The Commonwealth Foundation for Cancer Research has pledged $20 million to the Bridge Project, a collaborative research program of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT and Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), to accelerate the translation of interdisciplinary cancer solutions toward the clinic.
Launched in 2011, the Bridge Project links the cancer research efforts of MIT and DF/HCC —Massachusetts’ two National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers. The Koch Institute is an NCI-designated basic laboratory cancer center, and DF/HCC is an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center that unites the cancer research efforts of Harvard’s five principal affiliated hospitals and two health science schools: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
The Bridge Project funds cross-institutional and interdisciplinary teams of cancer scientists, engineers, and clinicians to solve long-standing problems in the most intractable cancers. The program was designed to integrate advanced cancer science research at both institutions by leveraging MIT’s strengths in basic cancer research and bioengineering and Harvard’s strengths in clinical cancer research and cancer care. As such, each team is co-led by at least one MIT investigator and one DF/HCC investigator.
The Commonwealth Foundation gift, which will be made over the next five years, will double the number of grants available to fund these multi-investigator teams each year. It also will create two new funding mechanisms that will extend the pipeline of collaboration and catalyze the translation of basic research toward clinical trials. “Footbridge Grants” will enable new teams to form and establish proof of concept. “Expansion Grants” will provide follow-on funding to existing teams that are on the cusp of making significant advances toward clinical implementation.
This gift follows an initial investment of $4.5 million from the Commonwealth Foundation in 2012. To amplify the impact of this new gift, DF/HCC and MIT will raise matching funds over the next five years, resulting in a combined $40 million expansion of the Bridge Project.
“We are so proud to continue our support of the Bridge Project. Over the last four years, we have witnessed some truly innovative advances,” said Bill Goodwin, chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation for Cancer Research. “We share the Bridge Project’s goal to move important discoveries out of the lab and into the clinic — and hope other families and foundations will be inspired to join this effort.”
Since its inception, the Bridge Project has funded 15 teams that are pursuing clinical advances across a variety of cancer types that represent areas of great clinical need, including brain, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, and advanced prostate cancer. The work of these teams has led to publications in high-profile journals, the filing of invention disclosures and patent applications, the formation of new companies, and the initiation of clinical trials.
“The energy and creativity that comes from bringing researchers and clinicians together from different disciplines has been tremendous to experience,” said Anna Farago, MD, PhD, a thoracic oncologist at MGH and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Farago began working with Bridge Project investigators on a drug compound to treat small cell lung cancer during her postdoctoral studies at the Koch Institute. Now, she and her colleagues are preparing a clinical trial to test this drug combination. “By combining the research strengths of both institutions, we’re able to develop new approaches and insights into cancer research and care.”
The Bridge Project is led by Tyler Jacks, PhD, director of the Koch Institute and the David H. Koch Professor of Biology at MIT, and David Livingston, MD, deputy director of DF/HCC and the Emil Frei Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“Bridge Project collaborations are already moving new therapies, tools, and technologies toward clinical trials, offering new solutions to patients and their clinicians,” Jacks said. “This new commitment to the Bridge Project will inspire new partnerships, accelerate our rate of clinical translation, and perhaps most importantly, help us support critical, high-impact research.”
“We are immensely grateful to the Commonwealth Foundation for Cancer Research for their transformative investment and shared vision for the future of the Bridge Project,” Livingston said. “By enlarging the scale of the Bridge Project, we believe that we can bring about positive outcomes for cancer patients.”
The new and expanded funding opportunities will be made available to DF/HCC-MIT teams for the 2016-2017 funding cycle.