A Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer Center researcher was one of three inaugural recipients of the Bio-therapeutics Impact Award from the nonprofit organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

Dr. Leonid Metelitsa, associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor, Texas Children’s Cancer Center and the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor, Texas Children’s Hospital and The Methodist Hospital and a member of the pediatric cancer program of the Dan L Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor, received the $1.5 million, three-year grant for his research on a new form of cancer immunotherapy to treat neuroblastoma,  one of the most common solid tumors in children.

With support from the new Alex’s Lemonade Stand grant, he and his research and clinical colleagues will develop and clinically test natural killer T (NKT) cells that have been engineered to selectively target cancer cells in neuroblastoma patients. The research will include a Phase 1 clinical trial of the tumor-specific NKT cells in patients with resistant/recurrent neuroblastoma, which has a survival rate of less than 40 percent.

“The results of this study will inform clinical development of NKT-cell based immunotherapy of neuroblastoma and have a broad applicability for other types of cancer,” Metelitsa said.

The new Bio-therapeutics Impact Grants fund projects to advance the pace of innovative research, specifically focusing on supporting immunotherapy research. The awards represent the largest funding given by the foundation. In addition to Metelitsa, other recipients were Dr. Marie Bleakley of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Dr. Theodore Johnson of the Georgia Health Sciences University Research Institute.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation was started by the parents of Alexandra Scott, a childhood cancer patient who organized a lemonade stand sale to raise money for children with cancer. The organization has now raised more than $80 million in research funding.