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New Initiative Leveraging Genomics, Immunotherapeutics for Childhood Cancer Receives $14.5M in Funding

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A multi-organization initiative has been created with the goal of discovering new therapies for childhood cancers using genomics as well as immunotherapeutic technologies.

Called Immunogenomics to Create New Therapies for High-risk Childhood Cancers, the project is being funded with $14.5 million over a four-year period by Stand Up to Cancer and the St. Baldrick's Foundation. The American Association for Cancer Research is administering the grant and providing scientific oversight for the project, which pulls together researchers from seven institutions — The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP); the National Cancer Institute; the British Columbia Cancer Agency; Baylor College of Medicine; The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto; Seattle Children's Hospital; and the University of Wisconsin.

Life Technologies is also donating research instruments and equipment valued at up to $500,000, the partners said.

While genomics and immunotherapeutics offer promise in the field of childhood cancer research and have elucidated the genetic underpinnings of aggressive forms of childhood cancers, "they have not yet revolutionized treatment," the partners said. The new initiative seeks to remedy this by developing targeted immunotherapeutics for the most difficult to cure childhood cancers.

The project will first aim to create a multi-institutional computing infrastructure for the analysis of childhood cancer genomes and normal childhood tissues in order to decipher molecules on the surface of cancer cells but not on normal cells. Validation of the findings will be done with tissue microarrays from cancerous and normal tissues.

New immunotherapeutic drugs and approaches based on these discoveries will then be developed in collaboration with the Frederick National Laboratory and industry players.

At the same time, a clinical trials consortium will be formed to test the new immunotherapeutics in children. "A major goal of the team is to create a mechanism by which these highly specialized therapies can be exported to all children's hospitals for future testing and clinical applications, with the hope that these will be transformative new therapies," the partners said in a statement.

Work is expected to begin in July and the first clinical studies are anticipated to open within the first year.

John Maris, director of the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at CHOP, will lead the researchers from the seven participating institutions. Crystal Mackall, chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch of NCI, is the co-leader of the initiative.

"It is our goal, indeed our expectation, that we will initiate a sustained effort to maximize pediatric cancer cure rates through a genomics-anchored immunotherapeutic program," Maris said in a statement.