Saturday, December 3, 2022

The GastroIntestinal Research Foundation Launches New Multi-Million Dollar Funding Initiative Aimed at Curing Cancers of the Digestive System

Despite centuries of research, treating and curing cancer remains an urgent health research priority. With generous support from anonymous donors, the GastroIntestinal Research Foundation (GIRF) has launched a bold initiative, CA CURE, to identify and fund research to improve diagnostics and develop therapeutics focused on immunotherapies and personalized vaccines.

CA CURE will focus on projects that might have difficulty attracting funds because they are too experimental or are in the initial stages of development. As always, the Foundation’s focus is improving patient outcomes, and it will fund rigorously evaluated science from across the country.

Chaired by Sonia Kupfer, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Co-Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic, and Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic at UChicago Medicine, CA CURE’s research review process is advised by a team of multi-disciplinary medical experts from across the country.

The Foundation’s President, Yekaterina Chudnovsky, said, “CA CURE is a bold and innovative approach to identify, treat and even one day cure digestive cancers. Far too many people, at younger and younger ages are diagnosed with fatal cancers, often after living with a digestive disease such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, fatty liver disease, and others. Despite its prevalence, colon cancer research is grossly underfunded. CA CURE will quickly put vital research dollars in the hands of leading scientists.”

Since its recent inception, the Foundation has funded three projects.

Elicio Therapeutics will use its GIRF funding on research for two therapeutic cancer vaccines. Both vaccines have been designed with Elicio’s proprietary lymph node-targeting Amphiphile (AMP) platform that “educates” T cells on how to target particular antigens, such as mutated proteins in cancer. ELI-007 is being developed to target the BRAF gene mutation, and ELI-008 is being developed to target hotspot mutations in p53 in solid tumors including colorectal cancer. These AMP vaccines will educate T cells on how to recognize the BRAF and p53 mutations for a potentially better immune response against the tumor. BRAF V600E mutations are present in 10% of colon cancer while mutations in p53 are found in approximately 60% of patients with solid tumors.

Rarecyte has been funded to test gastrointestinal cancer patient samples within clinical trials to determine circulating tumor cell (CTC) burden and selected biomarker analysis. CTCs have long been understood to be shed from the tumor into the bloodstream with the potential to embed at distant and discrete sites within the body generating metastatic dissemination of the tumor. Metastatic disease resulting from this process is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. CTCs have been shown to be a strong indicator of prognosis in cancer patients. The emerging trend of personalized medicine (‘patient-specific therapy’) requires deeper understanding of the makeup of CTCs, both at the protein and gene level, to select therapies which will specifically treat the individual patient’s cancer.

Funding to Dr. Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) will support research utilizing a cutting-edge, sub-cellular spatial profiling technology to reveal novel aspects of colorectal cancer (CRC) heterogeneity and improve our understanding of normal tissues, at both the RNA and protein levels. To date, spatial imaging technologies (e.g., GeoMx) have shown a wealth of novel tissue complexity and biology. Yet their ability to guide research has been hampered because the technology has yet to be fully harnessed. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, Dr. Mason’s study will address this issue by developing a powerful resource that will catapult the future impact of spatial technologies and demonstrate the utility of these technologies to evaluate Spatially-resolved Atlas CRC tumors, both metastatic and primary, and normal colon tissues. The results will provide an unprecedented resource for the study of CRC and normal biology, allowing investigators using GeoMx and CosMx technology to experience the full potential of these platforms in their research. Dr. Mason’s research will help develop data analysis pipelines and machine learning techniques that can advance the analysis of NanoString data. These efforts will also provide invaluable resources for future studies, allowing for the search for novel therapeutic targets to cure cancer.

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