SANTA MONICA, CA Feb. 14, 2017 – The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) today announced that it has granted eight new 2016 PCF Challenge Awards to advance treatments and cures for metastatic or currently incurable prostate cancer.  PCF Challenge Awards are multi-year awards supporting cross-disciplinary teams of research scientists.  In 2016, PCF invested a total of $25 million in prostate cancer research programs.

Challenge Award recipient teams were selected as scientifically exceptional.  They were chosen from a global competition of 100 applications from 67 cancer research centers in 14 countries.

Proposals were submitted in response to a PCF request sent to 5,000 researchers for applications for funding of projects in advanced prostate cancer. Each team of investigators is at the forefront of devising pioneering solutions for the treatment of patients with metastatic, lethal prostate cancer.

“These novel, first-in-field prostate cancer medicine and biology discovery projects will bring us closer than ever to realizing cures for patients with currently incurable prostate cancer,” said Howard R. Soule, executive vice president and chief science officer, PCF.  “Cures cannot be accomplished in silos.  The multi-disciplinary approach of these teams incorporate the bench to bedside philosophy necessary for accelerating the development of new medicines.”

As part of PCF’s commitment to developing the next generation of leaders in cancer research, all Challenge Award teams are required to embed at least one early-career investigator in their team.  Of these eight newly funded Challenge Award teams, five are led by early-career scientists who previously received the prestigious PCF Young Investigator Award.

Each submitted proposal was subjected to a rigorous, two-round peer review process in which the projects were assessed for translational and clinical relevancy and their potential for near-term impact on the treatment and outcomes of prostate cancer patients.  Priority was given to high-risk, first-in-field and currently unfunded projects typically falling outside the scope of conventional funding organizations.

These innovative projects have the potential to develop practice-changing new therapies for patients with advanced prostate cancer and significantly advance our understanding of prostate cancer biology.

The following eight projects were selected to receive 2016 PCF Challenge Awards:

Exploiting DNA Repair Defects in Metastatic Prostate Cancer to Promote Immunotherapeutic Responses ($1.6 million), Eliezer Van Allen, MD (Harvard: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), Alan D’Andrea, MD (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), Peter Nelson, MD (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center), Johann S de Bono, MD, PhD (The Institute of Cancer Research)

This team is studying the biology of prostate tumors with mutations in DNA repair genes and will determine whether these tumors exhibit sensitivity to anti-PD1 checkpoint immunotherapy.  The team will conduct clinical trials testing PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors in advanced prostate cancer patients with DNA repair defects.  Dr. Van Allen previously received the 2013 PCF Young Investigator Award.

Targeting the Druggable Interaction between the NH2-Terminal Domain of the Androgen Receptor and BAG-1L, a Key Regulator of AR Function ($1 million), Johann de Bono, MD, PhD (Institute of Cancer Research), Andrew Cato, PhD (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology), Stephen Plymate, MD, PhD (University of Washington), Myles Brown, MD (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)

This team is studying the impact of targeting the androgen receptor-partner BAG-1 for the treatment of prostate cancer and is identifying novel BAG-1-inhibitors.

Personalizing Combinational Prostate Cancer Immunotherapy ($1 million), Russell Pachynski, MD (Washington University), Robert Schreiber, PhD (Washington University)

This team will conduct a clinical trial testing a novel two-stage immunotherapy strategy that consists of a prostate cancer vaccine (Prostvac) combined with anti-PD1 immunotherapy, followed by a novel patient-specific tumor vaccine.  This immunotherapy regimen will optimize the production of anti-tumor immune responses in prostate cancer patients.  Dr. Pachynski was also a 2016 PCF Young Investigator Awardee.

Combination Radio-Immunotherapy for Oligometastatic Prostate Cancer ($1 million), Lawrence Fong, MD (University of California, San Francisco), Felix Feng, MD (University of California, San Francisco)

Achieving responses to checkpoint immunotherapy in prostate cancer patients may require combinations with other treatments. This team is conducting a phase II clinical trial testing a novel treatment strategy combining androgen deprivation therapy and radiation therapy with immunotherapy in patients with advanced prostate cancer. Biomarkers and imaging technologies to predict and follow therapeutic responses will also be developed.  Dr. Feng previously received a 2010 PCF Young Investigator Award.

Combinatorial Immunotherapy Strategies to Reverse Immunosuppression within PTEN-deficient Advanced Prostate Cancers ($1 million), Akash Patnaik, MD, PhD (University of Chicago), Walter Stadler, MD (University of Chicago), Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD (University of Chicago)

This team is investigating whether loss of the PTEN gene, which commonly occurs in prostate cancer, leads to immune suppression and immunotherapy failure.  In addition to studying these questions in mouse models, a clinical trial will be conducted to test whether blocking the effects of PTEN-loss will synergize with immunotherapy. If successful, this project will establish a new precision immunotherapy regimen for patients with advanced prostate cancer.  Dr. Patnaik received the PCF Young Investigator Award in 2010.

Tumor Suppressor Signaling Approaches for the Treatment of Metastatic Prostate Cancer ($1 million), Ramon Parsons, MD, PhD (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)

This team is studying the biology and therapeutic effects of targeting p53 and PTEN mutations, which commonly occur in advanced prostate cancer.  Novel precision medicine therapies will be tested in preclinical prostate cancer models, and potential mechanisms of action will be investigated.

The Microbiome and Metastatic, Lethal Prostate Cancer: Establishment of an International Resource for the Prostate Cancer Research Community ($1 million), Karen Sfanos, PhD (Johns Hopkins University)

The community of microbes residing in the gut have been found to influence tumor development and progression, as well as responses to various cancer treatments.  This team will establish a gut microbiome biorepository and database from patients with advanced prostate cancer as a resource for the international research community.  In addition, studies will be conducted to examine whether the gut microbiome has a role in how patients respond to treatment, which could open a new field of study in prostate cancer.  Dr. Sfanos previously received a 2012 PCF Young Investigator Award.

Development of an Autophagy Inducing Multi-Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor ESK981 in the Treatment of Castration Resistant Prostate Cancer ($1 million), Arul Chinnaiyan, MD, PhD (University of Michigan)

This team has identified a novel multi-tyrosine inhibitor, ESK981, with potent preclinical activity in the treatment of metastatic castrate resistant prostate cancer.  The team will study the mechanisms of action and identify biomarkers of responsiveness to ESK981 and will conduct a phase II trial of ESK981 in men with castrate resistant prostate cancer.

About the Prostate Cancer Foundation

The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) is the world’s leading philanthropic organization funding and accelerating prostate cancer research. Founded in 1993, PCF has raised more than $700 million and provided funding to more than 2,000 research programs at more than 200 cancer centers and universities. The PCF global research enterprise now extends to 19 countries and funds a robust research portfolio. PCF advocates for greater awareness of prostate cancer and more efficient investment of governmental research funds for transformational cancer research. Its efforts have helped produce a 20-fold increase in government funding for prostate cancer.

Terms to know from this article:

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that boosts or restores the immune system to fight cancer, infections and other diseases. There a several different agents used for immunotherapy; Provenge is one example.

androgen

A type of hormone that promotes the development and maintenance of male sex characteristics.

Progression

Increase in the size of a tumor or spread of cancer in the body.

Phase II trial

A study to test whether a new treatment has an anticancer effect (for example, whether it shrinks a tumor or improves blood test results) and whether it works against a certain type of cancer.

Tumor

A mass of excess tissue that results from abnormal cell division. Tumors perform no useful body function. They may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Gene

The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.