Baylor College of Medicine’s Texas Children’s Cancer Center is part of a Dream Team of childhood cancer researchers that will focus on melding the fields of genomics and immunotherapy to advance treatment for pediatric cancer.
Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, along with the American Association for Cancer Research, announced the creation of the first pediatric cancer Dream Team at a press conference April 7 at the AACR annual meeting in Washington, DC.
The SU2C-St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Project will provide a total of $14.5 million over four years, including $3.3 million to BCM.
The Dream Team includes The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the National Cancer Institute, the University of British Columbia, The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Wisconsin, along with BCM.
"We have seen very few effective new therapies for the highest-risk childhood cancers over the last 20 years," said Dr. Will Parsons, assistant professor of pediatrics - oncology at BCM and BCM’s Dream Team leader. "Genomics and immunotherapeutics are two cutting-edge approaches to improving treatments for our patients but we have not fully focused on tying them together until now."
Immunotherapy is the study and development of treatments that use the body’s own immune system against disease. Genomics is the analysis of DNA that can be used to understand the causes of cancer and how it progresses and responds to treatment.
Parsons will head the genomics arm of the project at BCM, and Dr. Nabil Ahmed, assistant professor of pediatrics at BCM, will lead the immunotherapy side at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and The Methodist Hospital. Parsons and Ahmed are also part of the Texas Children’s Cancer Center, a joint program of BCM and Texas Children’s and the pediatric program of the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Cancer Center at BCM.
"The crosstalk and effective alignment of efforts from two highly productive fields of cancer research, genomics and immunology, should lead to major discoveries," Ahmed said. "Merging immunotherapy and genomics into an Immunogenomics Dream Team is a novel but also very pragmatic move. It’s about synergy and about delivery of science to the clinic."
The Dream Team will work collaboratively to perform new analyses on childhood cancer genomes as well as normal childhood tissues to determine which molecules are on the surface of cancer cells but not normal cells. They will then create new immunotherapeutic drugs and approaches based on these discoveries.
The team will also develop a clinical trials consortium to test the new immunotherapeutics in children. The project is expected to start July 1, with the first clinical trials scheduled to open within the first year.
Other BCM dream team members include Drs. Malcolm Brenner, Ching Lau, Christopher Man, Xiao-Nan Li, David Wheeler, Dolores López-Terrada, Ricardo Flores, Angshumoy Roy, Matthew Baker, and Meenakshi Hegde.