The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has announced $42 million in new grants for 80 disease research teams globally, in its continuing efforts to invest in comprehensive blood cancer research.
More specifically, this round of funding will largely help advance promising new blood cancer treatments, including immunotherapies, genomics, and precision medicine. Some 45 grants will go to early-career scientists.
“Advances in technology have helped bring a deeper understanding of the drivers of cancer, and we are seeing remarkable progress in our quest for cures,” Louis J. DeGennaro, president and CEO of LLS, said in a press release. “Our longtime vision and investment in innovative research is having an impact on patients today.”
The latest batch of LLS-backed multidisciplinary research projects includes efforts to find new ways to help pediatric blood cancer patients. LLS is heading a team of pediatric physicians and scientists to help establish a multi-arm clinical trial to test targeted pediatric acute leukemia therapies. It also plans to invest more than $20 million in childhood cancer research over the next five years.
Researchers in this round also aim to find cures for cancers such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myeloma, and lymphoma, and to develop cellular therapies for leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma patients. Other scientists will explore a transformational approach to fighting cancer called checkpoint inhibitor therapy, which suppresses proteins that enable cancer cells to evade immune systems.
LLS is also funding the development of the next generation of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies, including a so-called off-the-shelf version for acute myeloid leukemia that promises to stave off rejection of donor cells.
In addition, several researchers are investigating the connection between aging and the development of AML cells. Others are using an innovative gene-editing tool called CRISPR, in tandem with genetic profiling, to understand how a mutation called DNMT3A leads to AML. Another scientist is using genetic profiling to detect leukemic stem cells in AML.
Some myeloma researchers are testing treatments combining CAR-T and bispecific antibodies (those that target two proteins at once) on patients, while others are testing Venclexta (venetoclax), which is approved for chronic lymphocytic leukemia and for certain AML patients.
On the prevention front, LLS-supported researchers are using immuno-positron emission tomography to detect multiple myeloma cells in patients with pre-myeloma conditions, or in post-therapy cells. Also being studied is the relationship among aging, genetic changes, and leukemia.
“Curing cancer will require exceptional scientific minds, bold ideas, forward-looking investors and compassionate philanthropists,” DeGennaro said. “As a patients-first organization, LLS has the ability to bring all of these forces together.”
LLS contributed to the development of 26 of the 32 blood cancer treatments federally approved since 2017, he added.
The organization invests about $6 million annually in its Therapy Acceleration Program, in which it teams up with biotechnology and universities to further the development of promising new treatments.
The world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to fighting blood cancer, LLS currently supports roughly 250 international researchers through more than $188 million in multi-year grants. In its nearly 70-year history, the organization has invested more than $1.2 billion in blood cancer research.
In November 2017, the nonprofit, based in Rye Brook, New York, announced $46 million in funding for research at leading medical schools globally, with an emphasis on myeloma and precision medicine. Similarly, in 2016, LLS committed $40.3 million.