August 22, 2019

Grant strengthens breast cancer research efforts

Breast cancer researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center have secured a fourth round of continuous Specialized Program of Research Excellence funding.

Breast cancer researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) have secured a fourth round of continuous Specialized Program of Research Excellence funding.

The SPORE in Breast Cancer grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is for a five-year period totaling $11.6 million. Applications for SPORE funding are highly competitive. Including Vanderbilt, currently there are only five medical research centers in the nation with NCI-funded SPOREs in Breast Cancer.

The grants promote collaborative, interdisciplinary, bi-directional translational research between clinical and basic scientists.

Ingrid Mayer, MD, MSCI, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, and Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development, are co-principal investigators of the Breast SPORE grant.

“Vanderbilt’s continued and consecutive SPORE funding for breast cancer research since 2003 is a testament to the tremendous breadth and depth of our Breast Cancer Program at VICC, our ability to effectively translate basic science discoveries to patients and our collaborative culture that drives team science,” said Pietenpol, who is also Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and director of VICC. “It is also an affirmation to the patients we serve that they will continue to have access to new and promising therapeutics through the clinical trials supported by this SPORE grant.”

The areas of focus in the renewed SPORE grant include ER-positive and triple-negative metastatic breast cancers as well as studies that target the DNA damage response in BRCA-mutated breast cancers and that seek to improve immunotherapy therapy for breast cancer patients.

“Everybody wins with a SPORE grant,” said Mayer, co-leader of the VICC Breast Cancer Research Program. “Of greatest importance, patients win because they get access to new treatments, new trials and new discoveries. Investigators win because they get support to catalyze promising research. Vanderbilt wins because it receives underwriting for important shared resources and new technologies that advance cancer research. It fulfills not only the team spirit, but also advances new science and mentored career development.”

The Breast SPORE projects include:

  • Mechanisms of Resistance to Endocrine Therapy in ER-positive Metastatic Breast Cancer Researchers will investigate a new therapy approved for other types of cancer, an FGFR1 inhibitor, in combination with the standard-of-care medications for ER-positive metastatic breast cancers — hormone blockers and CDK4/6 inhibitors — in an attempt to circumvent resistance. The clinical co-leader of this project is Brent Rexer, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine, and the basic science co-leader is Carlos Arteaga, MD, director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Other investigators include Mayer and Ariella Hanker, PhD, research instructor in Medicine at UT Southwestern.
  • Strategies to Improve Outcomes for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Researchers will focus on developing more effective strategies for treating this difficult-to-treat cancer by combining standard chemotherapies with the immunotherapy atezolizumab in an endeavor to maximize potency. They will also attempt to identify biomarkers of response. The clinical co-leader is Vandana Abramson, MD, associate professor of Medicine, and the basic science co-leader is Pietenpol. Co-investigators include Brian Lehmann, PhD, research assistant professor of Medicine, and Alissa Weaver, MD, PhD, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and Pathology Microbiology and Immunology.
  • Targeting the DNA Damage Response in Breast Cancer Researchers will examine the mechanisms of sensitivity and resistance to PARP inhibitors and define the mechanisms that regulate anti-DNA damage response that occur in BRCA-mutated breast cancer. This trial will study if new drugs added to PARP inhibitors can circumvent resistance to treatment. The clinical co-leader is Abramson, and the basic science co-leader is David Cortez, PhD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research. Co-investigators include Kimberly Dahlman, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine, and Deborah Lannigan, PhD, associate professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and associate professor of Cell and Developmental Biology.
  • Targeting Antigen Presentation to Improve Immunotherapy Responses in Breast Cancer Researchers will determine if the suppression of a group of cell proteins called MEK pathway will improve the efficacy of immunotherapy in patients with both ER-positive and triple-negative breast cancers. The clinical co-leader of this project is Mayer, and the basic science co-leader is Justin Balko, PharmD, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine. A co-investigator is Brent Ferrell, MD, assistant professor of Medicine.