Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC) has been awarded a $12 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to bring promising ovarian cancer research from the laboratory to clinical practice. The highly competitive Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant will help fund three research studies on overcoming the problem of treatment resistance in ovarian cancer and enable DF/HCC- affiliated institutions to build on recent therapeutic advances in this disease. The principal investigators of the SPORE grant are Alan D’Andrea, MD, director of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber Ursula Matulonis, MD, chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Dana-Farber and David Spriggs, MD Director of Gynecologic Oncology Program at MGH Cancer Center.
“Through the Ovarian Cancer SPORE of the DF/HCC, several of the most urgent questions in ovarian cancer therapy will be addressed,” said Alan D’Andrea, MD. “We are grateful to the National Cancer Institute for recognizing the combined expertise of the DF/HCC institutions and providing the resources to further advance the significant therapeutic progress made in this disease in recent years.”
Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological malignancy in the United States, with less than half of newly diagnosed women surviving more than five years. Because no effective screening measures exist for ovarian cancer, the disease is often diagnosed in an advanced stage, when it is difficult to treat successfully.
The three research projects supported by DF/HCC Ovarian Cancer SPORE seek to translate scientists’ growing understanding of treatment resistance in ovarian cancer into new therapeutic approaches.
- New classes of drugs known as PARP inhibitors, which hamper cells’ ability to repair damaged DNA, are increasingly used to treat women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer as well as those whose disease has recurred following standard treatment. These agents have changed the standard of care for many women with ovarian cancer and represent a major advance in the treatment of the disease. However, many patients eventually develop resistance to PARP inhibitors. The first research project supported by the SPORE grant will include clinical trials of drug combinations designed to extend the effectiveness of PARP inhibitors.
- The SPORE funding will also support the development and study of a novel neoantigen vaccine trial for ovarian cancer patients. The personalized vaccine will be designed to recognize cancer-specific proteins, called neoantigens, that are present on an individual’s cancer cells but not on normal cells. Used in conjunction with immunotherapy drugs known as a checkpoint inhibitors, such a vaccine could “steer” the immune system to a direct assault on the cancer cells.
- The third project will address patients with recurrent or drug-resistant high-grade serous ovarian cancer or low-grade serous cancer. The SPORE funds will support research into novel combinations, such as a BCL inhibitor and a MEK inhibitor, and will look for biomarkers of drug activity.
"Our focus will be on new ovarian cancer therapies for which laboratory research provides evidence of their effectiveness," said Ursula Matulonis, MD. "Physician-researchers across the DF/HCC institutions will work collaboratively to test and develop the next generation of agents that we can deliver to our patients and ultimately improve outcomes. This is a very important collaborative grant for us.”
Additional components of the SPORE in Ovarian Cancer include a Developmental Research Program (DRP) and a Career Enhancement Program (CEP) as well as four core facilities to support the research: Administrative, Pathology, Biostatistics, and Organoids, Model Systems, and Biomarkers.
The Specialized Programs of Research Excellence is a cornerstone of the NCI’s efforts to promote collaborative, interdisciplinary translational cancer research. SPORE grants involve both basic and clinical/applied scientists working together and support projects that will result in new and diverse approaches to the prevention, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of human cancers.
The DF/HCC SPORE in Ovarian Cancer includes DF/HCC researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and Harvard Medical School (HMS).