Connections - June 2013
New Ideas, New Digs: An Update on Immunotherapy at RPCI
The field of immunotherapy traces its origins to the theories of a pioneering American surgeon, William Coley, in the late 19th century but has hit its stride only in the last decade. Though they cover a breadth of different approaches, targets and biological agents, all immunotherapies have this in common: they enlist the body’s own defense program, the immune system, in destroying, controlling and even preventing cancer. Tumor vaccines are one example of such immunotherapy. The most encouraging tumor vaccines used to treat active cancer consist of a patient’s own immune cells, armed to recognize that patient’s cancer and to kill it as well as to stimulate other immune cells to do the same. Such vaccines appear to spare the patient the collateral damage and unpleasant side effects associated with traditional cancer therapies.
This month, the medical-research community celebrated Cancer Immunotherapy Awareness Month for the very first time. Our own Dr. Kunle Odunsi, Director of the RPCI Center for Immunotherapy and one of the most accomplished and notable figures in the field, was one of four speakers invited by the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) to give a presentation on breakthroughs and coming developments in cancer immunotherapy. So it seems an appropriate time to update you on the activities of RPCI’s vaccine-research program, which has grown steadily since the opening of the Institute’s Center for Immunotherapy three years ago.
Dr. Odunsi and his team are taking a broad-based approach in these investigations, with researchers pursuing strategies that employ various immune cells, antigens, delivery systems and targets. Some 28 RPCI faculty members with specific focus on tumor immunology and immunotherapy, plus another 15 staff, students and fellows, are involved in this work, developing and testing vaccines to be used to treat a wide variety of tumors: cancers of the bladder, blood and bone marrow, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, lungs, muscle, ovary, pancreas, prostate and skin.
The melanoma vaccine clinical trial we announced this week, to be led by Dr. John M. Kane III, is the sixth study launched through the Roswell Park Center for Immunotherapy. Based on the pioneering work of his RPCI colleague Dr. John Subjeck, this investigational vaccine exploits the immune-stimulating powers of a particular “heat-shock” protein as a chaperone to deliver the melanoma protein antigen — an approach so novel and promising that it drew the support of the National Cancer Institute’s Rapid Access to Intervention Development (RAID) program and a private philanthropic organization, the Jennifer Linscott Tietgen Family Foundation.
We expect another nine immunotherapy trials now in the pipeline, all developed by RPCI faculty members affiliated with the Center for Immunotherapy, to follow in the next year. These include a major collaborative study, set to open in a matter of weeks, that builds on Dr. Odunsi’s previous research on immune-based therapies for ovarian cancer, a new bladder-cancer study and the follow-up to the dendritic-cell study Dr. Odunsi launched in January 2012 — representing a milestone for the Institute, in that it will be the first phase II clinical research study conducted through the Center for Immunotherapy.
All these activities have required a bigger footprint, so this winter the Center relocated to larger space. When the last phase of the move is completed in early 2014, the Center will occupy well over 12,000 square feet in RPCI’s Cancer Cell Center, including an expanded Therapeutic Cell Production Facility (TCPF) featuring four “class 10,000” cleanrooms compliant with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. The Center will also house a new Vector Development and Production Facility (VDPF) that will allow Center for Immunotherapy Investigators to “re-engineer” immune cells and arm them with powerful weapons for destroying cancer cells.
From the first, community support — like the Charlotte Geyer Foundation’s ongoing generosity toward RPCI’s dendritic-cell vaccine study and the Tietgen family’s support for melanoma research at RPCI — has been an integral part of the Center for Immunotherapy, making possible so much of the progress and expansion outlined here.
We look forward to getting these new studies underway, and to the next phase of updates about our Center for Immunotherapy: being able to report results from these first trials.
-Donald L. Trump, MD, FACP
President & CEO
$1M of the $3.8M Raised in The Ride For Roswell 2013 to Benefit Pediatric Programs
The RPCI community raised more than $3.8 million for research and patient-care programs at Roswell Park in the 18th annual Ride For Roswell, held June 21-22. More than 8,000 riders biked routes ranging from 3 to 104 miles and covering many Western New York communities, each ending and starting at the University at Buffalo’s Amherst Campus. This year, $1 million of the funds will be used to advance care for the region’s pediatric cancer patients.
Melanoma Vaccine Study is Sixth RPCI Center for Immunotherapy Trial
A new clinical research study led by Dr. John M Kane III will assess the safety and efficacy of a novel immunotherapy approach to treating advanced melanoma. The investigational vaccine, developed entirely at RPCI in collaboration with Dr. John Subjeck, Dr. Elizabeth Repasky and others, exploits the immune-boosting functions of a class of molecules known as “heat-shock” proteins, and holds promise for treating other solid-tumor cancers as well.
Study by Pharmaceutical Trade Group Highlights Region’s Impact on U.S. Clinical Research
More than 750 clinical trials of new medicines have been conducted by biopharmaceutical research companies in the Buffalo area over the last 13 years, reports a new publication, “Research in Your Backyard: Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials in New York.” Speaking at a press conference held at RPCI this week in collaboration with Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Dr. Myron Czuczman noted that the overall number of clinical research studies at RPCI is even higher – the Institute had 662 active clinical trials in 2012, with some 1,795 RPCI patients on clinical studies at some point last year.
Studying the Role of Genetics in Two Types of Cancers
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which impacts children and teens, and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which primarily affects those over the age of 40, are common hematologic cancers with high mortality rates. It is estimated that in the U.S. in 2013 there will be more than 6,000 newly diagnosed ALL cases, with nearly 1,500 ALL-related deaths and nearly 15,000 newly diagnosed AML cases.
Despite the devastating impact of these diseases, little is known about what causes them or puts people at risk. In fact, studies in the general population have described only obesity and smoking as being associated with AML, but primarily in individuals over age 55. And there are no published environmental risk factors for AML in children, or for ALL diagnosed at any age.
Studies of the role genetics plays have been somewhat successful in identifying risk factors, but more work needs to be done. Thanks to generous donations to RPCI, Lara Sucheston, PhD, Assistant Member in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control, and Theresa Hahn, PhD, Associate Member and Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Medicine, recently launched studies that could lead to identifying genetic markers that associate with risk of developing these devastating illnesses.
“We have a unique resource available though the National Marrow Donor Program to thoroughly study the role of genetics in these two cancers,” said Dr. Sucheston. “Specifically, we have clinical, personal and genetic information on thousands of AML and ALL patients and healthy unrelated men and women who donated their bone marrow or blood for allogeneic transplant. These data will allow the first-ever genome-wide evaluation of variations that contribute to risk of AML and a much-needed replication of genetic association findings with ALL. The ultimate goal is a better understanding of the genetic risk of these diseases.”
Dr. Sucheston joined Roswell Park in 2010. To learn more about her, view her biography here: http://www.roswellpark.edu/lara-sucheston.
Dr. Hahn joined Roswell Park in 1998. To learn more about her, view her biography here: http://www.roswellpark.edu/theresa-hahn.
Roswell Park faculty members regularly share their expertise with major national media outlets and oncology publications. Some recent examples:
Dr. Stephen Edge to NPR.org: “These women come from families where breast cancer has been marching through the family in young women, with women in their 40s being diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Dr. Nikhil Khushalani to Healio/HemOnc Today: “In essence, we are tailoring treatment to target what may be one of the drivers in [metastatic uveal melanoma]. The drug resulted in tumor shrinkage in half of the patients and clearly more than doubled the time to progression when compared with chemotherapy.”
Dr. Nefertiti duPont to MedPage Today/The Gupta Guide: “A lot of women in this age group are already on aspirin and/or statin so we know they are well tolerated. If confirmed, it would allow us to think about whether we should start all women with endometrial cancer on these drugs as a way of prolonging their lives.”
When cancer strikes and everything in a person’s life changes, Roswell Park is there. To assist in keeping patient materials organized and portable and help ease anxiety new patients may feel about trying to remember all the details of their treatment from visit to visit, Healthtrac donates $10,000 each year to RPCI, which is used to purchase and distribute patient padfolios.
On Friday, August 9, Carly’s Club at Roswell Park Cancer Institute will host the party of the summer! Come dressed in your splashiest blue to match this year’s theme, “Into the Deep Blue,” and enjoy an open bar all night, gourmet cuisine from Buffalo’s premier restaurants, music, dancing and the chance to win great prizes, including a new car!
All proceeds from the event will benefit Carly’s Club and patient-care programs and pediatric cancer research at Roswell Park. Visit Summer Splash online to get tickets and learn more.
Subway Supports RPCI
Stop by any Western New York Subway from now until July 26, purchase a pin-up for $1 and support Roswell Park.
Your card will be proudly displayed on the walls of your favorite Subway location, and your donation will have a direct impact at Roswell Park.
Concert for a Cure
Sing out against cancer at Concert for a Cure on July 28. The evening will be filled with food, drinks and music from eight local bands alongside headliner The Guess Who.
General admission tickets are $35 and all proceeds benefit the cutting-edge lung cancer research and compassionate patient-care programs at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. For more information, please visit www.theconcertforacure.com
Roswell Park Rep Builds on Medical Testing — Buffalo Business First, 6/26/13
Ride For Roswell Raises More Than $3.8 Million — The Buffalo News, 6/22/13
E-Cigarette Use is on the Rise in Region — The Buffalo News, 6/2/13
8,000 Riders Take Part in Ride For Roswell —WGRZ-TV Channel 2, 6/22/13
Eve Holberg – Ride For Roswell Participant — WBEN-AM, 6/21/13
Fighting Cancer and Bullying With a Smile — WKBW-TV Channel 7, 6/18/13
Improvement Seen in Diagnosing, Caring for Head, Neck Cancer — The Buffalo News
See more RPCI headlines at roswellpark.org/media/in-the-news
Don’t Fall for Tricky Food Labels
Let’s be honest: If a food is labeled “healthy” or “good for you” in some way, do you eat more of it? Many of us do, according to findings recently published online in the International Journal of Obesity. Researchers asked 186 adults to assess the appropriate portion sizes of foods. For example, given bowls of coleslaw, participants served themselves bigger portions of coleslaw labeled “healthy” than they did with standard coleslaw. In reality, both versions had the same calories per weight. The researchers suspect that people feel less guilty about eating healthier options, leading them to overeat. Consumers may also mistakenly believe that food dubbed “low-fat” means low-calorie, and that’s not always the case. What to do?
- Look beyond the advertising. A claim that the food item contains “half the fat” of the standard version does not necessarily mean it’s a low-fat food.
- Read nutrition labels carefully, and pay attention to calorie count and serving size.
- Choose more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.