TGen SU2C Melanoma Dream Team member receives $200,000 Sharp Award
Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award recognizes teamwork and development of new ideas among SU2C researchers
PHOENIX, Ariz. — Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) has selected Dr. Muhammed Murtaza of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), paired with Dr. Antoni Ribas of UCLA, as recipients of a $200,000 SU2C Phillip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award, named for the Nobel Laureate and Chair of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
The award, first established in 2014, supports opportunities for SU2C scientists from different teams to explore innovative collaborations to accelerate the development of new cancer treatments.
One of five awards totaling $1 million, the award to Dr. Murtaza, an Assistant Professor at TGen, and Dr. Ribas, supports a collaboration to investigate whether it’s possible to predict patient response to immunotherapy by studying the makeup of their microbiomes in blood samples.
Dr. Murtaza is a member of the SU2C-Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) Melanoma Dream Team. Dr. Ribas is a leader of the SU2C-Cancer Research Institute (CRI) Immunology Dream Team. The selections were made Jan. 29 at the SU2C Scientific Summit in Santa Moncia, Calif.
“The selection of Dr. Murtaza for a Sharp award recognizes his knowledge in the field of liquid biopsies and the potential benefits this technique may offer cancer patients, particularly those with metastatic melanoma, as our Dream Team works to accelerate treatment breakthroughs to improve the survival outcomes against this deadly cancer,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director, and leader of the SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team.
While immunotherapy has improved outcomes in metastatic melanoma for a number of patients, for some it remains ineffective and carries toxic side effects. The study by Drs. Murtaza and Ribas is titled: “Fingerprinting the systemic microbiome in plasma to predict immunotherapy outcomes in melanoma.” It will analyze an extensive set of clinically annotated longitudinal blood samples available from the SU2C-CRI Immunology Dream Team to predict immunotherapy response and adverse effects. Recent results show that the gut’s microbial composition may, in part, affect response to immunotherapy. If successful, Drs. Murtaza and Ribas will pursue additional funding to validate their findings.
There also is a prospective study of circulating tumor DNA planned with colleagues at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where Dr. Murtaza holds a joint appointment an Assistant Professor of Medicine.
Dr. Murtaza joined the Melanoma Dream Team upon his arrival at TGen in 2014 from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, where he began his work on circulating tumor DNA analysis.
“It’s an honor to receive this award, but more importantly the recognition brings further attention to the work of the entire Melanoma Dream Team and the collective efforts of all SU2C Dream Teams to defeat cancer,” said Dr. Murtaza. “Our goal is to investigate if we can predict how patients with melanoma respond to immunotherapy by looking at evidence of the makeup of their microbiomes in blood samples.”
SU2C and MRA established the Melanoma Dream Team — led by Drs. Trent and Patricia M. LoRusso, D.O., of Yale University — to explore the use of genomic sequencing to examine both the normal and cancer genomes of patients with metastatic melanoma. The study leverages advances in genomics, informatics, and health information technology with hopes of yielding more precise medical treatments for patients with this devastating disease.
In June 2015, clinical trials based on the Dream Team’s research findings began enrolling patients lacking a particular genetic mutation in the BRAF gene, and whose treatment for cancer with immune therapy had failed. Trial results will evaluate if using this precision therapy approach improves outcomes over current treatments.
Patients whose melanoma tumors do not have BRAF alterations will have other specific genetic alterations identified, and investigators will match these changes to an appropriate therapy that directly targets those alterations. The hope is that this “precision medicine” approach will lead to more effective and lasting treatments and potentially spare patients from unnecessary treatments that all too often offer little or no benefit.
In addition to Mayo Clinic in Arizona, the initial clinical trial site in Arizona, other locations include Yale Cancer Center, New Haven, Conn.; the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit; Biometrics Research Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Md.; University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC), Ann Arbor, Mich.; Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center/Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas; Indiana University, Indianapolis, Ind.; Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
“From the beginning, Stand Up To Cancer has striven to break down silos, encourage collaboration, and bring together the best research that will benefit cancer patients,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Chair of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee and a Nobel Prize winner for his research in genetics. “These awards will help bring us closer to the day we defeat cancer.”
Gateway for Cancer Research Foundation provided additional support for the SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team. AACR, SU2C’s Scientific Partner, provides expert peer review and grants administration, as well as ongoing scientific oversight.
For more information about this clinical trial, please call the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center Clinical Trials Referral Office at (855) 776-0015.