The Pancreatic Cancer Collective, the strategic partnership of the Lustgarten Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), has awarded a total of $7 million in first-round “New Therapies Challenge” grants to seven teams, including Baylor College of Medicine, of top cancer researchers to explore new pancreatic cancer treatments, the American Association for Cancer Research, the Scientific Partner of SU2C, announced today. Each team will receive up to $1 million in initial funding, with $4 million per team for clinical studies awaiting the most successful projects in the second round.

These teams are the first projects funded under the Pancreatic Cancer Collective launched this spring to accelerate pancreatic cancer research and improve patient outcomes for pancreatic cancer, which is one of the deadliest cancers, with a five-year survival rate of only 8 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“New and effective treatments are urgently needed for cancer of the pancreas,” said Dr. Phillip A. Sharp, Nobel laureate and chair of SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and scientific co-leader of the Collective. “The two-step process created by the Pancreatic Cancer Collective is an innovative and flexible approach that will speed up the research process, help us have a real impact on pancreatic cancer, and bring new hope to patients and their families.”

The seven teams given funding in this first round of the Collective’s New Therapies Challenge will conduct their research for the next 14 months, reporting their results to the Collective and the Joint Scientific Advisory Committee (JSAC), which selected these teams. The second round of funding of $4 million per team will support clinical studies of the most promising teams from the first round.

Baylor is partnering with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center on its project, titled “Adoptive Transfer of TGF-β resistant TIL to Defeat Immunosuppressive PDAC.” The team is led by Dr. Patrick Hwu of MD Anderson, co-led by Dr. Cliona Rooney, professor of pediatrics-hematology and oncology in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor, and Dr. Chantale Bernatchez of MD Anderson.

“Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) is a protein that shuts down tumor-specific killer T-cells, and a dominant-negative receptor for this protein allows T-cells to perform their anti-tumor activity normally and safely in the presence of TGFβ,” said Rooney.

The team will use tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) to create tumor-specific killer T cells that are resistant to TGF-b, a protein that can counteract the immune system, and use the gene-modified TILs to attack pancreatic cancer.

“It is becoming clear that unmodified tumor-specific T-cells alone, or even after lymphodepleting chemotherapy, are unlikely to be highly effective for the elimination of immunosuppressive solid tumors, and rendering pancreatic TILs resistant to one of the most potent tumor immune evasion strategies should provide new insights into how to combat this aggressive disease,” added Rooney.

“Pancreatic cancer research is moving faster than ever before,” said Kerri Kaplan, Lustgarten’s president and chief executive officer. “Now is the time for innovation and acceleration towards improved treatment for the patients who so desperately need and deserve better options.”

“We are in a very exciting place right now for pancreatic cancer research,” said Dr. David A. Tuveson, Lustgarten’s Chief Scientist and director of the cancer center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, co-scientific leader of the Collective. “We’re bringing together insights from immunology, targeted therapy, genomics, modeling, and other fields, and we’re going to find out what should go forward to clinical studies. We are very optimistic that we can make some real progress.”

“We launched this joint Collective to create a network of grants and researchers to accelerate the translation of research findings into treatments, through innovative and flexible models,” said Dr. Sung Poblete, president and CEO of Stand Up To Cancer. “We believe this New Therapies Challenge will help spur breakthroughs, and the potential for additional funding will spur even more breakthroughs.”

Read more about the other six teams and research projects.

The Lustgarten Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer have collaborated closely since 2012, jointly funding more than 209 investigators from 31 leading research centers in the United States and the United Kingdom. These efforts include four Dream Teams and five Research Teams, including two Convergence Teams bringing together computational experts with clinical oncologists. Cancer Interception, research supporting the earliest diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, even before the cancer may have fully formed, is the focus of one of the Dream Teams and one of the Research Teams. All told, these collaborative teams have planned, started, or completed 25 clinical trials. The Pancreatic Cancer Collective is building on this momentum to push the boundaries of what can be accomplished even further.