Twitter and LinkedIn)

Physician-scientist Joseph Hiatt, M.D., Ph.D. will give an update on Fred Hutch preclinical research that has identified a molecular pathway that could make more cases of small cell lung cancer responsive to checkpoint inhibition. The approach is now being studied in a clinical trial. Hiatt, who is a research fellow in the MacPherson lab at Fred Hutch, will also present a new liquid biopsy method to predict subtypes of small cell lung cancer using cell-free DNA. This could be used to link patients’ subtypes to their treatment outcomes to help personalize clinical trial enrollment. The work is part of the Fred Hutch Lung Specialized Project of Research Excellence (SPORE), a five-year $13 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to expedite lung cancer research from the lab to the clinic. 

Session: Ras-related signaling
Poster: Protein-level regulation of wild-type and mutant RIT1 by the deubiquitinase USP9X
Monday, April 17, 2023, 1:30-5 p.m.
Presenter: Amanda Riley (On LinkedIn)

Mutations in the gene RIT1 account for about 13,500 cases of non-small cell lung cancer diagnoses each year, with limited treatment options. Graduate student Amanda Riley, working in the Fred Hutch lab of Alice Berger, Ph.D., will give an update on their work to find targeted therapies for RIT1-driven cancers. They’ve identified a regulator of RIT1, a protein called USP9X. Using mouse models and existing inhibitors of USP9X, the researchers are evaluating this potential drug target. The project is part of Berger’s 7-year NIH MERIT award to pursue targeted therapies for mutations in lung cancer. Berger holds the Innovators Network Endowed Chair at Fred Hutch, follow her on Twitter

Cancer biology

Major symposium: Targeting RNA splicing in cancer and the immune system
Presentation: From splicing to polyadenylation in tumor immunity
Sunday, April 16, 2023, 1:55-2:15 p.m.
Presenter: Robert Bradley, Ph.D. (On Twitter)

Computational biologist and biophysicist Robert Bradley, Ph.D. will present new work on a biological process that’s growing in attention for its role in controlling cancer growth. Alternative polyadenylation is part of making mRNA and it’s disrupted in many cancers, though it’s not clear how the dysregulation contributes to tumors. Bradley, who holds the McIlwain Family Endowed Chair in Data Science at Fred Hutch, will discuss a CRISPR-Cas9-based screen to test the functional importance of alternative polyadenylation to tumor growth. 

Cellular immunotherapy

Minisymposium: Genetically engineered anticancer T cells
Presentation: NKTR-255, a polymer-conjugated IL-15, dramatically improves ROR1 CAR-T cell persistence and anti-tumor efficacy in an autochthonous model of ROR1+ lung cancer
Sunday, April 16, 2023, 4:10-4:25 p.m.
Presenter: Sam Nutt

Using a mouse model of lung cancer that closely resembles human disease, graduate student Sam Nutt in the Fred Hutch lab of Shivani Srivastava, Ph.D. (on Twitter) will present a study on whether NKTR-255, a drug that stimulates the immune system to fight cancer, can improve the anticancer effects of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. The Fred Hutch team is using a CAR-T cell targeting the tumor antigen ROR1, which is a marker on many breast and lung cancer patients. Their findings suggest that NKTR-255 treatment improves the persistence and function of ROR1 CAR T cells, and that these two therapies work together to boost immune function in the tumor microenvironment, resulting in significantly improved tumor control. The team is continuing to evaluate the combined approach for treatment of solid tumors. Read more about the lab’s work to develop cellular therapies for solid tumors.

Colorectal cancer risk and prevention

Session: Biological and behavioral factors in cancer surveillance, prevention and survivorship
Poster: Evaluation of intra-tumoral pks+ E. coli, enterotoxigenic B. fragilis and Fusobacterium nucleatum and in early onset disease, in colorectal cancer cases
Monday, April 17, 2023, 1:30-5:00 p.m.
Presenter: Meredith Hullar, Ph.D. 

Meredith Hullar, Ph.D., a principal staff scientist at Fred Hutch, studies the gut microbiome and its interplay with diet and cancer risk. She will present a new study that revealed different patterns of microbes in colorectal cancer tumors that are present in patients with early onset colorectal cancer, which has increased in incidence in people who are 50 years old and younger. Since some microbes can help tumors grow, understanding the microbiome may help predict which colorectal cancer patients will have increased odds of lower survival and may support targeted intervention strategies to improve survivorship. Learn more about her work in a Fred Hutch news story.

Session: Aging, immune factors and metabolomics
Poster: Association between HLA-KIR allele interaction combinations and density of T-cell subsets in colorectal cancer
Monday, April 17, 2023, 1:30-5:00 p.m.
Presenter: Claire E. Thomas, Ph.D., MPH (On Twitter)

Session: Diet, alcohol, tobacco use, and other lifestyle factors
Poster: Lifestyle and environmental factors in relation to colorectal cancer risk and survival by colibactin tumor mutational signature status
Wednesday, April 19, 2023, 9:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Presenter: Claire E. Thomas, Ph.D., MPH (On Twitter)

Claire E. Thomas, Ph.D., MPH, a post-doctoral researcher at Fred Hutch, will present two posters looking at genetic and molecular risks underlying colorectal cancer. In the first poster, she examines whether immune function gene combinations are related to T-cell density within colorectal cancer tumors. The findings could help determine how an individual’s genetic background is related to T-cells and immune response to fight cancer. 

In a second poster, Thomas will present a study examining whether lifestyle and environmental factors are differentially associated with colorectal cancer risk and survival for cases with and without the mutational signature SBS88. SBS88 is present in some colorectal cancer tumors and is related to production of the genotoxin colbactin from exposure to some strains of Escherichia coli. The findings show that among cases with the SBS88 signature, higher BMI category was associated with worse colorectal cancer outcomes. 

Thomas works with Fred Hutch’s Ulrike Peters, Ph.D., MPH, who is a molecular and genetic epidemiologist and holds the Fred Hutch 40th Anniversary Endowed Chair, and with Amanda Phipps, Ph.D., MPH, an epidemiologist. The research team aims to understand underlying genetic risks in cancer and how to intervene. A recent Nature Genetics study from the Peters team identified 100 new genetic risk variants in colorectal cancer.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Meet-the-expert session: Plan to enhance diversity: Opportunities, challenges, best practices and innovative strategies to advance a culture of inclusive excellence at cancer centers
Tuesday, April 18, 2023, 7:00-7:45 a.m.
Presenter: Christopher Li, M.D., Ph.D. (On LinkedIn)

Christopher Li, M.D., Ph.D., vice president of Faculty Affairs and Diversity at Fred Hutch, is a nationally recognized leader in efforts to ensure that cancer research benefits all people. At AACR, he will share insights from his efforts to help build and maintain a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce at Fred Hutch and to collaborate with leaders at other cancer centers. Li, who holds the Helen G. Edson Endowed Chair for Breast Cancer Research, is also an epidemiologist who studies breast cancer risk factors, breast cancer recurrence and cancer health disparities.

Clinical trials

Major symposium: Sex hormones and cancer
Presentation: Sex differences in severe adverse events in patients receiving immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or chemotherapy in Cancer clinical trials: An evidentiary perspective
Tuesday, April 18, 2023, 1:25-1:45 p.m.
Presenter: Joseph Unger, Ph.D. (On Twitter)

Biostatistician and health services researcher Joseph Unger, Ph.D. will share insights based on findings he published in Journal of Clinical Oncology in how women experience greater adverse effects from cancer treatment, whether it’s chemotherapy, targeted therapy or immunotherapy. The data came from more than 23,000 people participating in 202 clinical trials as part of the SWOG Cancer Research Network, which described the study in a blog post. Unger uses big data to understand treatment outcomes and disparities in cancer, with the aim of revealing problems in cancer care that then allow for ways to predict and prevent the issues before they impede patients.  

Late-breaking poster session: Clinical research 3
Poster: Biomarker analysis from AMPECT correlating response to nab-sirolimus with TSC1 and TSC2 inactivating alterations
Wednesday, April 19, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Presenter: Lee Cranmer, M.D., Ph.D.

Lee Cranmer, M.D., Ph.D. leads the Bob and Eileen Gilman Family Sarcoma Research Program at Fred Hutch. A recent Fred Hutch news story featured a patient Cranmer treated for a type of cartilage cancer, called chondrosarcoma.

Note: Fred Hutch and its scientists who contributed to these discoveries may stand to benefit from their commercialization. See links above to AACR abstracts for more details on individual researchers’ disclosures.

The clinical trials referenced above involve investigational products and/or therapies that have not been approved for commercial marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other regulatory authority. Results may vary, and encouraging results from early-stage clinical trials may not be supported in later-stage clinical trials. No conclusions should be drawn from the information in this report about the safety, efficacy or likelihood of regulatory approval of these investigational products and/or therapies.

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center unites individualized care and advanced research to provide the latest cancer treatment options and accelerate discoveries that prevent, treat and cure cancer and infectious diseases worldwide.

Based in Seattle, Fred Hutch is an independent, nonprofit organization and the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in Washington. We have earned a global reputation for our track record of discoveries in cancer, infectious disease and basic research, including important advances in bone marrow transplantation, immunotherapy, HIV/AIDS prevention, and COVID-19 vaccines. Fred Hutch operates eight clinical care sites that provide medical oncology, infusion, radiation, proton therapy and related services and has network affiliations with hospitals in four states. Fred Hutch also serves as UW Medicine’s cancer program.