New SU2C-American Cancer Society Lung Cancer Dream Team Announced

PHILADELPHIA — April 20, 2015 — Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) announced the formation of a $20 million Dream Team to attack the number one cancer killer in America, lung cancer, here today at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Scientific Partner to SU2C.

ACS estimates that 221,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancer in 2015, and 158,040 will die from it, making lung cancer the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. 

Jeffrey A. Engelman, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of thoracic oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, will be leader of the Dream Team, with Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD, chief of the Melanoma and Immunotherapeutics Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, as co-leader. The project is entitled, “Targeting KRAS Mutant Lung Cancer,” and it will involve prominent researchers from eight leading institutions.

“Mutations in the KRAS gene are found in 20 to 25 percent of lung cancer patients,” Engelman said. “Drugs targeting mutated KRAS pathways in other cancers are being developed. We plan to use them in combination with immunotherapies to have a dramatic impact on patient outcomes.”

In conjunction with targeted therapies, the Dream Team will also use immunological approaches that have had success in cancers such as lung and melanoma.

“We will combine targeted drug therapies with immunotherapy,” said Wolchok, an expert in immunology and melanoma. “We will apply immunological approaches to lung cancer in combination with targeted therapies, and we think this combined approach can bring about durable, long-term remissions.”

SU2C and ACS will each provide up to $10 million over the three-year life of the grant. Bristol-Myers Squibb is providing funding in the amount of $5 million to SU2C that supports the SU2C-ACS Lung Cancer Dream Team.

“One of our goals in supporting this Dream Team is to get new therapies to lung cancer patients quickly,” said Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of ACS. “This initiative brings together scientists from a number of institutions to work together in a collaborative environment.”

“The time is ripe for a new attack on lung cancer, especially given recent advances in cancer immunology and immunotherapy,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nobel laureate who is chairman of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). “We have a real chance to make headway against this terrible disease.”

The Dream Team has devised a three-pronged approach to focus on KRAS mutant lung cancer. It includes working to define the most effective therapies to target KRAS and critical related biological pathways, targeting the immune system for the treatment of KRAS mutant lung cancers, and integrating targeted therapies with immunotherapies for these lung cancers.

“This Dream Team is an unrivaled group of experts on KRAS and immunological therapeutic approaches,” said Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, president and chief executive officer of Stand Up To Cancer. “They have been at the forefront of developing new, targeted therapies specifically designed for KRAS mutant lung cancers and ways to harness the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. We are confident that their approach will lead to novel therapies that will markedly improve outcomes for patients with KRAS mutant lung cancer.”

“Lung cancer is not only one of the most commonly diagnosed and lethal cancers in the U.S., but one of the most difficult to treat – and this escalating unmet medical need continues to demand new innovations in the way we treat the disease,” said Joseph Leveque, MD, vice president and head, U.S. Medical, Oncology, Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Immuno-oncology research is showing great promise to potentially improve survival for lung cancer patients, and we are proud to support Stand Up to Cancer on this endeavor.”

In addition to the leaders, principal investigators on the Dream Team include: Pasi A. Jänne, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, Yale Cancer Center; Charles M. Rudin, MD, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Julie Renee Brahmer, MD, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins; John V. Heymach, MD, PhD, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Frank McCormick, PhD, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center; and David R. Gandara, MD, UC Davis Health System. Andrea Stern Ferris, chairman and president of the LUNGevity Foundation, and Jeffrey Wigbels, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley and a lung cancer survivor, will serve as advocates for patients, their families, and loved ones.

The SU2C-ACS Lung Cancer Dream Team, along with SU2C-OCRF-OCNA-NOCC Ovarian Cancer Dream Team also announced today, brings the number of SU2C Dream Teams launched since the program’s inception in 2008 to 16. SU2C is a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (a 501(c)(3) charitable organization) that raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly. SU2C has also funded translational research grants and made awards to individual investigators. In total, more than $370 million has been pledged to support SU2C’s groundbreaking cancer research programs since its inception in 2008.

The team was selected after careful review by a Joint Scientific Advisory Committee (JSAC) chaired by Sharp, with Arnold J. Levine, PhD, professor emeritus of systems biology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and William H. Chambers, PhD, ACS national vice president for extramural research, as vice-chairpersons. The committee was composed of highly accomplished laboratory researchers, physician-scientists, and advocates.

The review process began with a call for ideas by the AACR in September 2014. The committee then chose three finalist teams, each of which met with the JSAC to present the plans for their research and respond to questions about their projects—a level of face-to-face interaction between applicants and reviewers that is unique in major grant funding in the United States.

The AACR is responsible for administering the grant and provides ongoing scientific oversight to ensure that progress is being made. Since the launch of SU2C, the AACR has played an integral role as SU2C’s Scientific Partner by providing scientific leadership, expert peer review, grants administration, and oversight of progress.