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Three of the world’s top research institutions join forces to drive progress against pediatric cancer

Large-scale collaboration will leverage each institution’s expertise and infrastructure to advance understanding of the biological basis of pediatric cancers, identify new vulnerabilities of these diseases and accelerate cures globally.

Boston, MA, and Memphis, TN – October 13, 2022

Three senior scientists from Dana-Farber, Broad Institute and St. Jude meeting about Pediatric Cancer Dependencies Accelerator project.

Pictured L to R: Francisca Vazquez, Ph.D., Broad Institute Cancer Dependency Map Project director, Kimberly Stegmaier, M.D., Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, vice chair of Pediatric Oncology Research and Charles W.M. Roberts, M.D., Ph.D., St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center director.

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital today announced the largest academic collaboration of its kind to transform and accelerate the identification of vulnerabilities in pediatric cancers and translate them into better treatments.

The collaboration is supported by a new joint funding investment by all three institutions of more than $60 million over five years. This investment will support infrastructure development and scientific work by a team currently composed of more than 80 collaborating investigators, data scientists and research staff. The effort is expected to reach 100 members as each institution adds employees.

By combining the intellectual leadership, technical expertise and institutional resources of the three institutions, this new collaboration is designed to address critical gaps in knowledge related to the biological basis of childhood cancer, and how it might more effectively be treated. The Pediatric Cancer Dependencies Accelerator project, notable for its large scale of investment, number of collaborating scientists and scientific scope, will accelerate progress in the development of new treatments for aggressive childhood cancers by: 

  • Developing and deploying genome editing techniques to identify hidden vulnerabilities (dependencies) in a range of high-risk childhood brain, solid and blood cancers.
  • Leveraging emerging technologies to characterize the genetic and epigenetic landscape of pediatric cancers.
  • Developing model systems where none currently exist for high-risk childhood cancers that have poor outcomes.
  • Identifying effective combination therapies and mechanisms of drug resistance and shortening the timeline for developing new therapies.
  • Developing computational approaches to mine and integrate data and developing innovative software tools for data sharing.

The project is co-led by Charles W.M. Roberts, MD, PhD, St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center director, Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, vice chair of Pediatric Oncology Research, and Francisca Vazquez, PhD, Broad Institute Cancer Dependency Map Project director.

“Despite many advances, cancer remains the number one cause of death by disease for children in the U.S.,” Roberts said. “It can take decades in a research lab to understand mechanisms and develop new treatments. Through this project, we believe we can now leapfrog barriers to rapidly identify therapeutic vulnerabilities in childhood cancer and translate those into targeted therapies in the clinic much faster.”

“Our first-generation Pediatric Cancer Dependency Map project was wildly successful but just the tip of the iceberg,” Stegmaier said. “I am so excited about this unprecedented collaboration among three extraordinary institutions. The PedDep Accelerator will uncover novel, and much needed, new therapeutic targets while also revealing the mechanistic underpinnings of a wide range of childhood cancers, providing a treasure trove of data for our research community.”

"The PedDep Accelerator exemplifies the power of deep collaboration and of bringing a multidisciplinary team together across institutions to tackle an important disease challenge that affects children worldwide," Vazquez said. "Through data sharing and tool development, we are committed to creating a resource that the scientific community can leverage to make a real impact on childhood cancers. I am excited to see the impact this project will have on the pace of therapeutic discovery 

 
 
 
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Pediatric Cancer Dependencies Accelerator

 
 

Pediatric cancer: An opportunity for innovation and discovery

The collaboration builds on groundbreaking research initiatives from each institution. Over the past decade, the St. Jude-Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project and other large-scale sequencing efforts have yielded rich insights into the genomic landscape of pediatric cancers, including the understanding that most disease-driving genetic mutations are not druggable. Developing precision therapies will require identifying cancer dependencies and vulnerabilities that are not revealed by mining genomic datasets alone.

The Cancer Dependency Map (DepMap) Initiative at Broad has developed extensive, world-class datasets and computational infrastructure that has impacted research and target discovery programs worldwide. Launched in 2015, the Pediatric Cancer Dependency Map Project (PedDep) served as a proof-of-concept to apply the DepMap approach to childhood cancers. For example, whole-genome CRISPR screens have now been effectively deployed at scale to identify vulnerabilities in hundreds of adult cancers, and proof of principle has been established that these approaches can also identify weaknesses in childhood cancers, which often have much simpler genomes. Large-scale drug screening capabilities have also been developed. That infrastructure and expertise will be leveraged and expanded through this effort.

The project will rely on modeling expertise from St. Jude and Dana-Farber in the creation of patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models that use cancer cells from patients, and thus more closely match the biology of the disease as it appears in the clinic. Computational biologists at St. Jude will contribute a breadth of expertise on the analyses of epigenomic and genomic characterizations, data visualization and the development of computational pipelines. Additionally, St. Jude infrastructure will facilitate combination drug screening and in vivo CRISPR- and drug-screening approaches.

Cross-functional groups will include Broad, Dana-Farber and St. Jude investigators, focusing on three core disease areas (brain tumors, hematological malignancies and solid tumors) and bringing to bear pan-cancer expertise in data science, functional genomics and large-scale drug screening. Together, researchers at these institutions will enhance and accelerate progress by combining unique strengths and resources to address the greatest challenges to understanding and treating pediatric cancers.

 
 

About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine. The Broad Institute seeks to describe the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods, and data openly to the entire scientific community.

Founded by MIT, Harvard, Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff, and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to http://www.broadinstitute.org.

About Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is one of the world’s leading cancer centers with a unique and equal balance of cancer research and treatment. Dana-Farber’s mission is to reduce the burden of cancer through scientific inquiry, clinical care, education, community engagement, and advocacy. Dana-Farber is a federally designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. 

We provide the latest treatments in cancer for adults through Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center and for children through Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Dana-Farber is the only hospital nationwide with a top 5 U.S. News & World Report Best Cancer Hospital ranking in both adult and pediatric care.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening disorders. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 60 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.

 
 
 
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