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Margaret Cianci, Executive Director for the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Inc. (ACGT), a national foundation based in Stamford, Connecticut, announced today the award of national grants to three Young Investigators at major research institutions, totaling $1.5 million over three years, for separate cancer gene therapy research projects relating to neuroblastoma, prostate and ovarian cancers.
The recipients are Dr. Andrew Davidoff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, for the development of anti-angiogenic gene therapy for neuroblastoma, a deadly form of childhood cancer; Dr. Thomas Griffith at the University of Iowa for development and testing of an immunotherapy/vaccine therapy, Ad-5 TRAIL for future clinical trials in patients with prostate cancer; and Dr. Jeffrey Bartlett, at Children’s Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio, for tumor targeting/vector development, creating a specific gene therapy delivery vehicle for patients with ovarian cancer.
Gene therapy is a revolutionary new form of treatment. It has emerged in recent years with the remarkable potential not only to deliver a cure for many types of cancers, but also to improve the quality of life with reduced side effects for patients undergoing treatments.
Every year, over a half million people die from cancer and another million are diagnosed with some form of the disease. Conventional therapies, including chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, while having produced a measure of success with some cancers, have their limitations and can generate adverse side effects for patients.
The research efforts of these Young Investigators, pursuing newly emerging strategies within the cancer gene therapy field, represent significant potential applications for all forms of cancer and an improved quality of life for those being treated for cancer.
Andrew Davidoff, M.D.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee
Dr. Andrew Davidoff is a Board certified pediatric surgeon and researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Dr. Davidoff’s research will focus on the development of an anti-angiogenic gene therapy treatment for children diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a deadly form of childhood cancer for which prognosis is poor.
Angiogenesis is the process of new blood vessel formation, essential for cancer progression and tumor growth. The goal of anti-angiogenesis gene therapy as studied by Dr. Davidoff is to prevent blood vessels from growing in support of tumor progression, essentially starving the tumor. The goal of this form of gene therapy is to target cancers that have become resistant to conventional forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy.
The hypothesis for Dr. Davidoff’s research, conducted in collaboration with other researchers at St. Jude, is that targeted delivery of the gene for pigment epithelilum derived factor known as PEDF, a very potent angiogenesis inhibitor, can halt or slow angiogenesis, thereby restricting neuroblastoma growth.
2. Immunotherapy/Vaccine Therapy:
Thomas Griffith, Ph. D
University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
Thomas Griffith, Ph.D, an assistant professor of Urologic Oncology in the Department of Urology at the University of Iowa, has received a grant for the study and testing of a viral-mediated transfer of gene (Ad5-TRAIL), designed to inhibit prostate tumor formation. Previous laboratory studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of this form of gene therapy in inducing tumor cell death because prostate tumors are highly accessible.
Dr. Griffith’s research is a form of immunotherapy/vaccine therapy which involves introducing genes into a tumor to activate the body’s immune system or to counteract the tumor’s ability to disarm the immune system. It is hoped that this type of gene therapy could result in tumor rejection and tumor free survival for the patient.
3. Tumor Targeting/Vector Development:
Jeffrey Bartlett, Ph.D
Children’s Research Institute, Columbus, Ohio
Jeffrey Bartlett, Ph.D is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, and of Molecular Virology, Immunology, and Medical Genetics at Children’s Research Institute. His grant will enable him to continue his research which seeks to utilize the adeno-associated virus as a “Trojan Horse” or “vector” for the delivery of therapeutic genes into certain ovarian cancer tumor cells.
Tumor targeting, as this method of gene therapy is known, is the creation of therapeutic genes in the laboratory as delivery vehicles aimed directly at cancer cells. One of the most beneficial aspects of cell and gene based medicines lies in their ability to focus specifically on targeted cancer cells, enhancing their safety and reducing side effects for the patient.
Dr. Bartlett has been developing preliminary data and rationale for the past three years. His next step will be to develop and test these agents in the laboratory to cure ovarian cancer in mice. If the studies ultimately prove successful, human trials would be proposed for the future.
Edward Netter, a Greenwich philanthropist and Chairman of Geneve Corporation, and his wife Barbara formed the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization in 2001, in collaboration with Dr. Savio Woo, Chairman of the Carl C. Icahn Institute for Gene Therapy and Molecular Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Woo is Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council for ACGT, and is the former president of the American Society of Gene Therapy. ACGT is governed by a Board of Directors and advised by a Scientific Advisory Council of pre-eminent physicians and researchers, all leaders in cancer gene therapy research. Members of both groups serve without financial remuneration.
ACGT’s mission is to increase private funding to support basic research, technology innovation, preclinical validation and clinical translation to expedite development of effective and safe therapies for cancer. 100% of all funds raised by ACGT go directly to research. The primary recipients of ACGT Awards and Grants will be Young Investigators and Investigators – scientific researchers at academic institutions throughout the United States who have obtained Associate and Full Professor status.
For additional information regarding ACGT, including how to make a charitable contribution, or procedures for seeking funding, please visit www.acgtfoundation.org or call (203) 358-8000, ext. 495.