As part of its comprehensive research investment program, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) recently committed $46 million to fund the most innovative science looking for cures for blood cancers at leading medical institutions worldwide, with a focus on myeloma and precision medicine.
More specifically, the new investment will fund 23 new grants aiming to enable a type of medicine that can find the right therapy for the right patient at the right time. The funds also will help advance therapies that harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer through 87 new immunotherapy research projects.
Among the newly funded projects are novel ways to address myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), two conditions for which there are still no cures. The funds also are meant to foster the early careers of the next-generation of scientists who will continue these lines of research through its Career Development Program, with 36 new grants.
Among the awarded projects are Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grants, Special Fellow Awards and Translational Research Program (TRP) grants.
According to a press release, there are researchers focusing on epigenetics in AML, immunotherapeutic approaches for myeloma, a cell death-targeted agent called Venclexta (venetoclax) for use in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), CAR T-cell therapies for multiple myeloma, T-cell immunotherapies for AML, and approaches to reduce potentially life-threatening side effects of blood cancer treatments, including cytokine release syndrome.
Myeloma is highlighted in this year’s investment, as several researchers are studying what makes myeloma patients relapse or resistant to therapy. One team is studying the role of the CD24 gene, which is abundant in myeloma stem cells, in the hopes of finding new therapeutic approaches that can prevent relapse. Another researcher is focused on understanding the defenses cancer cells employ to resist treatment, with the long-term goal of enhancing the performance of immunotherapy-mobilized killer cells.
Another highlight is precision medicine and the LLS’ Beat AML Master Trial, a study that is taking a precision medicine approach by identifying patients’ AML subtypes with the intention to give them a targeted therapy best suited to their diagnosis.
Some grantees also are investigating AML. One grantee is using genomic technology to identify genetic markers in AML patients to evaluate their likelihood of relapsing and another is conducting a study to test an epigenetic targeting agent that may enhance the activity of immune checkpoint inhibitors, which release the brakes from the immune system so it can attack cancer cells.
Moreover, the millionaire investment reflects the increase in scientific interest for precision medicine, which also is being investigated for its potential to target genetic mutations.
Earlier this month, the FDA approved Zelboraf (vemurafenib), a therapy for a very rare blood cancer called Erdheim-Chester disease (ECD). Zelboraf works by targeting a mutation of the BRAF gene, which occurs in hairy cell leukemia and Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), a rare blood cancer that typically develops in children and is related to ECD.
The latest round of grants also supports work looking into the BRAF gene, with two grantees working to test this therapy in combination with other drugs in hairy cell leukemia, and another researcher examining the utility of inhibiting the BRAF pathway in children with LCH.
Researchers receiving these grants come from well-known research facilities in the field, such as City of Hope in Duarte, California, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia.
This year’s announcement follows a similar investment in 2016, through which the LLS committed $40.3 million to advance promising blood cancer research at leading scientific and medical centers worldwide. In its nearly seven decades of existence, the LLS has invested more than $1 billion in blood cancer research.