Three members of the University of Colorado Cancer Center and a longstanding supporter of the campus are part of a group of more than 200 researchers nationwide who were recognized in April with the Team Science Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).
The CU researchers — Terry Fry, MD, Lia Gore, MD, and Amanda Winters, MD, PhD, all of whom practice at Children’s Hospital Colorado, along with patient advocate Kevin Reidy — are part of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation Stand Up To Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team, a group of some 200 researchers across 10 leading children’s hospitals and childhood cancer-focused research programs who are helping to develop new immunotherapy approaches for high-risk childhood cancers. The collaboration has resulted in 319 peer-reviewed published manuscripts, 44 patent applications, the generation of more than $118 million in additional grant funding, the creation of a new pediatric clinical trials network, and the treatment of more than 1,113 children through early-phase clinical trials.
Advances in CAR T-cell therapy
“I have been privileged to be a member of the Stand Up To Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team since its inception and am delighted to partner with Dr. Gore in leading efforts at Children’s Hospital Colorado, CU Cancer Center, and CU Anschutz,” says Fry, who is an expert in CAR T-cell therapy, a process by which a cancer patient’s immune cells are extracted, genetically modified and stimulated to recognize tumors and to fight cancer when reinfused into the patient’s body. Fry is also the mentor to the newest CU Dream Team member, M. Eric Kohler, MD, PhD, who is working to develop CAR T-cells for several different cancers.
“As a group of leading pediatric cancer programs, the SU2C Pediatric Dream Team has been able to ensure the rapid translation of immune-based therapies from Dream Team laboratories into children with cancer facilitated by innovative science and a highly collaborative spirit,” Fry says. “I am proud of the major contributions the CU campus has made to these efforts.”
Searching for the causes of AML
Winters’ research focuses on pediatric acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer, and how to detect and target a disease that persists after therapy. Using a technology called digital PCR, Winters can detect AML-specific gene mutations to identify persistent disease down to one leukemia cell in 1,000 to 10,000 normal cells. She also is focused on identifying pediatric AML cells that are therapy-resistant through single cell analysis technologies in order to design targeted therapies, including immunotherapies, against these cells.
“For me, being a part of this team has enabled me to learn from really smart and successful scientists and to see the power of collaboration,” Winters says. “When all of us are focused on developing better therapies for children with cancer, we can accomplish much more than any of us can alone. The AACR Team Science Award is a recognition of the successful outcome of these collaborations.”
Gore, co-director of the CU Cancer Center’s Developmental Therapeutics Program and section head of pediatric hematology/oncology/bone marrow transplant-cellular therapeutics at Children’s Hospital Colorado, has had great success in developing trials for children using monoclonal antibodies and immunotherapies that target leukemia cells.
She was senior author of a paper that described the first use of a bi-specific T-cell engaging strategy to treat the most common form of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia and has led the development of that strategy in the Children’s Oncology Group for the past few years. She also mentored the development of two other antibodies for leukemia and lymphomas for other uses in different childhood cancers.
Gore says the AACR award is a testament to the true team nature of the group. “This is another milestone in the mark we are making as a campus in immunotherapy.”