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Fred Hutch announces $1M in grants to commercialize cutting-edge cancer and HIV research

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which has spun-out companies such as Juno Therapeutics and Nohla Therapeutics in recent years, is continuing its aggressive push to commercialize more of its research. The non-profit Seattle-based organization today announced $1 million in funding from its newly-formed Evergreen Fund for eight research projects.

The goal? Create more commercial-based entities to attack deadly diseases, including HIV-AIDS and cancer.

“The Evergreen Fund is an innovative, bold initiative by the Hutch to promote commercialization of its latest research into lifesaving therapies for cancer and other diseases,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch.

“We firmly believe it will lead to new ventures and partnerships that will significantly improve outcomes in the battle to defeat cancer and other diseases. It’s a new chapter in our ongoing commitment to creating enterprises that will be game-changers for global health.”

Dozens of applicants applied for the grants, and the eight below were chosen in a process conducted by a 26-member advisory committee that includes venture capitalists, intellectual property lawyers, biotech executives and others. The Evergreen Fund was started by former Fred Hutch scientists Dr. Jim Roberts and his wife Pamela Becker, and it is supported in part from funds from previous Fred Hutch licensing efforts.

Here’s a look at the eight projects, broken down by “pilot” and “beyond pilot” phases. Descriptions are provided by Fred Hutch.

Pilot Projects

  • Dr. David MacPherson, assistant member in the Human Biology Division, Synthetic lethal screening to identify genetic vulnerabilities associated with L-MYC in small cell lung cancer.
    • Small cell lung cancer is characterized by high rates of metastasis and resistance to chemotherapy, and treatment options have not improved in three decades. This project will use cell lines derived from mouse models of small cell lung cancer to identify genetic vulnerabilities through inactivating every gene in the genome by the CRISPR technology. The goal of the project is to identify druggable genes and pathways to identify a new therapeutic target for small cell lung cancer treatment.
  • Dr. Taran Gujral, assistant member in the Human Biology Division, Developing anti-Wnt5 Antibodies for treating Hepatocellular Carcinoma.
    • Liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer mortality worldwide with few treatment options outside of surgical resection. This project builds on the discovery of a new genetic pathway that drives metastasis in liver cancer, with the goal of developing neutralizing antibodies against this pathway as a treatment for liver cancer.
  • Dr. Andrew McGuire, associate in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Evaluating novel HIV-1 vaccine immunogens in humanized mice.
    • McGuire is working on a novel approach to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies to trigger an immune response that will ultimately lead to development of an effective HIV-1 vaccine.
  • Dr. Shannon Oda, postdoctoral fellow in the Clinical Research Division, Universal enhancement of adoptive T cell immunotherapy by mutation of CD3 binding motifs within the T cell receptor.
    • Oda and Dr. Philip Greenberg, head of immunology at Fred Hutch, are developing next generation approaches to improve the efficacy of engineered T cell immunotherapy. T cell immunotherapy uses a patient’s own immune cells that are engineered with a cancer-targeting receptor to specifically destroy cancer cells. The goal of this proposal is to enhance their signaling capacity so these engineered cells can exert optimal anti-cancer activity.

Beyond Pilot Projects

  • Dr. Barry Stoddard, member in the Basic Sciences Division, and Dr. Philip Bradley, associate member in the Public Health Sciences Division, Development and application of engineered circular tandem repeat protein scaffolds for protein arrays, stabilization and delivery.
    • Stoddard and Bradley are developing a unique platform of circular toroidal protein (cTRP)-based products for use in cell culture applications that require stimulation, expansion, and identification of human T-cells and stem cells. The cTRP-based products have unique structural properties, and the potential to reduce the time and cost of manufacture for any company creating cell-based therapeutics.
  • Dr. Amanda Paulovich, member in the Clinical Research Division, Developing a comprehensive immune phenotyping panel for commercialization and use in immunotherapy clinical trials.
    • Paulovich is developing a platform to measure key components of the immune system to identify new drug targets, new combinations of existing drugs, and enable clinical research for immunotherapy drugs in clinical development. By utilizing a next generation protein quantification platform, the proposals aims to develop an assay panel to simultaneously measure 45 key targets to get a global scan on the tumor and its environment.
  • Dr. McGarry Houghton, associate member in the Clinical Research Division, CAR-T Cell Therapy for Small Cell Lung Cancer.
    • Houghton is developing a patient specific T cell therapy that expresses a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that is engineered to recognize a newly discovered target that is expressed on small cell lung cancer. This project has the potential to be the first disease modifying therapy for these patients in which standard chemotherapy and surgery are ineffective.
  • Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem, member in the Clinical Research Division, Novel clinical protocol to purify and gene-modify hematopoietic stem cells for therapeutic applications.
    • Worldwide millions of people suffer from malignant, genetic, or infectious blood diseases such as leukemia and HIV/AIDS.  The Kiem lab has identified a stem cell population using preclinical small and large animal models to demonstrate this population of cells can quantitatively predict engraftment and repopulation of blood cells. The goal of the proposal is to translate this into clinical practice and overcome major barriers that limit the broad utilization of gene-modified hematopoietic stem cell transplants
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